Rare Art Work of Mississippi Volume Digitized

Today’s post is contributed by inveterate MissPreser Ed Polk Douglas:

Early in 2019, in doing some research on another topic, I was reminded of the existence of a folio- sized volume, originally issued in 9 paper folders, called Art Work of Mississippi/Gravure Illustration Company of Chicago/1901.  I had seen other volumes of this type before–either about cities, regions, or, like this one, states(there are two editions of such a volume about nearby Rochester [1896 and 1913])–and I began to search the net to see if the  MS volume was ‘around’ and if it had been digitized.  I discovered that a few of the major institutions of higher learning in MS–U of MS, USM, MSU, plus MDAH–had copies (as did the Birmingham, AL, public library), but none of these was digitized.I could well have seen an original volume at USM or MDAH years ago, but any notes I took then were long-gone.

This ‘Art Works of …’ series is oddly named for it wasn’t about the fine arts in each locale, but was created to showcase the ‘accomplishments’ of the places portrayed, and, as such, included a short text (authors often unacknowledged) accompanied by handsome illustrations  of important civic, commercial,  religious, educational, medical, fraternal, and domestic structures plus  streetscapes, cemeteries, and parks.  Most were created before 1925, and, as one can imagine, each shows both extant buildings and scenery but also spots which have been changed and/or destroyed; thus,  these works are a fascinating but often depressing look at the past.

Serendipitously, I remembered that an organization devoted to creating digital access to Mississippiana was based at USM (in my hometown of Hattiesburg), the location of a copy of Art Work of Mississippi (Special Collections, The University Southern Mississippi Libraries).  So, through various avenues, supported by a number of friends in academia and historic preservation, I was able to convince the  wonderful staff at MS Digital Library that ‘worldwide access’ to this volume would be of value.  This has just happened, and I want to share my excitement with you.

Things were still very tough in 1900 for many residents of  Mississippi, but Art Work… attempts to show that life was moving ‘onward and upward.’ The first photos would now be considered ‘politically incorrect’–the Confederate Dead monument in Jackson, two grand  Natchez antebellum homes (“Dunleith” and “Stanton Hall”[then Stanton College], and blacks  picking cotton–but, that was then. My collation of the book’s contents is interesting and reflects what an outside source, presumably with ‘in-state’ assistance”,  considered important in 1900. Those results are as follows(and, this material is scattered throughout the nine sections, with no rhyme or reason to the arrangement of the photos):  17 pages of text(a summary of Mississippi’s history to date, most of the emphasis on ‘early times’); 17 photos of Vicksburg; 11 of Jackson; 10 each of Natchez and Yazoo City; 8 of Columbus; 7 each of Meridian and Greenville; 5 each of Oxford  and Greenwood; and, finally, 2 of  cotton fields.  There were no images  of Holly Springs, Corinth, Aberdeen, Port Gibson, Hattiesburg, or Biloxi. The paper covers of each section are in a flamboyant Art Nouveau style.

My research on the publisher, Gravure Illustration Company, Chicago, is just beginning. I have yet to find out how long the company was in business, but volumes known to me date from the 1890s until the mid-1920s. The coverage across the country was incredibly wide, and some volumes were larger than others, with  several editions.  Yet-to-be answered questions include the authors of the respective texts and to the creators of  the fine photography, which is reproduced beautifully; in the case of the latter, the ‘style’ of the photography in each of the volumes I have seen  is rather uniform,  so maybe the company had a team of photographers that traveled around.  There is a chance that one could pay to be included, and, in fact, I believe I have seen some of the photos in some of the volumes copied in other books or as post cards.

At the present time, volumes from this series, when they surface in the marketplace, are expensive; interestingly, two companies in India have started reproducing some of them, in two formats, at very reasonable prices, but they haven’t  tackled the Mississippi volume yet. Needless to say, I wonder about the prices of the original books, how many of each place were printed, etc.  I suspect that there were fewer done of Mississippi than of Cincinnati, for example.  Since the books were issued in paper folders, the buyer could choose to pay for a fancy binding from another source or not.

