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Photograph Albums

Unidentified women looking at photograph album, about 1907-1917.
Photographer John Nelson, Ericson, Nebraska.  RG3542.PH:069-02

"When folks got to building bigger and better houses they would arrange them with the parlor and a spare room. The parlor was only used when company come and was kept shut up most of the time with the curtains drawn. Enlarged pictures of relations were hung on the walls and a large fancy covered photograph album was part of the furnishings."
     From a 1939 interview with Mrs. Albert Waybright of Ashland Nebraska.

Early photographs were one-of-a-kind images, created as positive pictures for which no negative existed. With no negative from which to create duplicate copies, photographs were treated like miniature paintings, to be individually framed and displayed.

With the advent of new photographic technologies that produced a negative from which multiple prints could be made, photographs became objects to share widely with family and friends. This, in turn, created a need for new forms of display and storage. Elegant albums with pages specifically designed to hold these photographs became popular in the United States around 1860 when commercial photographers began aggressively marketing them. By 1864, Godey's Lady's Book announced, "Photograph albums have become not only a luxury for the rich but a necessity for the people. The American family would be poor indeed who could not afford a photograph album."

These early albums served an important purpose during a time when the population of the United States was experiencing dramatic changes. Large numbers of people were moving west, drawn by the promise of prosperity and independence. During the 1860s, the Civil War ravaged the American population, and it was followed by a flood of immigrants from all corners of the globe. Families were broken up, often never to reunite. These new photograph albums were how people kept the family circle together.

As improvements in transportation and communication made separation by distance less daunting, the focus of photograph albums began to change. In the late 1880s, Kodak introduced lighter-weight photographic prints that could be pasted directly on the pages of an album and, as photograph albums changed to accommodate these new "snapshot" images, people began to incorporate memorabilia along with the photographs. The family photograph album became autobiographical, capturing events such as birthdays, weddings, and vacations more than individual loved ones, and the line between scrapbooks and photograph albums blurred.


W. B. Watson, Porter

William B. Watson, about 1890.

William B. Watson was born in Missouri about 1853.
He came to Nebraska sometime in the late nineteenth century to live in Omaha. He was a porter and he and his wife Luella had four daughters. He died in Omaha in 1942 at the age of ninety.

Before the invention of the snapshot, photograph albums were designed to accommodate the more substantial formats of tintypes or studio portraits mounted on a card. This kind of album left little opportunity for creativity by the owner. Ownership of such albums and the images that they held transcended race, education, and socio-economic background.



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       Ledger Books

Diaries and Journals
  J.A. Hill, Civil War
  W. Richards, Surveyor
  J.S. Morton, Statesman
  Sara J. Price, Teacher
       & Homesteader
  W. Danley, Businessman
  J. & E. Green, Farmers        & Homesteaders
  S. Buck, Farm Wife

Autograph Albums
  S. & E. Allis, Missionaries
  E. & L. Correll, Suffragists
  W.J. Bryan, Orator
  Lucy Drexel, Student
  Viola Barnes, Student

  D. Canfield, Author
  Willa Cather, Author
  C. Calvert, Educator
  Fenton. B. Fleming,
  Myrtle Soulier, Student
  Verna Cort, Student
  Martha McKelvie,
       Movie Columnist
  Emogine Moor,
       Women's Army Corps
  Scrapbooking Today

Photograph Albums
  W. B. Watson, Porter
  Margaret and Edward
       Gehrke, Adventurers
  Nan Aspinwall,
  Frances M. Creech,

  Edith Withers Meyers,
  Sierra Nevada Bunnell,

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Last updated 25 June 2010  

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