By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian, and Robin Naughton, Digital Systems Manager
Earlier this year, the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO), Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library received a collaborative Knight New Challenge on Libraries grant, Culture in Transit: Digitizing and Democratizing New York’s Cultural Heritage. The grant allows METRO to send a mobile scanning unit to libraries and cultural institutions around the city to digitize small collections and make them available through METRO’s digital portal and the Digital Public Library of America.
The New York Academy of Medicine proposed to METRO that we digitize our collection of cartes de visite, small inexpensive photographs mounted on cards that became popular during the second part of the 19th century. Individuals sat for portraits and sent the cards to family members and friends, but photographs of well-known people became popular as souvenirs as well. Their standardized size and the ease with which they could be sent through the mail increased their popularity. Creating souvenir albums of cartes de visite became a popular pastime.
Our 223 images are portraits of physicians and scientists, both European and American. From a handwritten note in the box in which our cartes are stored, we know that Dr. Edmund Randolph Peaslee collected some of them while he was in Europe in 1867. His son, Dr. Edward Henry Peaslee, presented them to the Academy in 1924. Unfortunately, we do not know which photographs comprised the original gift. Some of the cartes came to the Academy from other donors and do have the donor information on the versos.
We have been able to identify almost all of the individuals pictured on the cartes, but there are four who still puzzle us. In three cases, we have a last name but have not yet found enough information to make a full identification. For one image, we have no information at all.
Do you recognize these men? Information on the cartes tells us that two of the portraits were taken at the same photographic studio in New York and the other two were taken by different photographers in Germany. Your challenge: if you recognize a face or surname, please help us figure out who the portraits depict.