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Alvin Langdon Coburn Papers

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Repository: Richard and Ronay Menschel Library, George Eastman Museum
Creator: Coburn, Alvin Langdon, 1882-1966
Source - dnr: Coburn, Alvin Langdon, 1882-1966
Creator: Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950
Creator: Wells, H. G. (Herbert George), 1866-1946
Creator: Gernsheim, Helmut, 1913-1995
Title: Alvin Langdon Coburn papers
ID: RRML.SC0032
Date [inclusive]: 1828-1967, undated
Date [bulk]: 1904-1917
Physical Description: 14 Linear Feet 14 boxes, 6 scrapbooks
Language of the Material: English

Abstract: Collection contains correspondence, writings, printed material, scrapbooks, realia, and personal papers related to Alvin Langdon Coburn, a major photographer of the early 20th century best known for fine portraits and pictorial cityscapes. While Coburn is also considered an interesting figure in Anglo-American letters, history, and art, the bulk of the materials document the peak years of Coburn’s photographic career.

Scope & Contents: The material in this collection spans the years 1828 to 1967, with the bulk documenting the height of Coburn's photographic career from 1904 to 1917. During this period Coburn worked on several large projects and can be considered an interesting minor figure in Anglo-American letters, music, history, and art; for this reason, his papers are an important tool for researchers in these fields. Beyond material that relates directly to photographic history, the collection—which encompasses correspondence, writings, printed material, scrapbooks, realia, and personal papers—sheds new light on subjects from twentieth-century theater to literature.

Correspondence spans the years 1904 to 1966 and includes letters to and from approximately 200 correspondents. The collection comprises letters to and from friends, photographic sitters or subjects, collaborators, and publishers. The dates of the correspondence divide the collection into two groups; the earliest letters, which make up the bulk of the collection, were written during the years Coburn was actively photographing. In this relatively short period he photographed luminaries from the literary and artistic worlds, later publishing some of these photographs in Men of Mark (1913) and More Men of Mark (1922). He also took a full set of photographs for "Musicians of Mark," a third book that was never published. The correspondence documents the meetings, reception of his work, and friendships that grew from these endeavors. Also represented are collaborations on various books illustrated with his photographs.

The collection includes notes and various drafts Coburn made for his autobiography, as well as texts either written, illustrated by, or about Coburn in both manuscript and published form. A typewritten draft of the preface to Coburn’s New York written by H. G. Wells is of particular note.

Among his personal papers are materials related to BBC broadcasts from the fifties and sixties in which he discussed his life and work, as well as letters, ephemera, and lectures related to his interest in mystic religions and freemasonry. Also included in the collection are objects either collected or used personally by Coburn. His deep interests in both spirituality and Eastern culture are reflected in these items, which include Asian games of strategy, tarot card decks, Japanese scrolls, and items related to Druidism. Of note is an undated palm leaf manuscript with what appears to be Hindi text, and battery electrodes intended for electrotherapeutic uses.


Creation of this finding aid was made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, grant #MA-30-15-0019-15.