Putting the Eastern Collection Back Together Again
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 eleven years, thousands of the missing negatives have been located and, through donations and purchases, more than 9,000 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.
In 2016 we made the last payment and the negatives are now officially owned by the museum. The collection now stands at more than 50,000 negatives! Our work on the collection is not done however and many towns remain to be adopted. While we no longer need to pay for the negatives, there are still costs associated with digitizing, storing and cataloging them. There are approximately 1,500 Maine negatives left to be “adopted” as well as several hundred negatives from the other New England states. See the lists below.
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