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Meserve-Kunhardt collection

 Collection
Call Number: GEN MSS 1430

Scope and Contents

The Meserve-Kunhardt Collection chiefly consists of photographic material, as well as papers and realia that document the work of Frederick Hill Meserve. A collector and distributor of photographs from 1897 to his death in 1962, Meserve built an extensive collection of material related to Abraham Lincoln as well as other persons, sites, and events of the long nineteenth century. The collection also documents the stewardship and development of the collection from 1962 to 2015 by his descendants, especially his daughter, Dorothy Turner Meserve Kunhardt. The material in the collection provides rich visual documentation of United States history, especially persons, sites, and events during the American Civil War, and details the emergence of photography as a distinctive cultural practice into the early twentieth century.

"Workbooks" represent the first portion of the collection opened for research in January 2017. They consist of copy prints that Meserve made or commissioned between 1897 and 1962 that index original portraiture within the larger collection. The photographs document more than 6,500 individuals on more than ten thousand gelatin silver prints. The images include portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as military and governmental personnel for the United States and Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. Groups of portraits also document cabinet members in presidential administrations from William Henry Harrison through Woodrow Wilson, as well as statesmen, authors, poets, clergy, actors, actresses, and other entertainers chiefly in the United States, but also from Europe and Asia.

Cased photographs chiefly consists of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes mounted primarily in contemporary decorative cases chiefly collected by Meserve and Kunhardt during the twentieth century. The collection contains 259 entries for individual items or small collections of related material that document photographic processes and presentation techniques primarily in the United States from circa 1845 to circa 1867.

Dates

  • circa 1845-1962

Creator

Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

Series I. Photographs; Subseries. Workbooks is open for research. As additional series and subseries are processed they will be opened to researchers. For additional information contact the processing archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

The Meserve-Kunhardt Collection is the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from MKF Funding, Llc, Peter W. Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, III, on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund and with a gift from the Rice Family Foundation, 2015.

Gift of Peter W. Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt, III, 2015.

Arrangement

Organized into one series: I. Photographs, circa 1897-1962.

Extent

37.57 Linear Feet (77 boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.meservekunhardt

Overview

The Meserve-Kunhardt Collection chiefly consists of photographic material, as well as papers and realia that document the work of Frederick Hill Meserve. A collector and distributor of photographs from 1897 to his death in 1962, Meserve built an extensive collection of material related to Abraham Lincoln as well as other persons, sites, and events of the long nineteenth century. The collection also documents the stewardship and development of the collection from 1962 to 2015 by his descendants, especially his daughter, Dorothy Turner Meserve Kunhardt. The material in the collection provides rich visual documentation of United States history, especially persons, sites, and events during the American Civil War, and details the emergence of photography as a distinctive cultural practice into the early twentieth century.

History of the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection

Frederick Hill Meserve (1865-1962) began collecting photographs around 1897-1900 to illustrate the American Civil War memoir of his father, William Neal Meserve (1840-1928) with images of persons and sites mentioned therein. The elder Meserve drafted his narrative during the 1890s; it covers his military service from August 1862 to June 1865, and includes accounts of battles at Antietam (where he reportedly suffered two wounds), Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, and Cold Harbor, as well as engagements outside Petersburg, including the battles at the Crater and Weldon Railroad. A copy of the memoir will become available as other portions of the Collection are processed.

Over a period of sixty years as he amassed an extensive collection of photographs documenting the American Civil War as well as American history and culture over the long nineteenth century, Frederick Hill Meserve became the preeminent collector and historian of photographic images of Abraham Lincoln. He sought to identify and preserve every photograph taken of the sixteenth president.

Meserve privately published many illustrated works, including his the twenty-eight-volume Historical Portraits: A Part of the Collection of Americana of Frederick Hill Meserve, New York City (New York: Privately printed, 1913-1915).

Eventually Meserve's daughter, Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt (1901-1979), joined in his research and collecting efforts. Her son, Philip Bradish Kunhardt, Jr. (1928-2006) continued the project, writing extensively about Lincoln and preserving what became known as the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection at his home in Chappaqua, New York.

In 1981, the National Portrait Gallery acquired its Meserve Collection from the family. That collection includes the “cracked-plate” portrait of Abraham Lincoln by Alexander Gardner and more than 5,400 original negatives from the studio of Mathew B. Brady.

The descendants of Philip Bradish Kunhardt, Jr., including his sons Philip Bradish Kunhardt, III (born 1951), and Peter Whiting Kunhardt, Sr. (born 1952), as well as his grandson, Peter Whiting Kunhardt, Jr. (born 1982), continued to care for the remaining collection. In 2002, they formed the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of oral and visual history and the use of it to inform, educate, and inspire.

In 2004, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection a Save America's Treasures grant, declaring that "the collection is an essential tool for Lincoln scholarship and for studying American cities and social movements." With this grant and other funding, the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation sought to preserve the collection and make it available to the public.

In 2007, the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation established a new division, the Gordon Parks Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of creative work by photographer, author, and film director Gordon Parks (1912-2006). The foundation subsequently acquired the archive of another photographer, Ed Clark (1911-2000).

In summer 2009, the collections administered by the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation relocated to the State University of New York-Purchase. Shortly before acquisition of the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection by the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation relocated its collections to Pleasantville, New York. Material related to Gordon Parks and Ed Clark is not part of the collection acquired by the Beinecke.

Processing Information

This finding aid will be revised as additional parts of the collection are processed and as revisions in arrangement or description are made by staff.

During their stewardship of the collection, the staff of the Meserve-Kunhardt Foundation applied "Meserve numbers" (expressed in this guide as a five digit number with the prefix "MES") to photographs in the collection. In doing so, they extended a numbering system established by Frederick Hill Meserve to organize and identify his photographic images. At this point (January 2017), it is not apparent at what number the staff began to apply new numbers. The Foundation also established its own sequence for drafts, galleys, and printed works (expressed as MESB6733-MESB8760). It does not appear that the Foundation used a consistent methodology to assign Meserve numbers; while each Meserve number corresponds to an individual record in a FileMaker Pro database created by the Foundation, the record may describe an individual photograph or a group of related photographs.
Title
Guide to the Meserve-Kunhardt Collection
Author
by Matthew Daniel Mason
Date
January 2017
Language of description
English

Revision Statements

  • June 2017: Added description for Cased Photographs

Repository Details

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977