Central Library in Copley Square
Please note: In-person public service is currently suspended in order to complete an inventory of the collections.
The Boston Public Library Print Department has built collections by gift and purchase which today total over 130,000 prints and drawings and an estimated 1,000,000 photographs.
Prints, Drawings, & Works on Paper
The BPL’s print collection was formally established in 1941 when the Trustees accepted the gift of the collection of Alfred Wiggin. At that time, Wiggin’s collection was known as one of the most important private collections of etchings and other works of art on paper in America. Among the treasures in Wiggin’s collection:
- a complete set of Durer’s Life of the Virgin (Nuremberg 1511), once owned by William Morris, and bound in vellum at his Kelmscott Press
- two large folio and two quarto albums of ca. 180 watercolors and drawings by Thomas Rowlandson
- A complete copy of Goya’s Tauromaquia, bound and published in Madrid in 1815
- 260 prints and 26 posters by Toulouse-Lautrec, in a variety of states including proofs
- 97 etchings, dry-points, and lithographs by James McNeill Whistler
- a uniquely comprehensive collection of 195 lithographs by George Bellows
Among the important late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century printmakers collected in depth include Sir Muirhead Bone, Sir David Young Cameron, and James McBey, Auguste Brouet, Charles Meryon, Anders Zorn, Francis Seymour Haden, and Jean-Louis Forain.
Later major acquisitions included comprehensive collections of prints by Alphonse Legros, Augustus John, Frank W. Benson, the Albert and Robert Maroni collection of the works of Honoré Daumier, and a sketchbook with 72 drawings by Toulouse-Lautrec. The Print Department is especially active in collecting drawings, prints, and photographs by artists with ties to Boston.
Among special strengths are the Boston Pictorial Archive, the largest public collections of photographs of Boston in earlier days; important collections of early photographs of the American West; Civil War photographs; and nineteenth century photographs of native peoples and local architecture from all over the world. Documentary collections of photographs, including the old Boston Herald Traveler morgue of 500,000 photographs from 1920 to 1972 and the Boston Pictorial Archive, are extensive.