Hidden Gems of Our Photos & Prints Archives

10, October 2017

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Missouri Historical Society's photograph and print collections for 20 years now, and even in that amount of time there are still images I’ve never seen. We have more than 900 distinct collections of related images that include, at our best estimate, about 1 million pictures. Some collections, such as the Easterly Daguerreotype Collection, and anything having to do with the 1904 World’s Fair, the riverfront, or St. Louis buildings and street scenes understandably get lots of attention. In the interest of being fair to the other 875+ collections though, I just want to say loud and clear: “We have more to offer!” Here are five of my favorite collections from the Photos and Prints department.

1. Joseph Hampel Album

Black-and-white photo of the Jefferson Memorial BuildingJefferson Memorial Building. Photo by Joseph Hampel, 1946. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

These photos have a great backstory! They were all taken in 1946 by Joseph Hampel, an amateur photographer and native St. Louisan who wanted to document the city for his daughter, Gloria, who had recently married and left the area. Hampel traveled all over town shooting nearly 100 photographs of St. Louis buildings, monuments, and landmarks, capturing everything from hospitals and factories to amusement parks and houses of worship. He put them in an album, hand labeled every image, and gave it to his daughter so she would never forget her hometown.

Gloria Kimmel treasured her album for decades before donating it to us in 1998. We liked it so much that we digitized the whole thing and posted it on our website for everyone to enjoy.

2. The War between the United States and Mexico

Color image of a lithograph of the painting "Capture of Monterrey"This lithograph of a painting by Carl Nebel shows the Battle of Monterrey, which took place September 21–24, 1846. It was a hard-fought urban battle, and both sides had heavy casualties—a very different reality from what's presented here. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The War between the United States and Mexico, Illustrated, Embracing Pictorial Drawings of All the Principle Conflicts isn’t the longest book title on record, but it certainly is descriptive! I walked past this volume in our stacks many times over the years, wondering why it was in the Photos and Prints department, before I took the time to actually open it. The book was published in 1851 and has about 25 pages of text, as well as 12 incredible hand colored lithographs based on paintings done by German artist Carl Nebel.

The lithographs depict major battle scenes from the war in an idealized way designed to make them look glorious and heroic. All of these images are well done and amazingly well preserved. When you see them in person they appear so new that it looks like the paint might still smear. Stop by our Library and Research Center to see for yourself!

3. Roy George Collection

Color image showing front and back of photo from Roy George CollectionRoy George on the ramp of an open armored personnel carrier (right) and his accompanying caption (left), July 16, 1968. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The Roy George Collection is one of my favorite new additions. Donated in 2015, this collection documents George’s service in the 3rd Squadron, 5th Armored Cavalry "Black Knights" during the Vietnam War. The Black Knights were a historically African American unit of the US Army dating to before the Civil War. Because George’s photos document his overseas experiences in this historic unit, they’re already valuable photos, but they have a couple additional qualities that make them even more exciting.

George took the time to write the date and location on the back of every single photo. (Be still my beating archival heart!) He also usually wrote a caption to describe what was happening, adding an incredible amount of information and context to the images. Through George’s captions, we learn a bit more about his experiences and who he was as a person. For example, although beer makes several repeat appearances in his photos, his caption listing it as a staple bit of equipment on an armored personnel carrier lets us know that that wasn’t a coincidence.

4. Langenheim Album

Color scan of page from Langenheim Album featuring four of the Views from North America imagesPage 2 of the Langenheim Album, featuring four of the Views from North America scenes. Photos by William and Frederick Langenheim, ca. 1850. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The Langenheim Album is one of the more unique examples of early photographic history in the country: a collection of rare American-made calotypes from 1850. Each image was created by brothers William and Frederick Langenheim, German immigrants based in Philadelphia who obtained the exclusive right to make calotypes in the United States directly from the British inventor of the process, Henry Fox Talbot.

The calotype was the first photographic process that used a negative to produce an unlimited number of positive paper prints. The main photographic process of the day, the daguerreotype, created an image on metal that could only be duplicated by creating another daguerreotype of the original.

The Langheim brothers’ album contains 175 views and portraits that were perhaps part of a project intended to demonstrate the mass-production possibilities of the calotype process. It’s also the only extensive record of the Langenheims' partnership with Talbot. Of particular interest is the Views of North America series, which includes prints of outdoor scenes and architectural studies of the Washington Navy Yard, the US Capitol, and Niagara Falls. Views of North America was also the first large-scale attempt by American photographers to use the new negative-positive process to extensively document native sights and landmarks.

5. Mac Mizuki Photography Studio Collection

Black-and-wite self-portrait of Henry "Mac" MizukiSelf-portrait of Henry "Mac" Mizuki, 1969. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Henry “Mac” Mizuki operated an independent commercial photography studio in St. Louis from 1953 to 1986. With a specialization in architectural photography, Mizuki captured many images of St. Louis and its growth over the course of those three decades, creating an important historical record in the process. He also organized his work extremely well and was incredibly attentive to detail when describing the photos he took. His collection, though large, was a relatively easy one to process as a result.

Mizuki is also one of the few photographers whose collection we have whom we had a chance to talk to and get his story firsthand. The oldest of four children, he was born in Parlier, California, in 1919. His interest in photography developed in childhood, when he would take pictures with his father’s old folding camera. By the time he entered high school, he had bought his own camera and begun experimenting with film development. During World War II, Mizuki and his family were sent to a Japanese American relocation camp. He later served in the US Army as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe.

After the war, Mizuki persuaded his father to let him leave the family farm so he could take up photography as a career. He attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, before moving to St. Louis, where he worked for Lithocraft Studios for a few years before starting his own business. His early clients included architects Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum and developers Fisher & Frichtel. Although Mizuki didn’t set out to become an architectural photographer, his initial clients provided word-of-mouth references to others in their fields. He enjoyed his work and operated his freelance business until 1986, when he retired at age 67.

—Amanda Claunch, Photographs and Prints Archivist

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