Photo Archives

About The Photo Archives

The Photo Archives collections provides a window into the past. More than 100,000 historical photographs from the 1840s to the 1900s document the people, landscapes, businesses, organizations, and events in the Southeastern Pennsylvania region.

Search highlights using the guides and indexes on the Collections Guides page. Or click on the PastPerfect database. Onsite visitors can view actual historical photographs or refer to a selection of photographs at the digital viewing station in the reading room.

To learn more, refer to the FAQ’s.

Hours

Morning/afternoon sessions
Thurs. – Sat. (9:30 – 12:30 pm and 1:30 – 4:30 pm)
By appointment only
Photo Archives closed in January 2022

Contact

610-692-4800 X260

Email

photos@mycchc.org

Services

CCHC offers quality reproductions for study, display, publication and for commercial uses.

Read the CCHC Reproduction Policy Statement and consult the Fee Schedules below before ordering your reproduction. All work is performed by CCHC staff.

Orders may be placed in person, by telephone, or sent via email. All orders must be prepaid by check, cash, Mastercard or Visa or through PayPal for the work to begin.

Permission to reproduce photographs for publication or commercial uses must be requested in writing using the Image Order and Permission Request Form. Permission is granted for non-exclusive, one time use at the discretion of CCHC. The user of supplied reproductions assumes all responsibility for using them in conformity to existing copyright laws.

Fees and Order Forms:

The Photo Archives welcomes research inquiries if you can’t find what you need on the Photo Search page or on the PastPerfect database. Contact the Photo Archivist for assistance at photos@mycchc.org or 610-692-4800 x260

In-Depth Research requests for publications, films or commercial projects:

  • 30.00 per hour for CCHC members, $40 per hour for non-members
  • The historical photograph collections are available for viewing by the public in the library during open hours, Tuesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Researchers can view a selection of original photographs as well as popular collections on the Digital Viewing Station in the library.  Entire photograph albums featuring views of Chester County architecture, covered bridges, railroads and the natural environment are among the favorite collections available on the Viewing Station.
  • For online visitors, a sampling of historical photographs can be viewed with their descriptive records on CCHC’ Online Catalog.  When using the Online Catalog, select the Advanced Searchtab and check off both photos and library sections to search. The majority of the Photo Archives records are in the library section of the catalog.
  • An appointment with the Photo Archivist is necessary if you wish to view original fragile media such as daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, glass plate negatives, glass stereographs, lantern slides, photo jewelry, opalotypes or other items requiring special equipment or handling.  Please contact the Photo Archivist at photos@mycchc.org to set up an appointment.
  • The CCHC Reproduction Service can make digital or print reproductions of historical photographs in the collection for patron use.  See the Rights and Reproductions page for policy and fee schedule.  Patrons are welcome to make photocopies of photographs for study purposes, as long as they are not too fragile for copying. 

WARNING CONCERNING COPYRIGHT RESTRICTIONS: The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyright material. Under certain conditions specified in the law, libraries and archives are authorized to furnish photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted works. One of these specified conditions is that the photocopy or reproduction is not to be “used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research.” If a user makes a request for, or later uses, a photocopy or reproduction for purposes in excess of “fair use,” the user may be liable for copyright infringement. This institution reserves the right to refuse to accept an order if, in its judgment, fulfillment of the order would involve violation of copyright law. The granting of permission to publish by the Society does not absolve users of materials from securing permission from copyright owners and payment of such additional fees as the owners may require if the Society does not own copyright or if the material is not in the public domain. Applicants assume all responsibility for questions of copyright and invasion of privacy that may arise in copying and in the use of the photographic copy.

Collection highlights:

  • Over 400 daguerreotypes including portraits of Frederick Douglass ca. 1848 and Passmore Williamson in Moyamensing prison, 1855.
  • Collection of over 9,000 portraits of Chester County residents from 1840s – 1950s.
  • Over 10,000 photographs documenting architecture, landscape and events organized by subject for quick access.
  • Unique color photographic process patented by William C. South in 1906, “The Solgram.”
  • Detective Camera photographs taken by Horace Engle record candid activity around Chester County Courthouse, 1888
  • Photograph album of portraits of members from Longwood Progressive Friends Meeting active in suffrage, temperance and abolition, 1860s.
  • Collection of early Kodak photographs documenting the ice harvesting industry by Uriah Hunt Painter.

Collections

The Photo Archives collection can be searched through inventories, indexes, and the PastPerfect database.

1850s – 1990s: these photographs are arranged by topical headings from the LC Thesaurus for Graphic Materials, and subdivided by location. 

Follow the link for a collection guide

1850s – Present: Self-indexing files of portrait photographs by family name. Some noteworthy portraits include: Samuel Barber, Buffalo Bill Cody, Dr. William Darlington, MD, Madame Louise Homer, Brevet Major General Galusha Pennypacker, Dr. Ann Preston, Horace Pippin and Bayard Taylor.

Follow the link for a portrait collection inventory 

Format collections include historic processes such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, stereographs, crayon photographs, photographic jewelry, oversize photographs and other unique processes.

    • Daguerreotypes: 1840s -1860s.
      • Some highlights include portraits of Frederick Douglass, Castner Hanway, and Passmore Williamson. Also includes work by Philadelphia daguerreotypists Marcus Root, Samuel Van Loan, McClees & Germon, William & Frederick Langenheim, John Plumb, Jr., Frederick DeBourg Richards, M.P. Simons and others. See Every-Name index
      • The George Pyle Collection gives a rare look at the work of an itinerant daguerreotypist between 1846 and 1849. The collection consists of 16 plates, including a portrait of Pyle’s mentor J.J.E. Mayall, daguerreotype formula book, daguerreotype register, account book, receipts for supplies, handbills and personal letters. Bibliography and transcripts available.
    • Ambrotypes: 1854 – 1870s Includes rare outdoor views and many local portraits. See Every-Name index
    • Cased Tintypes: 1856-1870s See Every-name index
    • Cartes-de-visite: 1858-1890s Also known as CDV or photographic visiting card, this was a popular portrait format. See Every-Name index
    • Cabinet cards: 1870-1900 See Every-Name index
    • Tintypes: 1856-1920s See Every-Name index
    • Ivorytypes and unique processes: 1860-1920s Features many unusual photographic processes such as Ivorytype, Orotone, Crystoleum and Opalotype.
    • Stereoviews: 1850s-1930s Features views of Yosemite by Thomas C. Roche, Centennial Photographic Co. views of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia and views by John Moran.
    • Glass stereoviews: 1850-1910s Features rare Hyalotypes, the first stereographs made on glass by the Langenheims of Philadelphia.
    • Magic lantern slides: 1840s-1920s Features early hand painted slides in wood mounts and slides on a variety of subjects by a number of Philadelphia manufacturers.
    • Oversize and panoramic photographs: 1860s – 1950s Features many group portraits of organizations, businesses and family reunions.
    • Chromos or Crayon Portraits: 1860-1900 These large photographs, commonly hung in parlors, are enhanced with charcoal, chalk, ink or paint.
    • Photograph albums: 1860- present 191 albums record families, the landscape, businesses and organizations. Some highlights include:
      • Pierce-Lamborn Family Album records the members of the Longwood Progressive Friends meeting during the 1860s active in abolition, suffrage and temperance. Among those pictured are: Lucretia & James Mott, Dinah & Isaac Mendenhall, Abby Kimber, Thomas Garrett, Sarah Pugh and others.
      • West Chester Views, Charles S. Bradford’s views of West Chester and the Brandywine Valley, 1892-1899.
      • Albert Biles’ West Chester, emerging professional photographer Albert Biles photographs West Chester and surrounding area, 1899 – 1905.
      • The Wilmington and Northern Railroad, Charles A. Elston’s hand-colored photographs document the railroad from Wilmington to Birdsboro, 1947.

The Every-Name portrait index is a merged listing of seven portrait format collections. They include daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes or ferrotypes, cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards and the portrait file. These listings give access to photographic portraits made between 1840 and 1990. There are other sources for portraits in the CCHC collection that are not represented on this list.

Follow the link to the Every Name Index 

Photographer's Collections

Work produced by a professional or amateur photographer who worked or lived in Chester County, Pennsylvania. CCHC holds 59 collections. See below for featured collections:

Amateur photographer documents life on Spring Hope Farm in E. Fallowfield, a paper bag factory and Timicula Railroad Station, 1982-1917

Sites of historical significance in Oxford, Valley Forge and the Brandywine Valley, ca. 1900.

Follow the link for a collection guide.

Businesses, farms and dwellings in the northwestern section of Chester County, Pennsylvania, 1895-1908.

