Historic Photographs and the Sharp Memory of a Local

Here at AAS we have lots of small collections that are safely tucked away, accessible only due to the knowledge of the reference staff, catalogers, or curators who bump into them occasionally when searching for other things. As we work our way through our holdings we try to increase access to these “lost” collections by creating finding aids and box lists that can then be loaded onto our website or into our online catalog. Often we process these collections ourselves, but occasionally we use willing interns or volunteers.

Float representing St. Vincent's Hospital, Charity Circus, Worcester, July 15, 1909
Float representing St. Vincent's Hospital, Charity Circus, Worcester, July 15, 1909.
Now, as we all know, some people are just more successful at organizing than others (most of us will admit this, even if it is just to ourselves!). So, we are most fortunate, then, to currently have a volunteer who is so perfectly matched with a collection that the processing is a joy to watch. And everybody wins as another collection is made available for use!

First, a description of the collection at hand: The Society’s Graphic Arts collection includes a sampling of material by the photographer Theodor Clemens Wohlbrück (1879-1936), including glass plate negatives, postcards, and prints. As a young man, Wohlbrück settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, and set up a studio on Main Street where he operated successfully from the end of the nineteenth century until around 1911. Wohlbrück is best known for his images of the people and streets of Worcester as well as depictions of urban events such as parades and celebrations. Our collection of his work also includes a group of over 1,000 proof prints featuring landscape views of towns around Worcester County. Many were rough mounted and hand-tinted by the photographer. These prints have long been stored in heavy, red boxes and were only very generally sorted by town. Some unmounted images had slipped out of order and users were often frustrated when trying to access the collection. No one knew which towns were included in the collection and which were left out (there are no images of Worcester in this group, for example).

Now, enter the volunteer: Bill Mettey lives in Upton, Massachusetts, and has spent years in the county, hiking and exploring the landscape. He has previous experience as a videographer and is used to looking through camera lenses. volunteer He is also an organized sort of person and is willing to dedicate several hours of his time each week to the Society. Previously he has helped us to sort and folder our political cartoons, broadside advertisements, and Civil War era maps. For the Wohlbrück project, he has proved to be a perfect match. Often he is able to identify an image based on his own experience and knowledge of a town. Many of the prints were captioned by Wohlbrück and Bill has learned to decipher the photographer’s scrawling handwriting. While we are still processing the collection and hope to order materials for improved housing, Bill has already sorted and reboxed the prints and created a very useful box list of the collection, organized alphabetically by town. An itemized inventory listing each photograph is currently underway as Bill continues his work.

Knox Giant driven by William Bourque in the Dead Horse Hill Climb, Worcester, June 12, 1909
Knox Giant driven by William Bourque in the Dead Horse Hill Climb, Worcester, June 12, 1909.

It is great when we can match a volunteer or intern task to a person’s interest. If you are interested in volunteering at the Society, please refer to our website for more information about volunteering. And, most importantly, thanks, Bill!

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

10 thoughts on “Historic Photographs and the Sharp Memory of a Local”

  1. T.C. Wohlbruch shows up in Reno, NV and San Francisco — as a dance teacher (then married his partner) and photogapher and publisher of phpto-postcards and school-class photos; he also founded at least three tourist-stations and took excursion photos on the Mt Tamalpais RR; died in San Jose as owner of a museum of antique vehicles. His postcards have a collector-following (they use eBay), some of his panoramics can be seen at the Donner Memorial near Truckee, CA

    1. Hello Mr. Bath. Thank you for contacting us via our blog posting on your grandfather. AAS holds a very large archive of Wohlbruck material from before his days in California. Can you please contact me via my email at lhewes@mwa.org? From your email address, it appears that you live nearby Worcester.

  2. I am researching T.C. Wohlbruck and looking for photographs depicting his ‘Cantina’ at the Pioneer Memorial, Donner Lake, Truckee, CA or photos of Wohlbruck.
    Please let me know if any such might exist in you collection.
    Bill Lindemann

    1. I have several framed portraits of grand-father. There is a book on geneology of part of the family, which includes pictures of TC and family, written by another grandson. I just lost the biding on a picture of miners in Nevada in 1915. Perhaps you were the winning bidder,
      Russell Bath

  3. Bill Lindemann, I too am researching Historical information on anything Pacific Gas and Electric Related including the Spaulding/Drum areas and T.C. Wohlbruck’s photos. Would you care to trade information? I currently work in Auburn as a Power Generation Specialist.

    Matthew Archer
    Power Gen. Specialist
    Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
    Cell: (530)2187144


    1. Thank you so much for letting us know about this photograph. Wohlbruck spent several years in California after he left Worcester around 1907 so it is interesting to see how his work changed after the move.

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