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Mathew B. Brady and Levin Corbin Handy Photographic Studios Collection

Call Number: GEN MSS 580

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of photographs created by the studios of Mathew B. Brady and his nephew and former apprentice, Levin Corbin Handy, in Washington, D.C.

The collection includes imagery created by photographers employed by Brady during the American Civil War and documents his marketing of that imagery, as well as the continuing efforts of the Levin C. Handy Studio to promote and market this wartime imagery into the early twentieth century. The collection also documents the functioning of photographic studios in Washington, D.C., from the middle of the nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, and the personal photography and papers of the Handy family. The collection includes the work of other photographers and photographic studios collected by Handy, as well as artifacts related to photography.

This collection largely represents photographic material retained by Handy's daughters. Other photographic materials created by Brady and his studios were transferred to creditors during the American Civil War, purchased by the United States government in 1875, or purchased by Library of Congress in 1954. At the time of processing this collection, many of the images created by the Brady studio were available in digital form from the United States National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress via the Internet.

Each folder in the collection contains a single photographic print, except where two or more photographic prints are noted, and each sleeve contains a single photographic negative, except where two or more film negatives are noted.


  • 1843 - 1957
  • Majority of material found within 1860 - 1935


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Mathew B. Brady and Levin Corbin Handy Photographic Studios 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 the William Reese Company on the Edwin J. Beinecke Book Fund, 2006.


Organized into four series: I. Mathew B. Brady Studio. II. Levin Corbin Handy Studio. III. Family Papers and Photographs. IV. Collected Photographs and Artifacts.

Within each series, the photographic materials are arranged according to format and presentation.


28.44 Linear Feet (76 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Photographs, papers, and artifacts created or collected by Mathew B. Brady, Levin Corbin handy, their studios, and their family, 1843-1957. The collection includes images created by Brady during the American Civil War and documents the continual use of these images into the early twentieth century by Handy and his studio. The collection reflects the operations of the Brady and Handy studios in Washington, D.C., from the middle of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth century. It contains work by other photographers and other studios collected by Handy, as well as camera lenses and other photographic artifacts. A small group of papers document aspects of the extended Handy family history.

Mathew B. Brady (circa 1823-1896)

Mathew B. Brady (circa 1823-1896) was an American photographer who achieved prominence through his portrait photographs and his organization of photographers to document the American Civil War from his studio in Washington, D.C.

Born in Warren County, New York, to Irish immigrant parents, Brady learned the daguerreotype process in Saratoga, New York. By 1844, he operated a daguerreotype studio in New York, New York. The following year he established his gallery of illustrious Americans, which consisted of daguerreotype portraits of American celebrities, he published a portion as lithographic reproductions in 1850.

In 1849, Brady established a studio in Washington D.C., with the expectation of creating portraits of senators and congressional representatives, but he closed it within a year due to high operating expenses and local competition. While in Washington, he met Juliette Handy, whom he married two years later. Around this time, Brady's eyesight began to fail and he concentrated on the management of his studios, which included posing sitters for their portraits, while employees created the photographs. In 1853, he opened a second studio in New York, New York.

In 1858, Brady re-established a studio in Washington D.C., with Alexander Gardner as his primary photographer. With the onset of the American Civil War, Brady organized a corps of photographers and assistants to document the people, events, and locales of the war. Photographers in this group included George N. Barnard, Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, and Thomas C. Roche. The photographers created conventional portraits of individuals and groups, views of military encampments, and the aftermath of battles. Images published or adapted as engravings in publications had the credit "Photograph by Brady."

Brady sought to market images of the American Civil War with little success. During the war, he transferred many original glass plate negatives to the photographic supply firm of E. & H. T. Anthony & Company to settle his debts with the company. In 1942, the Library of Congress purchased much of this material, where it became the Anthony-Taylor-Rand-Ordway-Eaton Collection.

Brady spent an estimated $100,000 to print ten thousand photographic prints documenting the American Civil War, but a lack of customers required him to sell his studios in New York and Washington and declare bankruptcy. In 1875, he finally sold a bulk of his photographs to the United States government for $25,000. Much of this material became part of the files of the Department of War eventually deposited in the United States National Archives and Records Administration. Nevertheless, Brady remained deeply in debt.

By 1883, Brady formed a photographic partnership with his nephew, Levin Corbin Handy, and Samuel C. Chester, to market images from the American Civil War and maintain a photographic studio in Washington. In 1887, Juliette Handy Brady died. Brady continued to face financial difficulties through the remainder of his life. On January 15, 1896, Brady died in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York, New York, from complications following a streetcar accident. After his death, his remaining photography files became the property of Levin Corbin Handy.

Levin Corbin Handy (1855-1932)

Levin Corbin Handy (1855-1932), an American photographer, was a nephew and former apprentice of Mathew B. Brady.

Born in Washington, D.C., the son of Samuel S. Handy and Mary A. Handy, Handy began working in the Brady studio as an apprentice in 1867. He soon demonstrated himself as a skilled camera operator, and established his own photographic business in Washington by 1871.

Around 1880, Handy entered a photographic partnership with Samuel C. Chester. They operated a studio in Cape May, New Jersey in 1882. By 1883, Handy and Chester partnered with Brady to market images from the American Civil War. Chester ultimately left the partnership, while Handy maintained the studio at his home and studio located at 494 Maryland Avenue Southwest, Washington, D.C. When Mathew B. Brady died in 1896, his remaining photography files became the property of Handy.

In Washington, the L.C. Handy Studio offered an array of traditional photographic services, in particular to the Library of Congress and other governmental agencies. He also provided photograph duplication services to patrons of the Library of Congress and to members of the United States Congress.

Handy died at his home on March 23, 1932. He bequeathed his studio and photographic files, including his collection of Mathew B. Brady, to his daughters, Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans. In 1954, the Library of Congress purchased approximately ten thousand original, duplicate, and copy negatives from Cox and Evans.

Processing Information

Upon acquisition, the Mathew B. Brady and Levin Corbin Handy Photographic Studios Collection had no discernible order and many items had damage or soiling. A group of flexible photographic negatives were discarded due to severe deterioration.

The processing archivist did not distinguish the rank of military officers and soldiers in the photographic imagery, nor establish individual photographers or dates of images.

In April 2015, library staff revised the finding aid to reflect the storage of photographic material on broken glass carriers, as well as correcting typographical errors.

Guide to the Mathew B. Brady and Levin Corbin Handy Photographic Studios Collection
Under Revision
by Matthew Daniel Mason
September 2007
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.