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Photographic Society of Philadelphia Records

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Repository: Richard and Ronay Menschel Library, George Eastman Museum
Creator: Photographic Society of Philadelphia
Source - col: Sipley, Louis Walton, 1897-1968
Source: 3M Foundation
Title: Photographic Society of Philadelphia records, Louis Walton Sipley/American Museum of Photography collection
Date [bulk]: 1862-1944
Date [inclusive]: 1860-1965
Physical Description: 7.84 Linear Feet Collection comprises 5.66 linear feet of records in 8 boxes (3 record storage boxes, 4 legal document cases, and 1 flat box) plus 4 oversized Philadelphia Photographic Salon albums (approximately 21-inches high x 16-inches wide x 3-inches deep) that are cross-catalogued in the GEH Library.
Language of the Material: English
Language of the Material: Materials are in English with the exception of two items that include German and French (Series 5, Second Salon, Leaves 3 and 4), and one German reprint (Series 5, Third Salon, Leaf 52).

Abstract: This collection includes the business and event records of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia from just prior to its founding in November 1862 to 1965. The Society is considered the earliest of its kind in the United States and continues to exist today. These records include the Society's earliest written materials, and this finding aid documents the contents to the folder or item level. The Society co-hosted with the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts four annual exhibitions known as the Philadelphia Photographic Salons from 1898 to 1901. These were important and influential events at the time which helped place photography within the realm of fine arts in the United States. Each Salon was carefully documented at the time in scrapbook albums by the Society or perhaps a member; these albums are described here to the item level.

Scope & Contents:  Two-thirds of this collection (two cubic feet) comprise handwritten and typed meeting minutes that date from November 15, 1862 (immediately prior to the Society’s founding on November 26, 1862) through December 14, 1936, without gaps, and continue from May 13, 1941, to May 9, 1944. In the 1940s minutes were bound with other materials such as applications for membership, printed tickets, and incoming correspondence. Presidents’ and treasurers’ reports are typically included in the minutes, but some were not integrated and are presented here on their own at the end of Series 1, Society Business. The minutes represent a wealth of information for future scholars interested in examining how this Society functioned, and how the Society fit within Philadelphia cultural norms in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Society governance is recorded in numerous Constitutions, Charters, and By- Laws, both handwritten and typed. “Notices and Other Literature” as well as iterations of Membership Lists and Rolls (including members’ names, membership dates, and street addresses) were originally recorded with governance records in bound notebooks, and are thus not subdivided.

A small collection of early twentieth-century legal and economic documents features bills and receipts, insurance policies, leases, ledgers, and a back-and-forth dispute between the Society and the United States Treasury over tax credits. A slim collection of notes documents the actions of the Library, Auction, and Technical Committees and includes the Society’s handwritten Library catalogues.

The Society’s official outgoing correspondence from September 1888 to December 1908 (with gaps) is well represented in three letterpress copy books, which include bound facsimiles of handwritten and typed letters prepared by the Society Secretary. Incoming correspondence to the Society was at some point collated by month for the years 1894-1911, 1913-1914, 1917-1926; one letter is dated February 1965 and is the most recent item in the collection.

Like many clubs and societies built around common interests and comradeship, the PSP hosted social events, some of which are well represented here. Researchers will find small scrapbook albums that document the Society’s 21st Anniversary and its 25th. A handwritten journal in the form of an open letter documents the Society’s photographic “Excursion ... over the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal” in May 1887.

A substantial PSP event took place in January 1886 when the Society “executed a pivotal exhibition of photography”—the Photographic Exhibition of 1886, significant as one of the earliest exhibitions in the United States designed to reveal the “different uses of photography and photography as a fine art.” Held at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) under the joint sponsorship of the Society and PAFA, the exhibition is documented in great detail, including albumen photographs of its installation and contemporaneous newspaper clippings concerning the event in the “Report of the Committee in Charge of the Photographic Exhibition of 1886.” A later album contains the printed catalogue and vintage photographs of the “Annual Exhibition of the Work of Members” for 1901.

Records indicate that the Society participated in photographic exchanges and interchanges, a common tradition of photographic clubs for sharing members’ photographic prints and lantern slides with one another on rotation.

Since the collection became a part of Louis Walton Sipley’s American Museum of Photography, it is not surprising to find some of the AMP’s material mixed herein: two file folders of mid-twentieth century gelatin silver prints document the early days of the PSP in reprinted photographs (circa 1940) of the Philadelphia Photographic Salon of 1898 and the Society Dinner of 1912, and photographs of the Society Members’ Critiques taken in the 1950s.

The collection also includes four oversized albums that document the annual Philadelphia Photographic Salons hosted by the Society and PAFA, held at PAFA in the years 1898, 1899, 1900, and 1901. These albums include pages of the now-rare printed catalogues that accompanied the Salons, together with letters, announcements, entry blanks, one tintype photograph, and numerous contemporaneous journal articles and newspaper clippings. Each album contains a number of original platinum-print installation photographs of that Salon as presented for public viewing at PAFA. Scholars and students of pictorialism with expertise in the works shown in the Philadelphia Photographic Salons will be able to identify the Salon photographs captured in the platinum prints and gain an understanding of how photographs were matted, framed (if done), and arranged within the gallery.

At some point in time, someone did just that by numbering the images within the platinum prints in the album of the Third Salon of 1900 according to its Salon-catalogue number (see “Third Philadelphia Photographic Salon 1900 Album,” Leaves [Recto] 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28).

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.