In the Fall of 2019, Skylar Harris, the Hagley Library's Digitization and Metadata Coordinator began a project to digitize the library's unprocessed collections of glass plate images associated with the Philadelphia photographer William H. Rau. These collections were largely acquired in a flurry of activity during the mid-1970s, after Edwin P. Alexander’s 1971 On the Main Line: The Pennsylvania Railroad in the 19th Century reproduced a number of Rau’s images, beginning what would become a rekindling of interest in the once renowned, but then obscure commercial photographer.
After the recent processing and digitization of the William H. Rau lantern slides collection revealed a beautiful array of forty-six lantern slides, many of them hand-colored, the next collection in the project ran into some unanticipated challenges. It quickly became evident that, while these images likely originated from a single photographer, it was unlikely to have been Rau.
This Hagley History Hangout presentation explores some of the techniques archivists use to reveal the origins of misidentified or unidentified materials in their collections, and how these efforts revealed a collection documenting another obscure commercial photographer and the early history of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania.