Help Us Grow the Photography Collection

Putting the Eastern Collection Back Together Again

Killer Whale in Tenants Harbor, ME; LB2010.9.117573; One of the “new” negatives recently adopted.

How big is Penobscot Marine Museum’s collection of photos from the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company? It’s not an easy question, because the answer is a moving target. When it arrived here in 2007, the Eastern Collection was already Maine’s largest single photography collection, with some 35,000 glass plate and film negatives.

But despite its huge size, it soon became apparent that it was incomplete. Photo archivist Kevin Johnson learned of thousands of negatives that “escaped” from the collection during several changes of ownership before the museum acquired it. These negatives ended up in antique shops and area auctions, on eBay, and ultimately in private collections. Over the past five years, thousands of the missing negatives have been located and, through donations and purchases, more than 5,000 of them with the rest of the collection.

In 2010 PMM agreed to purchase a lot of 7,500 Eastern negatives from a postcard dealer and launched a campaign to raise the agreed sum of $46,000. Private contributions and a grant from the Maine State Archives helped initiate the purchase and conservation of the negatives. A campaign was hatched to raise additional money by encouraging individuals and organizations to sponsor or “adopt” a town. This has been a critical success, generating many thousands of dollars and facilitating a huge chunk of the labor involved in processing and archiving—manually and digitally—these historic treasures. PMM is indebted to the many small businesses, individuals, and historical societies who have donated money to this endeavor. The public can now view images of the “new” negatives, along with any accompanying information, in the museum’s online database.

Much work still needs to be done and many towns remain to be adopted. See the lists below. In addition, there is a smaller group of Eastern negatives the museum would like to acquire which contains nearly 1,000 negatives, including many of the Cape Cod area and North Shore of Massachusetts. If you can help fund these purchases, please contact Photo Archivist Kevin Johnson.

The Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Co. was a “real photo” postcard publisher based in Belfast, Maine. (“Real photo” postcards are printed through a photographic printing process, not the offset process more commonly used. It produces an image with better resolution than offset.) Covering nearly every town and village in Maine and the rest of New England and upstate New York, the collection serves as a photographic survey of the Northeast in the first half of the 20th Century.

Towns Available for Adoption


Urgent Preservation News

We hope to acquire two more available lots of Eastern Illustrating negatives before they are sold into private collections, where they may be lost to the public forever. One, consisting of 800 negatives, primarily of western Maine, is available to us for $4,000. The other, consisting of 1,200 negatives of Massachussets and New Hampshire, will cost us $12,500. Please contact us at if you can help.