1,300 images of Tallahasseans and the Tallahassee area, 1884-1911
Collection Number: M87-30
Creator: Harper, Alvan S., 1847-1911
Title: Photographic Collection, 1884-1910
Quantity: 1,600 photographs (not all are online)
This collection includes 1600 glass plate negatives and contact prints from noted Tallahassee photographer Alvan S. Harper. The photographs cover a 26 year period from 1884 to 1910. These photographs provide a visual document of Florida’s small 19th century Capital and its surrounding communities as they emerged from post-Civil War depression and abruptly moved toward modernity and the turn of the century. The collection includes 1300 studio portraits that represent an impressive cross section of North Florida and Tallahassee society from poor and working class sharecroppers to elite townspeople and politicians. Of special note are the images of middle class African Americans who had gained status during reconstruction or managed to become property owners or business professionals. Harper’s photographs are an excellent record of changing fashions and modern trends in the area such as his portraits of cyclists and cycling clubs. The collection also includes some of the earliest views of Tallahassee buildings and street scenes, along with the surrounding rural communities of Monticello, Quincy, St. Marks, and Panacea. In addition there are 200 portraits of Philadelphia people taken by Harper before he relocated to Tallahassee in 1884.
Alvan S. Harper was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania in 1847. Between 1870 and 1884, he was a professional photographer in Philadelphia. A chance meeting with Judge J.T. Bernard of Tallahassee, who was in Philadelphia as a commissioner from Florida to the 1876 Centennial Exposition, may have led to Harper's move to Tallahassee in 1884. Harper was soon advertising that he would take "artistic photographs" in his first studio, a room in the house he was renting. He moved twice before buying a house and building his own studio where he worked between 1889 and his death in 1911. Some of Harper's best negatives were lost when his studio was torn down in the 1920s. The negatives had been given to a Tallahassee historian who, because they were dirty, left them on a porch where they were mistaken for trash and taken to the dump. About 2,000 more Harper negatives were found in 1946 in the attic of the house he had owned. A Tallahassee photographer printed 250 negatives and circulated the prints in the community for identification. The negatives were turned over to the State Library and transferred to the Florida Photographic Collection after it was founded in 1952.