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Guide to the New-York Historical Society Collection of Stereographs
1850-1964 (Bulk 1860-1900)
 PR 65

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Janet Murray (2000); revised and migrated to ArchivesSpace by Marybeth Kavanagh (2020)

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on July 22, 2020
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

Views in the Stereograph Collection depict a wide range of subject matter. Most of the items show known locations, and over one third of the collection depicts New York state. 4,000 of these items depict New York City. Other well-represented geographic locations include California, with 739 items, Massachusetts with 598, Pennsylvania with 798, New Hampshire with 475, Washington, D.C. with 320, New Jersey with 226 and Connecticut with 210. Subject areas with substantial holdings include the Civil War, Indians of North America, and the expeditions in the west led by Fisk, Hayden, Powell and Wheeler. The Civil War stereographs have been digitized and and are available online via New York Heritage.There are also a substantial number of portraits, primarily those of celebrities.

Items in the series that are arranged geographically depict homes, churches and other institutions and organizations, public buildings, offices, schools, restaurants, farms, businesses and industries, and include some interior views. Industries that are well represented include mining, logging, shipping, and the early petroleum industry in Pennsylvania. Because of a personal interest on the part of George T. Bagoe, who collected many of the stereographs in the file, the files contain many views of photographers or their studios or equipment. Sometimes the views depict historically significant sites, such as the Old North Church in Boston, and the armory where John Brown was captured in Harper's Ferry.

Many types of transportation are depicted. Railroads, particularly the Central and Union Pacific, and the Pennsylvania Railroads are well represented. There are images of the Erie and Delaware and Hudson canals, as well as ocean and river shipping. Stagecoaches, carriages, carts and wagons, omnibuses and street-railroads are seen in street views and in the country. Elevated railroads and the subway in New York City are documented, and even modern expressways were photographed in stereo and included in the file.

Community activities such as parades, anniversaries of historic events and holidays such as the Fourth of July are documented, as well as the sports of rowing, croquet, archery, horseback riding and hunting. Other activities for enlightenment and amusement photographed include camp meetings and chatauquas, reading, band concerts, circuses, merry-go-rounds, and picnicking.

Tourist attractions are also well represented, including Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and mountains in New Hampshire and Colorado, and hot and mineral springs. Also present are souvenirs of the Centennial Exposition of 1876, and the World's Columbian Exposition, as well as exhibitions in the Crystal Palace in London and various expositions in Paris.

Photographers and publishers also took advantage of spectacular events to produce and market stereographs, including, balloon ascensions, Blondin crossing Niagara Falls on tightrope, the Chicago and Boston fires, the San Francisco earthquake, train wrecks, dam failures, tornado damage and other disasters. Scientific discoveries and technological advances were a focus of public interest in the nineteenth century and are also represented in the stereographs. Feats of engineering such as canals, railroads, aqueducts and bridges are well represented. In addition there are views showing a fascination for scientific advances and discoveries, such as images of the fraudulent Cardiff Giant, and views of the full moon.

There are many kinds of people depicted in the file. The official visits of the Japanese embassy, the Prince of Wales and the Grand Duke of Russia in the 1860s are all documented. Other foreign-born individuals are identified, including Chinese laborers in Massachusetts and California, and Irish-, German-, and Scandinavian Americans. African Americans are depicted in many locales, as are Native Americans. A fascination with people with different life-styles is evident in the images of the Shakers, the Oneida Community and the Mormons. The collection database provides indexing for various classes of people, such as women, and children.

War has offered perennial subject matter for stereographers. Some of the earliest views in the collection show Crimean War sites. Besides the heavily documented United States Civil War, other military actions that were recorded include the Modoc Indian War, the Spanish American War, South African War (Boer War), the Russo-Japanese War, and World War I. Usually the scenes do not show battle action, but are important for the images of soldiers, battlefields, armaments and important persons related to the war.


The collection is arranged into 3 series: Geographic, Subject, and Comic and Sentimental. Each series is arranged into groups of items, and each group has an Identifier, or unique number. The Identifier can be found within the group's Scope and Contents note.

Geographic Series: The bulk of the collection consists of geographic views. Items are arranged into groups, and each group has an Identifier, or unique number. The Identifier can be found within the group's Scope and Contents note. Wherever possible items are arranged in the smallest geographic group possible, usually a town. Large cities may be covered by many groups of items and the views divided up by location within the city, or by subject. If there are only one or two items for a particular geographic unit, they may be combined with other items and described under the name of the next larger geographic unit, such as the state. In general, the groups go from the general to the specific, with groups covering entire states followed by more specific locations within the state.

Subject Series: This series is arranged by subject or topic. Items are arranged into groups, and each group has an Identifier, or unique number. The Identifier can be found within the group's Scope and Contents note. Many of the items arranged by subject are of unknown location. Other subjects have known locations, but depict substantial and important subjects, such as the Civil War or the Spanish American War. Some of the items form published series, such as the Powell and Wheeler expeditions in the American West. It may be necessary to search the Geographic Series for subjects that are also represented in the Subject Series. For instance, there is a subject group titled Indians of North America, but there are additional views of Native American Indians dispersed throughout the Geographic Series.

Comic and Sentimental Series: This series consists of views that were staged to tell a story or to depict a scene from literature. Items are arranged into groups, and each group has an Identifier, or unique number. The Identifier can be found within the group's Scope and Contents note. The groups are arranged by published series, or general topic.