Photographs of Sculpture on American Gravestones

Take a virtual tour of gravestones – most of which were made prior to 1800.

An unusual but valuable collection at the American Antiquarian Society is that of the photographs of grave markers. Old burial grounds are treasure houses of early American sculpture and of historical and genealogical information. As Harriet Merrifield Forbes noted in her study on gravestones, “The colonists used their finest skill and raised their most enduring and characteristic works of art in memento mori.” In recent years, however, these storehouses have been endangered by vandalism, natural erosion (hastened by air pollution), and theft.

The original core of the gravestone photographs collection at the Society consists of the work of Harriet Merrifield Forbes. Five volumes of her photographs and copies of hundreds of her glass plate negatives are preserved at AAS. There are approximately 1,260 negatives in this part of the collection, filed by last name of decedent.

The larger and part of the collection is the gift from Daniel Farber and his wife, Jessie Lie Farber. Beginning in 1967 with a gift of three loose-leaf volumes, it has swelled to include ten volumes of photographs and approximately 9,000 individual photographs of some 7,500 tombstones.

Cataloging data on the individual photographs includes indexes by carver, date, name, ornament, and location.

The Farber Gravestone Collection is available online.

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