Boston Public Library

Boston Pictorial Archive (Collection of Distinction)

The Boston Pictorial Archive is one of the largest distinct collections of images related to Boston held by a public institution and the essential resource for Boston architectural, social, and neighborhood history. It includes more than 6,000 images on paper representing the visual history of the city of Boston from the colonial era through the 20th century, the majority of which are original photographic prints dating from the 1850s to the last decade of the 20th century. The collection is rich in lithographs, etchings, and engravings as well as unique works of art on paper such as watercolors, pen-and-ink drawings, and pencil sketches.

Many of the photographs and prints in the collection are unique to the library and are not duplicated in other area or national institutions. Highlights include James W. Black's 1860 "Balloon View of Boston," the first extant aerial photograph taken in the U.S., albumen print photographs related to the Great Fire of 1872, a series of original watercolors by J. R. Smith of the excavation of Beacon Hill in 1811 along with the set of hand-colored lithographs made after the original drawings, and A. H. Folsom's photographs documenting the Roxbury neighborhood and the Boston Public School System from 1890 to 1893.

Other Boston neighborhoods richly represented in the collection include the South End, Back Bay, North End, Roxbury, and Jamaica Plain. These prints and photographs also document the city's land reclamation as well as its cultural, architectural, and environmental growth. They provide a rich trove of visual materials for the study of the history of Boston at all levels of scholarship.

Critical funding to support long-term preservation of and enhanced public access to Boston Public Library collections, including this one, was provided by the Associates of the Boston Public Library

Locations in this Collection: