Central Library in Copley Square
Closure Notice: These collections are currently closed to in-person research due to the renovation of the Special Collections Reading Room as part of the Rare Books Renovation Project. Learn more about this major renovation and the important improvements being made to collection and public spaces. We look forward to welcoming researchers back into these newly renovated spaces in 2022.
The Boston Public Library 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 Henri de 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, 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.