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Louis Walton Sipley/American Museum of Photography Collection

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Repository: Richard and Ronay Menschel Library, George Eastman Museum
Source - col: Sipley, Louis Walton, 1897-1968
Source: 3M Foundation
Creator - col: Sipley, Louis Walton, 1897-1968
Title: Louis Walton Sipley/American Museum of Photography collection
ID: RRML.SC0001
Date [inclusive]: 1798-1978, undated
Date [bulk]: 1940-1968
Physical Description: 54 Linear Feet 105 boxes
Language of the Material: English

Abstract: This collection consists of the records of the American Museum of Photography, the first museum devoted solely to the art and science of the photographic arts, and its founder Louis Walton Sipley. The material dates between 1798 and 1978, with the bulk dating between 1940 and 1968. The collection comprises the museum's exhibition, collection, and financial records, as well as Sipley's writings on photography and his vast correspondence with photographic experts from around the world.

Scope & Contents: The records of the American Museum of Photography (AMP) measure 54 linear feet and date from 1798 to 1978, with the bulk of the material dating from the museum’s incorporation in 1940 to founder Louis Walton Sipley’s death in 1968. A small amount of material including correspondence, printed material, and clippings were added posthumously. Extensive museum records, including documents pertaining to finances, collections, membership, exhibition, and the physical property provide a detailed account of the business operations of the museum and the activities of its founder, Louis Walton Sipley.

Material in the collection comprises both personal and museum-related correspondence; manuscripts; scrapbooks; exhibit programs and invitations; museum newsletters and publications; audio interviews; subject files; and realia. The collection also includes printing plates; photographs; transparencies; paste- ups; and original artwork. The scope of the collection spans the entire history of the United States’ first museum to focus solely on the photographic arts, and Sipley's voluminous correspondence with photographic scholars and experts worldwide provide a comprehensive view of the field’s innovations between the 1930s and 1960s, with an emphasis on photographic processes and color photography in particular. Sipley was particularly driven to shine a light on forgotten or overlooked inventors, photographers, and pioneers of photographic processing, and his enthusiastic approach to collecting favored acquiring anything and everything he could in order to preserve it.

Collection strengths include the AMP’s subject files, which include dossiers on over 120 inventors, 143 photographers and photographic studios, 90 different techniques and processes, and nearly 60 state, regional, and national photographic organizations; material related to Sipley’s efforts to establish an international Photography Hall of Fame for which he gathered a committee of international photography experts who together compiled the biographical sketches and portraits of 112 scientists and inventors; extensive documentation of the museum’s in-house and traveling exhibitions; audio interviews with inventors Chester Carlson and William C. Huebner; and Sipley's correspondence with photographers and photographic companies and organizations worldwide.

The collection also comprises the personal papers of Louis Walton Sipley and Margaret Lapham Brady, who co-founded the AMP. Sipley's papers include his personal financial and legal documents, ephemera, photographs, and obituaries following his death in 1968, plus his personal correspondence with Beaumont Newhall, Eugene Ostroff, Berenice Abbott, Richard Avedon, William N. Jennings, and Louis Flader, among others. Of special note is a signed 1957 letter from Robert F. Kennedy to Sipley. The collection also includes a small amount of Brady's papers, including the 1938 last will and testament in which she leaves her entire estate to Sipley; obituaries; ephemera; and many family photographs.

Sipley's original order, when evident, was preserved. Approximately six cubic feet of loose material was integrated into the collection series. Due to Sipley's involvement in many different organizations, there was extensive intermingling between the American Museum of Photography records and those of the Models' Guild of Philadelphia, the Society of Commercial Photographers of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Arts and Sciences Society, the C. W. Briggs Company, and the Photographic Society of Philadelphia. Whenever possible, material was co-located intellectually and physically in its most logical place (e.g., letters in a folder labeled J. C. Strauss had, at some point, been placed with Sipley's personal correspondence. However, the letters were addressed to Elias Goldensky from J. C. Strauss. These were relocated to the Elias Goldensky papers).


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.