Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection
Scope and Contents
The Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection consists chiefly of photographs dating from circa 1850 to 1970, but also includes printed illustrations, original artwork, documents, and ephemera that provide a record of black history in the United States for the period circa 1770 to 1970. The focus is on African-American subjects, but the collection also includes the work of black photographers, as well as images of white men and women, many of whom were associated with the abolitionist movement. Collected with a broad scope, the photographs represent the work of professional photographers in various regions of the United States and some European countries, and the formats present reflect the development of photographic processes, beginning with Daguerreotypes and extending through mid-twentieth century formats. The collection contains images of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Sojourner Truth, Louis Armstrong, and Joe Louis, as well as of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, among other highly recognized figures. It also includes a large number of photographic portraits of lesser-known African-American subjects, including politicians, bankers, athletes, entertainers, domestic servants, formerly enslaved people, and soldiers. Among the few documents in the collection is a ship manifest noting enslaved people aboard the "Telegraph," out of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1811. The collection also includes three-dimensional artifacts such as commemorative spoons, lapel buttons, and a plaster bust of Booker T. Washington.
Note that there is some overlap between the series, and that images can be found not only in Series I. Visual Material, but in Series II. and III. as well. In Series II. Printed Material, several printed documents and booklets include illustrations or postcards. In Series III. Artifacts, images are often incorporated into objects.
- 1728 - 1991
- Majority of material found within 1850 - 1970
- Simpson, Randolph Linsly, 1927-1992 (Collector)
Conditions Governing Access
Box 105 (film): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.
Conditions Governing Use
The Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American 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
Purchase from Swann Galleries, Inc., 1995 on various funds.
Organized into three series: I. Visual Material. II. Printed Material. III. Artifacts.
30 Linear Feet ((95 boxes) + 6 broadsides, 5 artwork)
Language of Materials
The Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection consists chiefly of photographs dating from circa 1850 to 1970, but also includes printed illustrations, original artwork, documents and printed ephemera that provide a record of black history in the United States for the period circa 1770 to 1970. The focus is on African-American subjects, but the collection also includes the work of black photographers, as well as images of white men and women, many of whom were associated with the abolitionist movement. Collected with a broad scope, the images provide information about individuals at all socio-economic levels and include people of all ages and gender. They represent the work of professional photographers in various regions of the United States and some European countries, and the image formats present in the collection reflect the development of photographic processes, beginning with Daguerreotypes and extending through mid-twentieth century formats.
Randolph Linsly Simpson (1927-1992)
The collector Randolph Linsly Simpson was born on June 1, 1927, and grew up both in Rochester, New York, where his father, Charles A. Simpson, worked in banking, and in Northford, Connecticut, at the family home of his mother, Eunice Hall Linsly Simpson. After graduating from the Harley School in Rochester in 1945, he served two years in the U. S. Navy, and later worked as a voice teacher. Simpson lived the latter part of his life at the Linsly homestead in Northford.
The Linslys were among the first to settle Northford, Connecticut, and many generations of the family attended Yale, from Noah Linsly, Yale 1791, to Simpson's older brother Josiah J. L. Simpson, Yale 1948. Simpson's interest in the material record of black history in America was apparently inspired by his family's abolitionist history, and by the proximity of his childhood home on Mount Hope Avenue in Rochester to the cemetery in which Frederick Douglass is buried.
Simpson's large collection of images, artifacts, and other memorabilia documenting the African-American experience drew a great deal of interest during his lifetime. In January, 1984, NBC television aired a one-hour special on the collection, "Blacks: Present and Accounted For." A portion of the collection was exhibited at the Connecticut Governor's Mansion in February 1985 and at the Wadsworth Atheneum in February 1987. In 1989 the Wadsworth Atheneum, through the then titled Amistad Foundation, purchased approximately 7,000 items from Simpson.
Simpson died on January 6, 1992.
A substantial portion of the printed material received with this collection, including books, newspapers, pamphlets, and sheet music, was removed for separate cataloging. Simpson's item numbers were not retained in the catalog records for these items, but his ownership is noted. Printed items that duplicated existing holdings were not retained by the library.
This guide was derived from a list received with the collection from Swann Galleries, possibly created for purposes of appraisal. The Swann document may have been based on Simpson’s own list of his collection, including his descriptions of the material. For that reason, the library has largely preserved the descriptions from that list, which often include non-standard terminology along with anecdotes and comments about subjects and photographers. In some cases image descriptions have been added where none existed in the original list or expanded to include more detail; obvious typographical errors and errors of transcription were also corrected. Information in the Swann/Simpson list has not been verified, although identifications that were obviously speculative were changed to more objective descriptions of the items.
Prior to its acquisition by the library, the collection was organized by format, and the subseries titles in this guide represent the format designations on the inherited list. The library further organized these format groupings into series. Three addenda consisting of multiple formats were originally filed at the end of the collection, reflecting the collector's acquisition of material after an initial organization and numbering scheme was complete. The items in these addenda were interfiled into Series I-III by the library in order to facilitate digitization, intellectual access, and appropriate physical housing.
For some years after acquisition by the library, items in the collection were identified only by the item numbers assigned by Simpson; during processing box and folder numbers were additionally assigned. Simpson's item numbers are retained in a note for each item, and material is arranged by item number within each subseries. Gaps in the item number sequence most often reflect removal for separate cataloging (for example, items 1758-1814, 1889-1931) but a few gaps represent items that were not received by the library.
- African American photographers
- African Americans -- 19th century -- Portraits
- African Americans -- 20th Century -- Portraits
- African Americans -- Pictorial works
- Ambrotypes (photographs)
- Cabinet photographs
- Card photographs (photographs)
- Daguerreotypes (photographs)
- Ephemera (general object genre)
- Photographic prints
- Simpson, Randolph Linsly, 1927-1992
- Tintypes (prints)
- Guide to the Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection
- by Beinecke Staff
- May 1996
- Description rules
- Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
121 Wall Street
New Haven, CT 06511
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.