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Guide to the Jessie Tarbox Beals Photograph Collection
[1900-1940]
(Bulk 1904-1920)
  PR 4

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 01, 2011
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

The Jessie Tarbox Beals Photograph Collection spans the period from 1900-1940 and contains 418 black and white photographs, primarily of New York City and its inhabitants. Sizable portions of the collection show the city of Boston between 1902 and 1910 and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo. in 1904. The collection is divided into three series: Portraits; Places; and Subjects. It includes postcards, as well as larger prints, of bohemian Greenwich Village between 1905 and 1920. The collection also includes one vintage nitrate negative and one of Beals' self-designed business cards. Almost half the collection consists of portraits. A searchable, item-level database is available in the repository. In addition, photocopies of prints in Series I and parts of Series II are available for reference in the repository.

Series I. Portraits dates from 1900 to approximately 1940. Portrait photographs are filed alphabetically by sitter. Prints of any one sitter with three or more portraits (even if the same image) are filed together. The collection is rich in self-portraits and portraits taken of Beals by others. Beals is shown "on assignment," climbing a 20 foot ladder to get a higher angle at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, and striding across city streets armed with her camera and tripod. She photographed herself in her studio, and posed often next to her camera.

Series II. Places spans the years from 1902 to 1940 and includes photos of places visited by Beals, as well as her home in New York City. Photos are arranged by state, and thereunder by city or subject. Early photos are of trips to Arkansas and Texas; few of these are captioned. Twenty-nine photos date from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. The majority of photos are of Boston, Massachusetts.

Series III. Subjects is comprised of garden and fashion photography. The 25 fashion photos seem to date from Beals' early years in New York, when she was selling photographs to many magazines. The photos are often noted with the name of a store (Gimbels, for example) on the verso. The same models often appear in several different outfits. The garden photos mainly date from after 1927, and are largely of Greenwich Village gardens. A few photos show rooftop gardens, one of which looks out on a river. More than three photos of the same garden are foldered together. One photo shows the tiny back patio of 75 Bedford Street, the "narrowest house in New York." Another shows the gardens of the Rhinelander houses, a group of row houses with wrought iron balconies on West 11th Street, where Beals herself lived from 1936 until her death in 1942.

NOTES ON THE DATABASE AND CATALOGING PROCESS:

Titles for the photos were taken from Beals' written inscriptions found on the versos of many of the prints. Titles in brackets were assigned at the time of processing. The prints in the collection were often made, or inscribed, long after the negative was taken; therefore, stamps of studio addresses on the backs of prints can not be used conclusively to date photos. However, some photos were dated within a general range based on these studio stamps. Other dates were determined based on research conducted on the dates of establishments (i.e. in the case of Greenwich Village tea rooms) or biographies of the subjects. In addition, collections of Beals' work at the Museum of the City of New York and the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library were consulted for some identification and dating.

Beals had a complex, and sometimes seemingly haphazard, system of numbering her prints. A partial list of these numbers is available in her papers at the Schlesinger Library. Where appropriate, these numbers have been taken into consideration in dating photographs in the collection. Any numbers written on the verso of the photos appear in the database.

Arrangement

Within series, photographs are filed alphabetically by subject when possible.

The collection is organized into three series:

  1. Series I. Portraits
  2. Series II. Places
  3. Series III. Subjects