Noted Historian and genealogist, Gilbert Cope took over 2,400 views from 1887 – 1918 documenting Chester County landscape, families and Quaker community.

 Follow the link for the collection guide.

Features glass plate negatives taken with the Stirn’s Detective Camera of ordinary activity on the streets of West Chester in 1888.

 Follow the link for a collection guide.

This commercial photographer documents area businesses and organizations, 1947-1961.

Follow the link to the guide. 

 a sampling of this professional photographer’s work, which he donated to the society before his death, includes portrait photographs 1948 – 1957 and commercial photography of businesses and organizations 1960s – 1980s.

Gurtizen Portrait Inventory 

Follow the link for a collection guide

Gurtizen Commercial Inventory  

Follow the link for a collection guide.

This talented amateur photographer gives a touching portrayal of his two daughters growing up in the 1890s.

Follow the link for a collection guide   

Views of West Chester and the Brandywine Valley from 1880-1895. Also includes photographs from the Postal Photographic Club, a photographic exchange club which flourished from 1889 to 1891. Some contributors include P.S. Chase, Miss E.S. Needles, J.M. and W. H. Walmsley, and others.

Follow the link for a collection guide  

Naturalistic amateur photographer who took artistic views of the Brandywine and rural scenes 1883-1890s. Also includes views in West Chester and home interiors.

Follow the link for a collection guide

 Views of the milling industry in southern Chester County and northern Delaware from 1895-1912. 

Follow the link for a collection guide   

Amateur photographer records his family, lumberyard business in West Chester and Bucks County goat farm, 1907-1911.

Follow the link for a collection guide.

Family photographs and views in Bondsville and Fisherville, East Brandywine Township, 1898-1904.

Follow the link for a collection guide.

Offers the only complete archive of the Solgram Color Photo process by this photographer and inventor. Included are the original 1904 patents, brochures, correspondence, catalog for the Keystone School of Photography, ca. 1911, Downingtown and 241 color photographs by South and his students. Read more about South’s career and Solgram Color Photographs on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_South

Follow the link for a collection guide 

Best known for his freelance photography for newspapers, local police, the Republican party and theatrical personalities, Thompson was also know for his commercial work, portraiture, and wedding photography, ca. 1950 – 1970. Visit the Thompson Gallery.

 Follow the link for a collection guide.

Amateur photographer and printer by trade, Thorne photographed local mills, Birmingham and Lenape Parks, the Brandywine Creek and sites around West Chester 1886-1910. Also included in his collection are views of the Brandywine taken by Wilmer Worthington MacElree for his series of books.

Follow the link for a collection guide

1885-1930 Miscellaneous photographs by a variety of photographers. Some highlights include Longwood Gardens, P.M. Sharpless Estate, one-room schoolhouses, and the Brandywine.

Follow the link for a collection guide

Donor's Collections

These 120 collections represent a group of photos given by a single donor that document an extended family group or a special interest. See below for featured collections

1930s survey of sites used as Post Offices throughout Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Follow the link for a collection guide.

Personal photographs of the arctic explorer. Entrikin was part of Peary’s Relief Expedition 1892, Northern Greenland expedition 1893-4 and the Mt. St. Elias expedition. He also lived in Seattle, Washington and Alaska during the Gold Rush 1897-1901, Mexico, Texas and Arizona 1904-1910 and Florida 1914-1942.

 Follow the link for a collection guide.

Photographs collected by this Phoenixville Justice of the Peace document the immigrant groups that came together in the Phoenixville community.

 Follow the link for a collection guide.

This collection features the life and work of historian Albert Cook Myers, a noted William Penn Scholar. It includes Myers family photographs, historical images of Adams, Chester, Delaware and other counties, sites associated with William Penn, Quakers, Revolutionary war, Native Americans, etc. Myers installed markers between 1921 – 1933.

Follow the link to the 272 page collection inventory.

179 photographs of the family of Benjamin and Lillian Mercer Walker and of views in Chester, Delaware and York Counties, Pennsylvania where they lived, 1860s – 1940s.

Follow the link for a collection guide.

Color slides taken between 1978 -2004 of significant architecture in West Chester and Chester County, PA.

Follow the link for a collection guide

Collection of photographs taken by the West Chester Camera Club members Ned Goode and Melvin Gurtizen of the festivities celebrating 150 years of West Chester borough history. Includes parades, beauty pageants, costume promenade, model airplane contest, historical displays and decorations in the borough and other events.

Follow the link for a collection guide.