Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection

Daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and card photographs depicting black life from the 1850s-1940s.

The Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection at the Beinecke Library presents a vivid picture of black life and American racial attitudes from the 1850s to the 1940s; the Collection includes photographs in all formats, including hundreds of daguerreotypes and tintype portraits documenting both known and unknown African American subjects. The collection includes formal studio portraits of politicians and bankers, cowboys, workmen, families, African-American men in military service, emancipated slave children, and carnival performers. In documenting the history and experience of African Americans, the Simpson collection also records and depicts acts of racism, oppression, and violence; though they are sometimes unpleasant and even shocking, such materials represent significant aspects America’s complicated history.

History of the Collection

For more than 25 years, Randolph Linsly Simpson, a white man, collected objects relating to the African-American experience. He developed a deep appreciation for African-American culture that dates to his childhood in Rochester, New York. His passion for collecting grew over the years, fueled by a desire to preserve the material record of black history in America which was rapidly disappearing.

The Collection

Approximately 500 historical photographic portraits including daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and cabinet card photographs.