Scope and Contents
The major part of the collection, series 1-4, contains nearly 28,000 glass plates, including original stereoscopic negatives, interpositives, and both negative and positive non-stereoscopic plates used to produce lantern slides and paper prints. The photographs were taken all over the world. The majority are from the Underwood & Underwood active files, but plates from other publishers are also included. Series 5 is a small collection of paper stereographs. Series 6 contains 4 Underwood & Underwood descriptive sales catalogs and 1 H. C. White & Co. catalog (numbers on the Underwood plates correspond to the numbers on catalog captions). Series 7 is apparatus--four stereoscopes.
The approximately 28,000 glass plates in this collection have not been completely inspected at this point due to handling problems associated with asbestos contamination of the collection. A preliminary survey, however, indicated that the selections of images cover the full range of subject matter encompassed by the "Underwood Travel System." The subject matter is most easily comprehended by consulting one of the Underwood sales catalogs which accompany the collection. The catalog captions are arranged geographically, for the most part, and generally represent an organized "tour" which could be purchased as a boxed set, complete with maps and guide book, although individual images could be purchased separately. The catalogs indicate that the Underwood files were continually updated, for extensive modifications in some of the sets can be seen from edition to edition, and actual inspection of published stereographs shows that alternate views with identical Underwood catalog numbers were substituted from time to time, and that new subjects (with new catalog numbers) were sometimes introduced into the sets and old subjects were retired. There are glass plate negatives as well as positives in this collection. The positive images were probably interpositives used for the production of duplicate negatives. Some of the original stereo negatives were cut apart and the images transposed; they were then bound with an additional glass support (in many cases the tape has deteriorated). Half stereo positives also appear in the collection: these probably were intended for use in lantern slide production. Frequently a drawer of plates contains several incarnations of a single image, including the original negative, a copy negative, an interpositive, and a positive lantern slide. In other cases a drawer may contain only a single mode, e.g., original negatives, while corresponding positives and/or lantern slides appear in separate drawers.
A small quantity of the Underwood & Underwood plates are not from the Travel System, but represent humorous and genre subjects which were cataloged and marketed separately. The work of several other publishers, usually without Underwood catalog numbers, is also represented, including H. C. White, American Stereoscopic Company, and J. J. Killela.
The arrangement of the collection seems to reflect a combination of permanent reference storage as well as active use files. The apparent anomalies or inconsistencies probably indicate the pulling of plates from permanent files into temporary work files, and the collection may consist of a combination of permanent storage and temporary working files. As the drawers do not appear to have been renumbered according to any easily discernible pattern, they have become intermixed and rearranged in storage. The contents of each drawer usually have been found in good order, however, and the plates were nearly always arranged numerically,usually with the low numbers at the rear of the drawer and the highest number at the front. As the plates have been rehoused, the reverse numerical order has been corrected. When all the plates have been rehoused and inventoried, consideration will be given to general collection rearrangement and renumbering of the containers, either strictly in numerical order or topically and/or geographically with a numerical sequence within each group.
The collection is in good condition for the most part, although conservation attention will be required. There is a certain amount of emulsion peeling or frilling at the edges of some plates, but this is a condition to which emulsions on glass frequently are prone. A few plates, bound in a sandwich arrangement between cover glass and acetate facing the emulsion, have suffered severe damage, peeling, and image losses through the apparent ferrotyping and sticking of emulsion to the plastic, probably under conditions of high humidity at some stage. There is surprisingly little glass breakage within the collection.
Most of the stereoscopic negatives and many of the positives are defaced with a double "XI' scratched into the emulsion of either the left or right side, as described above in the historical note. Of particular interest and presumed rarity are cards found interfiled with plates in many of the drawers. These cards, filed by Underwood (i.e., catalog) numbers, bear printing'or production dates and notes, along with the unique, chronological accession numbers which the company assigned to each plate, regardless of the "active" number which it might eventually receive. A check mark on a card usually refers to a plate actually in the collection and with which the card is found physically associated; additional accession numbers without check marks listed on the cards possibly refer to variant views which were discarded or may in fact be in the Keystone Mast Collection (pending further research). For ease of handling and in the interest of conservation, the cards have been separated from the plates within each drawer and are arranged as a group at the rear, but can still be located easily. Frequently when a plate and/or its original envelope does not bear both the "active" and accession numbers, the missing number can be located on one of these cards.
Photographers represented include Herbert G. Ponting and Clarence W. White. A photographer and/or publisher named J. J. Killela is also represented.