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Guide to the Pictorial Lettersheet Collection
ca. 1840-1890
  PR 144

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on December 29, 2022
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Pictorial Lettersheet Collection
Dates [inclusive]: ca. 1840-1890
Abstract: Printed stationery with scenes of New York City and other cities.
Quantity: 0.63 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Language: .
Call Phrase: PR 144

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Historical Note

Pictorial lettersheets were an early precursor to picture postcards. Lettersheets were created to comply with, yet cleverly circumvent, postal regulations. Before 1855, postage was calculated based on the number of sheets enclosed in each envelope. Lettersheets became very popular because of their folio format, an 8.5 x 21 inch piece of paper folded in half, which provided four pages on which to write but were considered as one sheet by the Post Office. Some publishers, particularly Charles Magnus of New York and many California stationers, included printed illustrations on the lettersheets to increase their commercial appeal. These illustrations, often bird's eye views or detailed street scenes of cities, usually appeared in a rectangular space at the top of the first page of the folio.

In the United States, this form of stationery was popular mainly in New York and San Francisco, perhaps because of those cities' coastal locations and importance as ports of entry. Magnus, a German immigrant, also produced scenes of midwestern cities, like Cincinnati, Ohio and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that had large German immigrant populations.

Most lettersheets were printed lithographically in black and white, but occasionally colors were added by hand, or colored stock was used. Charles Magnus often used a photograph as a base to achieve an accurate perspective and architectural detail, adding hand-drawn figures and vehicles.

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Scope and Content Note

The Pictorial Lettersheet Collection spans the period from the 1840s to the 1890s and primarily contains writing paper featuring urban views. The collection is divided into two series: Loose Lettersheets and Albums of Lettersheets. Most were printed in New York by Charles Magnus.

The majority of these lettersheets are unused, but a few contain correspondence. Most sheets measure 8.5 x 10.5 inches, the standard size of the folded page. A few are larger, and several are 5.5 x 8.5 inch or "note size" sheets. Some of the views are cut off from their sheets and the sheets discarded. Other views are annotated with specific details, such as street names, dates, or building numbers, by New-York Historical Society staff. Some of the Magnus' views have German captions, as well as both German and English text on the same sheet.

The lettersheets predominantly show birds-eye views and street scenes of New York City. Also pictured are views of the Hudson River and upstate New York towns: Albany, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Saratoga, Syracuse, Troy, and West Point. New Jersey area towns include Egg Harbor City, New Brunswick, and Newark. Other American cities pictured are Detroit, Michigan; Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Martin's Ferry, Ohio; Norfolk, Virginia; San Jose and San Francisco, California; Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland; Providence, Rhode Island; Bangor, Maine; Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee and Sheboygan, Wisconsin; and Washington, D.C.

Subject-oriented lettersheets often show New York City transportation scenes -- bridges, ships, and elevated railroads are well represented. A group of firemen is pictured, as are important events of the period, such as Lincoln's funeral procession through New York (1865), and the erection of the Crystal Palace. Other New York landmarks shown include the Brooklyn Bridge, the Custom House, City Hall, and the Statue of Liberty. Some of these prints are the only surviving contemporary views of a locality or building, as the urban streetscape changed so rapidly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

This collection was removed from the Graphic Arts File (PR 022) in 2002.


Missing Title

  1. Series I. Loose lettersheets
  2. Series II. Albums of lettersheets

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Charles Magnus & Co.
  • Landauer, Bella Clara, 1874-1960
  • Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 -- Death and burial -- Pictorial works

Document Type

  • Ephemera.
  • Lithographs.
  • Stationery

Subject Organizations

  • Alexander Hamilton United States Custom House (New York, N.Y.)
  • Anstice & Co.
  • Crystal Palace (New York, N.Y.) -- Pictorial works
  • D.H. Mason (Firm)
  • E. Mendenhall (Firm)
  • E. Sechse & Co.
  • Gavit & Duthie
  • John Weik & Co.
  • New York City Hall (New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • Statue of Liberty National Monument (N.Y. and N.J.) -- Pictorial works.
  • City and town life -- United States -- Pictorial works.
  • Cities and towns -- United States -- Pictorial works.
  • Pictorial works.

Subject Places

  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.) -- Pictorial works.
  • New York (State) -- Photographs
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Pictorial works.

