ABOUT THE ROBERT DENNIS COLLECTION

The Robert N. Dennis Collection of Stereoscopic Views is held in the Photography Collection of The New York Public Library's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints & Photographs. The Dennis Collection's size -- more than 72,000 stereo views -- and its international scope make it one of the largest and most diversely representative holdings of its kind in the world.

ORGANIZATION and ACCESS AT NYPL: The Dennis Collection is organized into more than 800 subdivisions, primarily geographic. This arrangement caters to the most common research methodologies and to appropriate public service requirements. The United States' portion of the Dennis Collection was processed and cataloged on-line in 1989-1991 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. At the same time, volunteers placed the stereo views into protective polyester sleeves and recorded their cataloging group number in pencil along the lower right edges. Dennis Collection cataloging records are updated routinely to reflect new acquisitions of additional stereo views. All cataloging records can be searched via the Library's catalog Catnyp.

The portion of the Dennis Collection representing the tri-state region consists of 12,046 stereoscopic views in 199 separately cataloged subdivisions. Hundreds of New York City views -- the most numerous, diverse, and highly-requested major subdivision -- were divided into topical groups such as neighborhoods, building types, etc. and each received its own record. Less voluminous topics, such as central and southern New Jersey which totaled only seventeen views, required only one record. No Dennis Collection sub-group contains fewer than ten stereo views, and a few groups (Niagara Falls, for example) run into the hundreds. Within each geographical sub-group, stereo views are arranged by creator, publisher, or series name. Digital image filenames were added to each stereograph’s pencil annotation by conscientious and tireless volunteers during the Library of Congress/ Ameritech-funded project of 1997-1999 which enabled this website. (See Help for searching options and strategies.)

BACKGROUND: The collection is named for Robert N. Dennis (1900-1983), the New Yorker who collected the stereographs over nearly six decades while he lived, first, in the Bronx and in Pelham, New York, and then later in Williamsburg, Virginia. The story has two stages, 40 years apart, and begins with the 1939 exhibition of Mr. Dennis's collection in New York on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of photography's discovery. Two years later, through the efforts of a librarian in NYPL's American History Division, Sylvester L. Vigilante, the Library purchased from Mr. Dennis what was hailed as "the largest known collection of its kind" (approximately 35,000 stereographs). Reporting the acquisition, the NYPL Annual Report for 1940 claimed that one day stereoscopic views would be considered as important for historical research as early American imprints [ p.35]. One stipulation of the purchase was that the collection carry Mr. Dennis's name. With the proceeds of the sale -- in the final years of the Great Depression, the sum of $5,000 must have been princely indeed -- Mr. Dennis later recalled that he bought his wife a fur coat and moved from Brooklyn to Pelham (a lovely New York suburb). The backs of the stereographs acquired at this time are stamped "Robert Dennis Collection/ N.Y.P.L."

In 1981, with the Photography Collection newly established as a department of the Library, Mr. and Mrs. Dennis, who had relocated to Williamsburg in the 1950s, were invited to visit and see how "their" collection was being managed. They were so pleased that they graciously offered to donate their whole new collection, assembled since 1941, of another 35,000+ stereographs. These were examined and inventoried over Thanksgiving weekend 1982 and then packed and shipped by librarian Alex Olivera later in January 1983. The collection arrived safely at the Library the very day Mr. Dennis passed away, January 31, 1983. Stereoscopic views from this generous gift can be identified by the stamp "Dennis Coll/ 83PH2." The National Stereoscopic Association's Stereo World magazine published a memorial tribute later that year.