Early Views of Philadelphia

Album assembled by John McAllister Jr. (1786-1877) containing 26 prints (mounted restrikes of engravings by William Birch and others) and 16 photographs (salted paper prints from glass plate negatives) of streets and buildings in Philadelphia. ca. 1859. Previously owned by Mrs. A. A. Auchincloss, Martin P. Snider, and Jay T. Snider. Graphic Arts (GAX) 2008- in process

The prints and photographs in this album represent some of the earliest images made of Philadelphia. A similar album was given to the Library Company by McAllister’s son, John A. McAllister, in 1886.

John McAllister Sr. (1753-1830) immigrated to America in 1775 and moved to Philadelphia in 1781 where he opened a shop that grew into an optical business specializing in eyeglasses. John McAllister Jr. joined the business in 1807 and listed his occupation as optician. In addition to spectacles, they sold microscopes, spyglasses, magic lanterns, camera lucidas and obscuras, lenses, and other photography equipment. The shop was frequented by the earliest practitioners in photography who became John Jr.’s friends and colleagues.

McAllister was also a noted antiquarian and collector of Philadelphia history. His diary indicates that he hired Frederick Debourg Richards (1822-1903) to photograph the homes of his father and himself, along with other Philadelphia landmarks. Throughout his life, Richards pursued a career as a landscape painter while making his living primarily through photography. He settled in Philadelphia in 1848, opening a daguerreotype studio across from Independence Hall. In the 1850s, like many photographers, Richards made a transition from images on copper plates to paper, forming a partnership with John Betts. Several of the paper prints in this album hold the blind stamp from the studio of Richards and Betts. Other photographs in the album can be attributed to another prominent Philadelphia paper photographer James McClees.

Eight of the restrikes included in this album are from The City of Philadelphia by William Birch (1779-1851), published in 1800. Birch made the engravings “as a memorial of [Philadelphia’s] progress for the first century.” The deluxe edition included hand-colored plates and sold for the enormous sum of $35. Today, this volume is extremely rare and even the loose plates highly collectable. Eight restrikes from his second book, The Country Seats of the United States of North America, published 1809, are also included in this McAllister album.

For a complete list of the salted paper photographs, continue below.

  1. Carpenter’s Hall, Chestnut Street below 4th street, attributed to Frederick Debourg Richards, May 1859
  2. West side of Front Street below Walnut Street
  3. North West corner of fourth and Prune Street
  4. South West corner of Second and Chestnut Streets, showing John McAllister’s store
  5. Free Quaker Meeting House, 5th and Arch Street
  6. Houses on North side of Walnut Street
  7. The Old Frame House, attributed to Frederick Debourg Richards and John Betts, January 1854
  8. Home of Edward Pennington North side of Race Street
  9. Home of William Cramond, South West corner of Third
  10. House on corner of Fourth and Union Street, attributed to Frederick Debourg Richards, February 1859
  11. The Old Friend’s Meeting House, Pine Street
  12. London Coffee House, South West corner of Market and Front Streets
  13. Mr. Young’s Mansion at Rockland
  14. House with four men
  15. Same house dated March 1860
  16. Home of John McAllister, Jr., 14th and Merrick Street with McAllister standing in front, dated March 1869.