Gradually, I hope many of the Art Work of Mississippi images can be posted  on this blog, grouped by locale, in the hope that readers will comment on the history and status of the buildings and landscapes  shown.  In the meantime, I urge all of you to take a look at this remarkable volume ‘in toto’  and ‘enjoy’!


Categories: Architectural Research, Preservation Education


15 replies

  1. Wonderful! Thank you!


  2. i want to thank our webmaster malvaney for ‘great patience’ in helping me pull all of this together; also again, all of the folks ‘here and there’ who were supportive of this project, which, i hope, will benefit many people in ms and elsewhere in the future. all of us, i think, are going to have fun when the images from individual locales are posted, too; certainly, i look forward to learning more about places in our state at those times.

    for those of you who are research-ers, please note that two new sources have been added to the list at the bottom of this page: aerial imagery of ms historic sites(incredible–and, the initial sites are in claiborne county[yes, including ‘windsor’!]); and, mississippi digital library(the folks that digitized ‘art work…’– super resources!).

    and, finally, in my background efforts re our ms ‘art work…’ volume, i have begun a study of the whole ‘art work… ‘ series, created by a number of different publishers depicting places all over the country, many of which are not digitized. but, so far, one library– that in kansas city, kansas–has become excited enough to decide to ‘copy’ their book in this way.

    the small pebble thrown into the big pond, with ever-widening circles, huh!

    Liked by 3 people

    • The house in the top image of Greenville is Barns, Archer, Price home corner of Broadway and Alexander (gone). Also gone the houses next door. “The Shadows” and the Yerger home. Will have to investigate lower image more.


  3. I used the original Art Work of Mississippi in the MDAH library years ago – has many great photos including the Old Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion. Many thanks to Ed Polk Douglas for his efforts that resulted in the digitization of this valuable resource and to Malvaney for excellent assistance in this project!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. thank you, princella nowell–this is just the kind of thing i hope will happen once the photos from each of the locales are ‘public’— we have got to keep records, too! and, those of you in ‘various places’ might want to notify your local libraries and historical groups about the photos because they can be downloaded.


  5. yes, a number of you who read misspres (like ms lohrenz & mary carroll miller) and various ms-topic-related writers(richard cawthon, for example) were/are already familiar with this work, but now it is available ‘to everyone’! the great thing in all of this was that both an original copy of the work and the ms dig libr were at usm==location, location, location!


  6. I suspect the Hairston, Ervin, Billups, Hardy, St. John, Potts, Cunningham etal. here in the Prairie would be good source for this work.


  7. Thank you, Ed Polk, for bringing this to our attention. I look forward to learning more about the company that published these. I did find my very tattered copy, given to me probably 20 years ago by Mr. Nail in Tupelo. He had a wonderful little antique book store and I had asked him to keep his radar up for a copy of this book. When he did find one, he was so excited that he wouldn’t let me pay him for it. I treasure it not only for its spectacular images but also for fond memories of Mr. Nail. Incidentally, he compiled a very nice history about Mississippians in WWII’s Eighth Air Force.


  8. This is wonderful, Mr. Douglas, and I enjoyed reading. I look forward to more!


  9. hello, everyone. certainly felt like the digitized version of ‘art work of ms’ would be both ‘fun’ and ‘interesting’–and , yes, sad, too, because of the buildings that have been demolished. i do hope folks will comment when malvaney starts posting the specific locales, though am not sure how this will be done, especially for places with many images(like vicksburg). i would guess that, with the latter, the photos with buildings would be first, and, then, i can comment on ‘the rest’—such as views of the battlefield, the river, etc.

    my list of places covered by various publishers in an ‘art work of such and such place..’ format is rather mind-boggling–more than fifty and ‘still counting’! have spent this cold(but sunny, thankfully) afternoon working on my master list. i think we can be proud that our digitized volume is among the less than 10 available in this format right now. .

    with the gravure company of chicago, the publisher of our volume, it seems that local authors were hired to write the texts—our ms volume text isn’t signed( most of texts in the other volumes are, likewise, anonymous)–so, a mystery that someone in our group might solve—who would be a logical ms historian/author around 1900? there might be stylistic evidence in the text that is similar to other writings about the history of our state at the same time.

    the question of ‘photographers’ remains, too. note that most of the ms photos have been made with few leaves on the trees and few people—-am trying to imagine a group of chicago photographers ‘invading’ these ms places with cameras, etc— and, there must have more photos taken than were used–will they turn up somewhere?

    and, yes, i am trying to find out more about the gravure company–just this afternoon, found a listing for a volume on akron, ohio, published in 1930, the latest in the work of that company so far; i suspect the wall street crash of 1929 had an effect on this kind-of elite publication. (besides, by then, almost every place of any significance had been covered by some company!)

    and, sec040121, i am so jealous of your original copy!!!! but, so happy that it has found a home with someone like you!


