About this Collection
In 1954 the Library of Congress purchased from Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans, the daughters of Levin C. Handy approximately 10,000 original, duplicate, and copy negatives. The L.C. Handy Studio had been located at 494 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC. Levin C. Handy (1855?-1932) was apprenticed at the age of twelve to his uncle, famed Civil War photographer Mathew B. Brady (1823?-1896). Handy became an independent photographer and over the years owned studios in partnership with Samuel Chester and with Chester and Brady. The Maryland Avenue studio was the most permanent and was the place where Levin Handy resided at his death in 1932. In the 1890s Brady himself had worked and lived at the Maryland Avenue address.
E. and H.T. Anthony acquired Brady's Civil War negatives as payment for his debt to that photographic supply company. These negatives, distinguished by the prefix LC-B8, were purchased by the Library in 1943 and are known as the Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints; those materials are available separately in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
The remaining negatives in the Brady-Handy studio that came to the Library through the 1954 purchase are known as the Brady-Handy Collection and are distinguished by the prefix LC-BH8. The majority of the Brady-Handy negatives are of Civil War and post-Civil War portraits, with a small collection of Washington views. The online collection shown here includes primarily original glass plate negatives. Many duplicate and copy negatives were not scanned. Three series with the LC-BH8 prefix are not shown here, but are included in the Civil War Negatives and Related Prints because of their close connection to the Civil War negatives (see "Arrangement and Access" information for that collection).
Brady, Handy and Their Studios
In the mid-nineteenth century, Mathew Brady operated one of the most prominent portrait studios in New York City and Washington, D.C. The Library's Brady-Handy negative collection includes work produced by Brady's New York and Washington, D.C., studios during the 1850s through the early 1900s. In addition to portraits, the studio photographed many of Washington's well-known buildings and monuments, and events such as inaugurations and parades.
In 1844 Brady opened his first daguerreotype studio on the corner of New York's Broadway and Fulton Streets, near P. T. Barnum's museum. His studio and gallery was one of the city's most prominent, attracting countless celebrities whose portraits were displayed on the gallery's walls. Although he was acknowledged as a master of the daguerreotype, Brady did not usually operate the camera himself because of his poor eyesight. Instead, he thoughtfully posed his sitters and made them feel comfortable in front of the camera, while a technician actually took the photograph.
In 1849 Brady opened a studio in Washington, D. C., hoping to attract members of the U.S. House and Senate and augment his growing collection of portraits. The studio was not financially successful and within the year he was forced to close it due to high operating expenses and competition from other, more experienced studios. Ten years later, when he opened a studio on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue, Brady met with more financial success.
Brady's most important contribution to American history was his documentation of the Civil War. In 1861 he began sending photographers into the field. Many of the best Civil War photographers got their start working with him. They produced conventional portraits, scenes in camp, and views of the aftermath of battlefields. Although actual battle scenes were technically impossible to photograph, the devastating impact of the war was documented nonetheless.
Levin C. Handy
When he was only twelve, Mathew Brady's nephew, Levin Corbin Handy, began working in the Brady studio. His first job consisted of coating glass plate negatives with a light-sensitive emulsion. Within a few years, he had become a skilled camera operator. In 1871 Levin C. Handy's name first appears in a Washington, D.C. business directory listed as a photographer. In the 1880s he formed a partnership with Samuel C. Chester which lasted about four years. In 1883 Chester and Handy were mentioned in Mathew Brady's advertisements. In addition to portraiture, Handy provided photographic services to the Library of Congress and other Federal agencies. He also offered photoduplication services to Library patrons and between 1880 and 1896 he documented the construction of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building.
The Brady-Handy Collection
After Mathew Brady's death on January 15, 1896, his remaining photography files became the property of Levin C. Handy. Handy died in March 1932, leaving his own work and that of his famous uncle to his two daughters, Mrs. Alice H. Cox and Mrs. Mary H. Evans. In 1954 the Library of Congress purchased approximately 10,000 original, duplicate, and copy negatives from Handy's daughters.
Glass Plate Negatives
During the nineteenth century, the process of taking photographs was complex and time-consuming. In the 1860s and '70s photographers mixed their own chemicals and prepared their own wet plate negatives. To prepare the negatives, a clean sheet of glass was coated with collodion and immediately placed in a silver nitrate solution to sensitize the plate to light. After it was sensitized, the negative was placed in a light tight holder and inserted into the camera, which already had been positioned and focused. The plate was then exposed and immediately developed. After development, the photographs were printed on paper and mounted.
In the 1880s dry plate negatives were introduced. These glass negatives were commercially available and did not need to be developed immediately after the exposure.
Many of the glass plate negatives in the Brady-Handy collection had been used to make carte-de-visite portraits. The carte-de-visite is a small, mounted photograph measuring approximately 4 x 2-1/2". It was patented by the French photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi in 1854. Its name is derived from the popular calling or visiting cards that guests often exchanged with their hosts.
Inexpensive to produce, in the 1860s the cartes-de-visite became very popular with the general public which delighted in collecting portraits of political figures, actors and actresses, Civil War generals, as well as family and friends. Special photo albums were designed especially for cartes-de-visite.
