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Ira Wolff Photographic History Collection

Identifier: COU:2642

Scope and Contents

The Ira Wolff Photographic History collection contains approximately 7,000 original photographs, along with related periodical clippings and ephemera, acquired by the collector Ira Wolff. The bulk of the photographs date from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, offering insight into the invention of photography, the scientific and technical components of its development, vernacular photographic practices, and the medium’s role in social and cultural documentation.

The collection contains examples of a wide range of photographic and photomechanical processes and photographic formats: albumen prints, collotypes, cyanotypes, carte de visites, daguerreotypes, dye transfer prints, gelatin silver prints, photogravures, photo lithographs, platinum prints, salt prints, stereographs, tintypes, and woodburytypes. The explosion of commercial photography in the 1860s-1870s is documented through numerous cartes de visite, stereographs, and cabinet cards; the rise of amateur photography is documented through multiple examples of early Kodak prints from the 1890s. Images by well-known photographers include an 1844 calotype by William Henry Fox Talbot to numerous 1860s photographs of India by Samuel Bourne. Vernacular photography is heavily represented in the collection, with examples including a hand-painted portrait of an African-American soldier in the Spanish-American war and an early twentieth-century memorial album commemorating a woman who died in childbirth, among numerous other examples.


  • Creation: 1816 - 2000
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1850 - 1950

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research

Biographical / Historical

Ira Wolff worked as an executive at NBC in the 1950s and 1960s before embarking on a career in direct marketing. A longtime former member of the Grolier Club, the New York City bibliophile society, Wolff first amassed a 6,500 item mystery collection, which now resides at the University of California San Diego. He turned his attention to photography after meeting the renowned curator, collector, and companion to Robert Mapplethorpe, Sam Wagstaff, through his service on the Grolier Club’s exhibition committee. Wolff acquired the Photographic History collection over the course of several decades from bookstores and dealers throughout the United States and Europe.


100 linear feet

Language of Materials



The Ira Wolff Photographic History Collection contains approximately 7,000 original photographs, along with related periodical clippings and ephemera, acquired by the collector Ira Wolff. The collection details the variety of photographic print processes and photographic formats in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


This collection is arranged largely in original order, as it was received from the donor. Some unorganized boxes have been divided into corresponding series. Series are divided by theme, photographic process, or format. Note that many items could have fit into multiple series, but we left items grouped as the donor grouped them. Format and photographic print process are searchable via the subject field.

The collection is arranged into the following series:

Series 1: Thematic Photography Collections

Series 2: Family Photography Archives

Series 3: Calotypes (Talbotypes)

Series 4: Cased Nineteenth-Century Photographs

Series 5: Albumen Prints

Series 6: Gelatin Silver Prints

Series 7: Alternative Photographic Print Methods

Series 8: Photochrom

Series 9: Other Photomechanical Prints

Series 10: Stereographs

Series 11: Postcards

Series 12: Glass Lantern Slides

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired from Ira Wolff, 2007

Finding Aid to the Ira Wolff Photographic History Collection
In Progress
Series 1 and 2 processed by Katie Randall, 2019-2020; Series 4 processed by Kinsey Miller and Katlin Risen, 2021; Mounted Photographs processed by Drew Gaines and Connor O'Hara, 2020 and Kinsey Miller and Katlin Risen, 2021; edited and compiled by Sean Babbs
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States