RI Photographs, hot off the digital press!

Thanks to our Digital Projects Manager and some very speedy scanning technicians, we’ve uploaded our first big batch of Rhode Island photographs to the Providence Public Library’s digital library!

These photos, from our Rhode Island Photograph Collection, show places from Glocester to Newport (with plenty of Providence); there are Vanderbilts and tradesmen, Ida Lewis and her dog, and people testing out early airplanes.

The images can be browsed, or can be searched by creator, subject, keyword, or date. Stay tuned for many more images of Rhode Island’s past as we continue with our digitization process!


A Time for Wonder

The Wonder Show has been in the works for months (the first mention on this blog was back in November), and it’s organizers have been hard at work the whole time. Glass plate negatives from our collection have been transformed into magic lantern slides, writing workshops at the library and elsewhere have produced a script, and local actors have prepared to deliver it. For those who haven’t already gotten their tickets for the sold-out shows tonight and tomorrow, it’s too late, unfortunately (although there may be a little overflow and last-minute seating available, so stop by if you’re in the area). But if you can’t make it to the event itself (and even if you can), you should definitely still stop by and see the exhibition here at PPL (put together by Carolyn Gennari and Anya Ventura) on the history of optical entertainments and the process they went through in recreating a magic lantern show here in Providence.

The exhibition will be on display through the rest of May.

Free Tickets!

If you’re going to be in Providence in May, you won’t want to miss the Wonder Show, and free tickets are now available at the Wonder Show blog. The event (recreating the experience of a nineteenth-century magic lantern show) promises to be a unique and fascinating experience. The dates are May 18 and 19 at 7 pm. Find out more at


and get those tickets while they last.

Whaling Photographs

The Nicholson Whaling Collection is best known for its logbooks and journals, but it includes other formats as well: scrimshaw, manuscripts and photographs. Thanks to volunteer Pat Loan, a portion of the whaling photograph collection is now listed online, described either by ship name or a location.

The images listed include a lot of whaling ships:

Bark Progress (Ser. B, Box 1, #39)

But also scenes from the whaling industry:


C.E. Peters Shipsmith and Whalecraft Mnfr. (Ser. B, Box 2, #71)

and images from whaling towns, especially New Bedford:

Cart with peanuts (Ser. C, Box 1, #3)

The list is available online at http://www.provlib.org/spc-whalingphotos

Magician of the Week #1

Today we offer the first entry of a regular weekly feature: The Magician of the Week. Magicians tend to be excellent (and often quite dapper) self-promoters, so this is a way to offer a weekly image with a dose of style and flair. We start with a classic scenario, the rabbit in the hat.

John Booth with Rabbit

Image taken from a copy of Booth’s Forging Ahead in Magic (Philadelphia: Kanter’s Magic Chop, 1939 — Percival #110) inscribed to John Percival:

More about John Booth.

Whaling in 3D

Our Nicholson Whaling Collection is best known as one of the best sources of whaling logs in the world. But the collection also includes a lot of other amazing, whaling-related material, including manuscripts (over 70 boxes), scrimshaw and photographs, including stereoview photographs like this one:

Stereoview cards like this one were widespread and made in a standard size, and they were designed for use in a viewer. Their essential function was to trick the brain into seeing depth within the image. (More information about stereoviews and the history of 3D images here or here or here.)

Best viewed in person, it’s possible to mimic the effect somewhat by creating an animated composite that shifts quickly back and forth between the two images on the card. The result of the image above, for instance, would be something like this (click the image to view animation):

Ironclad on the water

When Matthew Brady wasn’t photographing Abraham Lincoln, he was taking some of the most iconic photographs of the Civil War. Here is an example from our Caleb Fiske Harris Collection on the Civil War & Slavery: a  photograph of an ironclad, identified as “probably the Camonicus or the Onondaga, at anchor in the James river in the spring of 1864.” The photograph was laid into the Civil War diary of Manchester W. Weld.