Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Collecting Art Images Before Google

How did people collect art images before Google? Here's how it worked in 1891. In the back of an art magazine, you would see a small ad like this: 

First thing you would do is find an envelope, put 15 cents in stamps or coins into it, and mail it to the Boston address.

Wait a week, and you receive a printed catalog showing—or perhaps just listing—the names of all the images they have on offer. Now choose carefully. "Ancient" would include sculptures and paintings through the Renaissance. "Modern" would include what we think of now as contemporary academic realism.

These "cabinet size" (or postcard size) prints are only in black and white. They're thin paper prints, not mounted to stiff cardboard, as at right. They will cost you the equivalent in today's dollars of about $3.00 each, or about $35 per dozen.

The catalog would have an order form printed in the back or they might give you separate order forms. You would fill one out, enclose payment (cash or check) and mail it back to Boston. Wait another week and the photographic prints would arrive in your mailbox.

Total elapsed time: between two weeks and a month, depending on where you live.

What then would you do with these cherished images? You could frame them, pin them up on your studio wall, mount them into a photo album, place them in individual cardboard folders with a cutout window, or classify them in separate folders in a filing cabinet.
Tip: If you want to collect images online, don't use Google. Use DuckDuckGo, which lets you view and download an image file directly, and doesn't track your searches..
Thanks, Keita


Jim Douglas said...

Collecting art images in the past was certainly a laborious undertaking, but at least people in the late-19th-century could purchase photographs. Before photography, men and women of means would embark on a "Grand Tour" to see the best art & architecture Europe had to offer in person:


22nd-century American art student: "How did people in the 21st-century expose themselves to the world's art & architecture before virtual reality? Would they really travel 4,000 miles to walk through the Pantheon in Rome? That sounds like a lot of work to me."

Drake Gomez said...

The example of the Bouguereau "card" is very similar in appearance to the University Prints series, which were published in Winchester, Mass., into the 2000's. I remember some of my art history profs in the '80s requiring us to purchase sets of University Prints that they had chosen for certain courses. I don't know if the Boston company in your article later became University Prints, James, but the look of the cards is quite similar.

University Prints were in color, at least when I used them, but the color was horrendous. The company did publish a catalog, though, and it was no small feat of scholarship for them to have codified several thousand works of art--Western and non-Western--into something that was organized and comprehensible.

Amanda said...

Organising a collection of images also needs consideration. (In the old days it was easy enough to keep a page of notes along with the photo.) A few days ago I found Tropy, a free open source app for organising and describing photographs. It's intended for academic researchers, so with a custom template or two, it works perfectly for hoarding art images along with any information about each piece along with it.