British photographic history

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Photo Collection: Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Company

In 1909, R. Herman Cassens, a young entrepreneur, started a postcard company, the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company, in the mid-coast town of Belfast, Maine. Postcards have always been a popular item, especially for travelers, but at the turn of the century they were the absolute rage.

Cassens saw a niche between personal/amateur postcards and the mass-produced postcards available in the bigger cities. He had a dream of "Photographing the Transcontinental Trail--Maine to California," focusing on small rural towns and villages. He and his small crew of photographers traveled through rural New England and New York focusing their lenses on locally known landmarks, street scenes, country stores and businesses, events and people.  Cassens sold his business in 1947 and died in 1948. Though his dream of photographing all 48 states was not realized, his company did manage to make over 40,000 glass plate negatives of New England and New York between 1909 and 1947.

The glass plate images seemed to die along with Cassens. The company stopped producing the "real photo post cards" and eventually switched to the more contemporary color postcards. The glass plates were left in storage, collecting dust for the next 40 years, until the Rockport Institute for Photographic Education acquired them in the late 1980s. In June of 2005, the monstrous task began of cleaning, identifying, organizing, cataloging and scanning the glass plates. In early 2007, the collection once again changed hands after a near disaster. A broken pipe caused a flood in the building on Rockport Harbor where they were stored. The collection was soaked but a strong effort saved it and the collection was ultimately donated to the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Maine, just a few miles from where the whole story began.

Details of an exhibition based on this archive can be found here, a video here and information on the collection here.






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