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Administrative Information


The collection is composed of various gifts and purchases. One album was a gift of Bella C. Landauer.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Pictorial Lettersheet Collection, PR 144, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

Other pictorial lettersheets can be found in Civil War Envelope Collection (PR 117). Other views of New York City from this time period can be found in the Geographic File (PR 020). Other printed materials by Magnus are in the Bella C. Landauer Collection of Business and Advertising Ephemera (PR 031), the Geographic File (PR 020) and the Clipper Ship Card Collection (PR 116). Pen and ink drawings for some of Magnus' lettersheets are in the New-York Historical Society's Museum.

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Container List

Series I. Loose lettersheets

Scope and Contents note

Loose lettersheets are arranged alphabetically by publisher. More than 100 of the loose sheets were published by Charles Magnus in several discreet and numbered series. The collection holds sheets in six Magnus series: "24 Views of New York," "36 Views of New York and Environs," "48 Note-Size Views," "50 Views of New York and Environs," "100 views of New York and Environs," and "150 Views of New York and Environs." Other New York series included in the collection are Anstice & Co.'s "New-York Street Views" series, and John Weik's "Microscopic Views of New York." Other publishers include Gavit & Duthie of Albany, Lossing-Barrit of New York City, D. H. Mason of San Jose, Justh & Co. and Justh, Quirot & Co. of San Francisco, Edward Sachse & Co. of Baltimore, and E. Mendenhall of Cincinnati. Several lettersheets have unidentified publishers.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 1 Anstice & Co., "Street Views" of New York City
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 2 Gavit & Duthie, views of Albany
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 3 Justh & Co., Justh, Quiriot & Co., views of San Francisco, California
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 4 Lossing-Barrit, views of New York City
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 5 Charles Magnus, "24 Views of New York"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 6 Charles Magnus, "36 Views of New York and Environs"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 7 Charles Magnus, "48 Note-Size Views"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 8 Charles Magnus, "50 Views of New York and Environs"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 9 Charles Magnus, "100 Views of New York and Environs"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 10 Charles Magnus, "150 Views of New York and Environs"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 11 Charles Magnus, Unnumbered views of New York City
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 12 Charles Magnus, Unnumbered views of other cities
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 13 D. H. Mason, views of San Jose, California
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 14 E. Mendenhall, views of Cincinnatti, Ohio
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 15 E. Sachse, views of Baltimore, Maryland
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 16 John Weik's "Microscopic Views of New York"
Offsite-Box: 1 Folder : 17 Unidentified publishers

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Series II. Albums of lettersheets

Scope and Contents note

This series contains two albums of lettersheets, one compiled by Bella Landauer, and one by an unknown compiler. These albums were disbound in 2002 but their original order has been maintained in file folders.

The Landauer album is loosely organized geographically. Several sheets show Canadian and American midwestern and east coast cities, but the majority have views of New York City and other cities in New York State. Maps, as opposed to pictorial views, of Albany and Buffalo are included here. Views of Washington D.C. are filed with lettersheets containing pictures of U.S. presidents, and those printed with the text of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the sheets were published by Magnus, and many have been used for correspondence.

The Magnus sample album is in random order. Many sheets in this album are from Magnus' numbered "Views of New York and its Environs" series, and often duplicate views found in Series I. Additional views of New York in this subseries include those of New York City parks and squares, boats in the harbor, and several views of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. This album also contains sheets from Magnus' "150 Letter-head Paintings of New York and Environs, Hudson River and Catskill Mountains" and "24 Views of Cities, Towns, and Scenery on the Hudson and the Catskill Mountains" series, which are not represented elsewhere in the collection. At the time of disbinding, a folder of loose sheets existed with the marking "removed from album by unknown hand." This folder follows those containing sheets removed from the album in 2002.


Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 18 Album cover and inside covers
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 19 Canadian cities
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 20 Washington, D.C. and political subjects
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 21 Midwestern cities
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 22 Ohio cities
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 23-26 New York City
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 27-28 New York State
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 29 Note-size views
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 30 New England cities
Offsite-Box: 2 Folder : 31 Other United States cities


Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Offsite-Box: 3 Folder : 32-50 Miscellaneous Views of New York and New Jersey
Offsite-Box: 3 Folder : 51 Pages removed from album before 2002

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