  10. I found an ad in the Saint Paul Globe for 1900 that read: WANTED–Lady assistants at water color or painting; earn large salaries; new method; requires no experience; home work furnished by house of excellent standing. Gravure Illustration Company, Chicago. The ad ran in a number of newspapers for the eastern states. One ad had an address listed as the Monon Block, Chicago. The Monon Building was on S. Dearborn Street but was removed when Congress Parkway was extended through the block. From what I could turn up, the Monon block was in the 300 block of Dearborn from at least 1899-1903.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. wonderful sleuthing, thanks so much! women did a lot of ‘colorising’ of black and white photos in all sorts of books or prints sold separately before color photography was developed. none of the ‘art work… volumes were sold with colored photos, to my knowledge, but, nowadays, i can imagine that if a bookseller chanced upon separate prints–or, broke up a copy–that person might ‘tone’ the photos, like old prints are colored nowadays. (

    when i read this quickly, at first, i thought you wrote ‘moron block’–ha, ha! and, at this late hour–3 am, sunday morning– i have just been hearing on the news about the new ‘mormon’ temple that has just been dedicated in rome—- )

    i suspect that the chicago historical society and/or the chicago public library has some data on various chicago businesses—just haven’t started my search in either of those places yet— am still compiling the master list! i have also just written the canadian center for architecture, an incredible study center in montreal, the holder of a number of the ‘art work… books, to encourage them to start digitizing their volumes. and, of course, business directories will give an idea of how long the company was in business.,. so many angles to pursue… a phd topic? ha, ha!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. since my previous letter, i have found several images of the monon block in chicago; lasting from 1890-1947; it was an early skyscraper(13 stories) and was designed by the prominent architect, john van osdel; its interior was occupied by offices of a railroad company, patent lawyers and PUBLISHERS! thanks again, suzassippi.

    (and, i have also found images of the new mormon temple complex in rome–it is something else! i live very near the ‘founding spots’ of the mormon church, palmyra, ny.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. and, further(if anyone cares!), baltimore -born van osdel(1811-1891), is considered the first professional architect to practice in chicago, arriving there in the mid-1830s. the monon block seems to be his last commission, and, when constructed–according to data on the net–but, l haven’t confirmed this yet–it was the tallest building office building in the world! so, the gravure illustration company occupied some ‘prime real estate’ when it was here.


  14. i have no idea if anyone ever ‘looks back’ at previous posts, but i have some info to add to this one.

    since my last post on these ‘art works of…’ books, i have discovered that part of the ‘art work of buffalo’ has been digitized,but as a part of a website that compares a variety of old photos(from many different sources) with photos ‘now’. i approached two buffalo institutions which own ‘art work of buffalo’ about digitizing the complete book, in the ‘right order’, but found no interest(unfortunately).

    yesterday, i was able to visit the local history division of the monroe county public library in downtown rochester, and i saw two –as it turns out–different copies of ‘art work of rochester’–one done in 1896 by the w h parrish company, chicago, and another one, with the same title, published by gravure illustration company, also of chicago, in 1913(the publisher of the ms volume).

    in the various online listings of this work, there is the implication that these two works are essentially the same, , with only a few plates added to the later one. thus, i had thought that perhaps the gravure illustration company was a continuation of the w h parrish company.

    in fact, these are two quite different works–different in both the texts and the illustrations. so, it would seem that the gravure iiustration company is not really a continuation of the w h parrish company but a completely different(competing) company.

    fortunately, the 1913 ‘art work of rochester’ has been digitized–no pressure from me, done some time ago!–and, now that the folks in the local history division know that these are two different works, perhaps the earlier volume will be digitized, too.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: