How Much Has Been Lost?

  • I spent 3 years searching for photos taken by a photographer who worked continuously in Quincy, Illinois for more than 40 years (1855-1900). I calculated that there were more than 250,000 photos with her studio name on them that were produced. I found fewer than 300, or about 1 out of 1,000 done. I searched for 3 years for photos taken by a photographer in Milwaukee, who worked exclusively as a photographer for 15 years (1895-1910). I only was able to find 1 of his photos. Alfred Jacob Miller left an account book for his work as an artist in Baltimore (1846-1870). He was the foremost portrait painter in Baltimore during those years, and the portraits he painted were of the upper crust of society. One of his paintings recently sold for $1.7 million. People have been looking for decades for his paintings, as they are extremely valuable. Fewer than 20% of the portraits listed in his account book have been found. On the other hand I have recently found an important 19th century photo album that no one knew existed. So, how much has been lost? A lot, almost everything, but sometimes you find things nobody knew existed. It's a frustrating profession, but every once in a while you get lucky!