October 4, 2010 Library of Congress Acquires Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Portraits

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Carol Johnson (202) 707-9336
Website: Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Portraits

The Library of Congress has acquired an exceptional collection of nearly 700 ambrotype and tintype photographs showing both Union and Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War.

During the past 15 years, the Liljenquist family of McLean, Va., sought out high-quality images to represent the impact of the war, especially images of young enlisted men. The photographs often show firearms, hats, canteens, musical instruments, and other details that enhance the research value of the collection significantly.

Tom Liljenquist has generously donated the entire collection to the Library as a gift to the nation in order to ensure broad public access and long-term preservation. To view the photographs online, visit www.loc.gov/rr/print/caption/captionliljenquist.html.

An exhibition of the collection, “The Last Full Measure: Civil War Photographs from the Liljenquist Family Collection,” will commemorate the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War in April 2011 at the Library of Congress. (Only the online images are available now due to exhibition preparations.)

Liljenquist and his three sons—Jason, 19; Brandon, 17; and Christian, 13—became interested in Civil War history after finding bullets and other signs of an encampment near their home in Virginia. As they began to investigate other artifacts from the war, they were especially attracted to the images captured in the photographic formats called ambrotypes (on glass) and tintypes (on metal), which were often placed in special frames and decorated cases.

Among the rarest images are African Americans in uniform, sailors, a Lincoln campaign button, and portraits of soldiers with their wives and children. A few personal stories survive in notes pinned to the photo cases, but most of the people and photographers are unidentified. The Library plans to offer the images through the Flickr Commons in November for help in identifying individuals and photographers based on such clues as painted backdrops and regimental insignia.

The works in the Liljenquist Family Collection complement the Library’s already extensive holdings of Civil War images. Since the early 1900s, the Library has actively acquired visual materials documenting as many aspects of the war as possible. Examples include eyewitness drawings by Alfred and William Waud and other artists working for illustrated newspapers; historical prints showing battles, camps, hospitals and military leaders; and glass-plate negatives, stereographs (3-D views) and large-format albumen prints associated with master photographers Mathew Brady, Alexander Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan and Andrew J. Russell. The Liljenquist Collection, notably strong in photos of enlisted soldiers, fills an important gap in the Library’s coverage.

“We feel privileged to be able to offer so many fascinating photos that can help everyone better understand the Civil War and also enhance scholarly studies,” said Helena Zinkham, chief of the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library. “When the collection first arrived, and case after case was opened to reveal yet another remarkable face, it felt like I could step back in time and talk with each soldier and his relatives. That’s how vivid these portraits are.”

The Prints and Photographs Division preserves and provides access to more than 14 million images, including photographic prints and negatives, fine and popular prints and drawings, posters, cartoons, and architectural and engineering drawings. While international in scope, the collections are particularly rich in materials documenting the history, interests and creative achievements of the American people.

Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. It seeks to spark imagination and creativity and to further human understanding and wisdom by providing access to knowledge through its magnificent collections, programs and exhibitions. Many of the Library’s rich resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov and via interactive exhibitions on a personalized website at myLOC.gov.


PR 10-222
ISSN 0731-3527