Maine Photographers: May I Take Your Portrait?

MHS recently acquired a different type of collection – an artificial collection created by collector William Watson of Boothbay Harbor. His collection consists mainly of photographs from Maine portrait photographers and studios. Watson started with a list of known photographers gleaned from the Maine Register, and business directories. He then attempted to find an example of each photographer’s work. Watson created a complex code for each photograph, including when acquired, price, what types of information is available about the photographer, and location.

This collection (Coll. 2554), which consists of 11 linear ft., one flat box (of oversized photographs), and three cardfile boxes of information, represents photographers (and studios) from A (Benjamin S. Abbott)  to Z (Zoccalli Studio), between the years from around 1850 to 1950. Not only are there representations of  photographers’ work, but there is often biographical information about the photographers, including obituaries and newspaper articles.

Nicholas Noyes, Head of Library Services at MHS states, “It is a remarkable collection with merit as proof of the abundance of portrait photographers working in Maine from the dawn of the medium to the 1950s.

MHS Volunteer Arden Jordan wrote a wonderful article about this collection.

Behind the Lens

Maine Portrait Photography

What do a doctor, a sheriff and a mayor have in common? In one of Maine Historical Society’s newest collections these men from various walks of life come together in a common occupation, photography. The collection, Maine Portrait Photographers, includes hundreds of portrait photographs ranging from couples dressed in wedding attire to school portraits. However, the portraits are not the focus, rather it is the photographers themselves.


In Oxford, Maine 1835 Marcus F. King was born. He spent nearly forty years taking photographs, or “sun prints” as one of the leading photographers in Portland. Not only was he a photographer, he also held the distinction of being the 31st Mayor of Portland. It is stories like King’s that make up the uniqueness of the collection. The photographs, as well as their corresponding newspaper articles, excerpts from books, and obituaries, help to reveal the lives of Maine’s resident photographers.


The collection was compiled by collector William Watson before being gifted to the Maine Historical Society. The collection is 11 linear ft. and includes 500 examples of Maine portrait photography.


Holding beautiful examples of portrait photography, the collection includes photographs from the beginning of photography to the 1950s. The collection gives a visual model of the evolution of photography, while revealing Maine life throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The photographs help to reveal the history of Maine from the prospective of the men and women who pioneered the medium.


Arden Jordan, MHS volunteer, 2011

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