Looking Abroad: Cataloging Travel Albums in the Frick Family Papers

  • Posted on Mar 27, 2013 by

From the pyramids of Egypt to the castles of the Loire Valley, Henry Clay Frick and his family took some enviable vacations in their time. They spared no expense in their travels and enjoyed trips that often lasted for months on end. The Archives of The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library recently posted photograph albums from three of these trips in the Frick Digital Image Archive. The albums document travels in 1905, 1909, and 1912, and include views of France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. They were scanned by the Library’s Digital Imaging Lab, both as a means to capture and preserve their content, and as a way of providing greater access to these unique resources.

Once scanned, each image was researched and cataloged, including date, location, and persons depicted. Though most of the photographs do not contain identifiable people, some do show members of the Frick family, their traveling companions, and friends they visited while abroad. Images are accompanied by brief descriptions, and subject headings were added in order to facilitate searching by researchers.

As chronicler of the family’s travels, Helen Clay Frick carefully assembled the albums and is the only member of the family who kept a diary on these trips. Her documentation, particularly her handwritten captions, greatly aided the cataloging process.  Locations of captioned images were verified by a brief online search before they were cataloged.  Many are photographs of landmarks and historic sites that are still popular with tourists today.  The Frick albums, however, offer a window more than one hundred years into the past.  The views of the Louvre Museum, below left, and Pantheon, below right, taken in Paris in 1909, are examples two such images.

View of the Louvre Museum and the Pantheon in Paris, France.
View of the Louvre Museum (left) and the Pantheon in Paris, France (right).  Taken during the Frick family's 1905 trip abroad.  France, Switzerland, and Germany Album, The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.

Uncaptioned photographs, especially of obscure locations, presented a cataloging challenge. In these cases, clues were sought from the neighboring images in the album, from Miss Frick’s travel diaries, and from minute details within the photographs themselves. The image below, for instance, was uncaptioned by Miss Frick, but was most likely taken in Germany, given that it falls between photographs of Nuremberg and Trier in the album from the family’s 1905 trip.


View of Bacharach, Germany.  Taken during the Frick family's 1905 trip abroad.
View of Bacharach, Germany.  Taken during the Frick family's 1905 trip abroad.  France,
Switzerland, and Germany Album, The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives.


Postcard of Bacharach, Germany, 1932.
Postcard of Bacharach, Germany, 1932.  Found on the website: http://www.akpool.co.uk.

Looking closely, the name of a hotel is visible on the building in the foreground, partially obscured by trees. Some creative searching revealed it to be the Hotel Herbrecht in Bacharach, Germany. This was confirmed by the vintage postcard, above. Vintage postcards, in fact, proved to be a remarkably useful cataloging tool. For one thing, published postcards usually contain a caption on either the recto or verso, leaving little doubt about the place depicted on the card. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the views they depict are roughly contemporary to those in the Frick family travel albums. The postcard images are uncluttered by modern development, additions, or alterations that can render a place less identifiable—sometimes even unrecognizable—over time.

The three travel albums available through the Frick Digital Image Archive represent only a portion of the visual materials in The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library Archives. Over the coming months, additional albums from the Frick Family Papers and the institutional archives of The Frick Collection will be accessible for digital searching and viewing. These will include photographs of Frick family residences, portraits by studio photographers from New York to Pittsburgh, and travel photography from Cuba to England.

Julie Ludwig, Associate Archivist, The Frick Collection

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