Carte-de-visite cameras used multiple lenses that could expose several images at once or several different poses on a single glass plate negative. Once developed, the negative was contact printed, and the individual prints were cut out and mounted. It is because of this that researchers will find multiple negatives of the same pose, e.g., portrait of E. White, LC-BH82-4540 A, B, and C, and negatives containing two or three images, such as the one illustrated here.
The Brady studio produced hundreds of cartes-de-visite of famous personalities, and its imprint appeared on the front or back of the photographic mount. These portraits were a great source of income for the studio, but Brady himself did not like the carte-de-visite format, preferring instead the earlier daguerreotype.
The Negatives: Arrangement and Online Access
In organizing the negatives, the Library grouped them by size and broad subject areas. In 2002 the Library scanned those groups which consisted primarily of original glass plate negatives. The groups which consisted primarily of duplicate and copy negatives were not scanned.
Search tip: Information in the catalog record that accompanies each scanned negative was taken from the paper sleeve which housed the negative, and no attempt was made to standardize names, spell out abbreviations, or to research the image. Patrons searching for portraits will have the most success by entering only the last name of the person being sought. For example, a search for "Montgomery C. Meigs" will yield two records, while a search for "Meigs" will yield six, including ones titled "M.C. Meigs" and "General Meigs."
The groups of negatives scanned include:
2382 original wet plate glass negatives and some copy negatives made for the production of cartes de visite, primarily 2-1/4 x 3-1/2", made between 1855-1865
Presidents of the United States, their wives, members of Congress, military and naval officers, actors, artists, religious leaders, and other notables. Included in this series are portraits of Presidents John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and Andrew Johnson; Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant; Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton; Generals Ulysses S. Grant, Joseph Hooker, John Sedgwick; Admirals David G. Farragut, David D. Porter; artists Constantino Brumidi and George P. A. Healy; the poet William Cullen Bryant and Samuel F. B. Morse, artist and inventor.
8 original wet plate negatives, individual stereograph pairs, 4x5", circa 1860
Views of Washington, D.C. : Treasury Building, Washington Monument [unfinished], and Trinity Episcopal Church
137 original wet plate glass negatives and some copy negatives made for the production of cartes de visite, two or three exposures per negative, 4x8", circa 1860-1865.
Presidents of the United States, members of Congress, religious leaders, authors, artists, actors, etc. Included in this series are Presidents Martin Van Buren and John Tyler; President Lincoln's son and secretary of war Robert Lincoln; authors Washington Irving and William Prescott; Adelina Patti, singer; Charles Parsloe, actor; Chester Harding, artist; Maryland Congressman Charles B. Calvert; and Charles Godfrey Gunther, Mayor of New York.
473 original wet plate negatives, 5x7" 1870-1880
Members of Congress, justices of the Supreme Court, military and naval officers, and other notables. Included in this series are portraits of Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield; James G. Blaine of Maine, Alexander Stephens of Georgia, Oliver H. P. T. Morton of Indiana, and James Proctor Knott of Kentucky; General Albert J. Meyer, William B. Hazen, and Montgomery Meigs; and Admiral John Worden.
25 original wet plate negatives, 5x7", two exposures per plate, 1860-1870
Members of Congress, Union Army officers, and other notables. Included are portraits of the Honorable Richard J. Haldeman of Pennsylvania; Montgomery Blair, Postmaster General; Governor Rufus B. Bullock of Georgia; and Generals George H. Thomas and Winfield S. Hancock.
688 original wet plate negatives, 6 ½ x 8", made between 1860-1875
Members of Congress, a few military and naval officers, educators, and other notables. Included in this series are portraits of William ("Parson") Brownlow, William Pitt Fessenden, Charles Sumner, Jacob D. Cox, Salmon P. Chase, Thomas Nast, Prince Iwakura of Japan, Edwin Booth, and generals Joseph K. Barnes, Randolph B. Marcy, William T. Sherman, and Horace Porter.
1174 original wet plate negatives, 8 x 10", 1865-1880, some plates have two exposures
Presidents of the United States and their families; members of Congress, a number of former officers in the Union and Confederate armies (not in uniform), military and naval officers, Native American groups, justices of the Supreme Court, etc. Included in this series are portraits of Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield's children and Robert Lincoln; Justices John Marshall Harlan and Morrison R. Waite; Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas, Hamilton Fish of New York, Robert B. Vance of North Carolina, John B. Henderson of Missouri, and others; Generals Benjamin Alvord, Orlando M. Poe, William T. Sherman, etc.
47 original glass plate negatives, 8 x 10", 1890-1910
Presidents of the United States and other notables. Portraits of Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt; Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt (Edith Kermit Carow); General Leonard Wood (not in uniform); Admiral George Dewey; and others.
26 wet plate negatives, 8 x 10", 1860-1880
Views of Washington, D.C., and vicinity: Carroll Row from the Capitol; Ford's Theater; Navy Department; War Department; Patent Office (interior); Smithsonian Institution; Treasury Department; White House (exterior and interior); House of Representatives; Reform School, Bladensburg Road; Lee Mansion, etc.
34 original glass plate negatives, 8 x 10", 1893
Military activities of various units; the District National Guard at Camp McKibbin, Marshall Hall, Maryland; the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th Battalions. Some negatives by Washington, D.C., photographer William Cruikshank.