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University of Texas at Austin

Joseph Boggs Beale:

An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Beale, Joseph Boggs, 1841-1926
Title: Joseph Boggs Beale Collection
Dates: circa 1870s-2005
Extent: 4 oversize boxes, 2 document boxes, 1 flat box (2.67 linear feet)
Abstract: Ranging in date from 1865 to the 2000s, the Joseph Boggs Beale Collection consists of Beale's watercolor paintings used for magic lantern slide, glass slides, publications that highlight the artist, and merchandised reproductions of his work. The majority of this collection contains Beale's watercolor paintings.
Call Number: Film Collection FI-078
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gift, 2012 (12-11-006-G) Provence Note: Forty one watercolor painting were acquired from the American National Insurance Co. (ANICO), which purchased over 673 of Beale's magic lantern watercolor painting in the early 1970s. Glass magic lantern slides, reproduced illustrations, and published materials featuring Beale's work were acquired from Terry and Deborah Borton.
Processed by: Stephanie Tiedeken, 2013

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Famed magic lantern slide artist Joseph Boggs Beale was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 10, 1841. He was the eldest child of Louise Boggs McCord (1815-1887) and Dr. Steven Thomas Beale (1814-1899), a prominent dentist and founder of the Pennsylvania Association of Dental Surgeons. Beale demonstrated an aptitude for drawing while attending the prestigious Philadelphia's Central High School and later the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1862, the twenty-year-old Beale returned to Central High School as a professor of writing and drawing, winning the position over realist painter Thomas Eakins.
During the Civil War, Beale served with the Company D, 2nd Regiment, Blue Reserves of Philadelphia. He was quickly appointed to regimental artist and created battle sketches for various publications. After the war, he became an illustrator for numerous magazines including, Harper's, Frank Leslie's Weekly, and the Daily Graphic. Beale lived in Chicago for several years with his wife, Mary Louise Taffart, before returning to Philadelphia in the early 1870s. Much of the artist's work was lost in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
After Beale's return to Philadelphia, the prosperous glass slide dealer Caspar W. Briggs & Sons hired the talented illustrator to produce original slide designs for early projectors, known as magic lanterns. Illustrated glass slides were placed inside these machines and the image was projected onto a screen as a form of entertainment. Beale created 1,804 black and white paintings during his time at Caspar W. Briggs & Sons. The artist used a range of dark paints on charcoal gray paper, highlighted with Chinese opaque watercolors. The result, luminous and detailed illustrations with dramatic color contrast. Many of Beale's paintings chronicle American history from Native American folklore, colonization, the federal period, Civil War, to Victorian life. His illustrations also capture, Biblical and popular narrative stories.
By the time of his death on February 26, 1926, Beale had become renowned for his realistic magic lantern paintings. Several years after the artist's death, a large quantity of his work was discovered in the home of a glass slide producer from Germantown, Pennsylvania. Since then, Beale's paintings have been dispersed into public and private collections.


Robb, David M., Jr., and Frances Osborn Robb. Star-Spangled History, Drawings by Joseph Boggs Beale. Compiled by American National Insurance Company. Galveston, TX: American Printing Company, 1975.
"Speaking of Pictures."LIFE Magazine, January 8, 1940, 4-6.
Wainwright, Nicholas B., and Joseph Boggs Beale. "Education of an Artist: The Diary of Joseph Boggs Beale, 1856-1862."The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, October 1973, 485-510, (accessed 14 July 2013).

Scope and Contents

Ranging in date from 1865 to the 2000s, the Joseph Boggs Beale Collection consists of Beale's watercolor paintings used for magic lantern slides, glass slides, publications that highlight the artist, and merchandised reproductions of his work. The majority of this collection is made up of Beale's watercolor paintings, which were produced in Philadelphia beginning in the 1870s. The collection is divided into two series: I. Joseph Boggs Beale's paintings; II. Related Materials.
Beale's watercolor paintings, which makeup the first series, are arranged alphabetically by painting title and primarily depict various periods of American history. Some of the paintings, like Columbus Predicts Eclipse, document European exploration of the American continent. Others detail the colonial and early federal periods. Five paintings, part of an incomplete sequence, chronicle the life and death of President Ulysses S. Grant. The largest volume of paintings illustrate Edward Everett Hale's short story, "A Man Without A Country," published in the December 1863 issue of the Atlantic. The narrative follows an American Army Lieutenant, Philip Nolan, who renounces his country during a treason trial. Nolan is forced to live the rest of his life at sea without speaking or hearing news of the United States. The story is a Civil War allegory and intended to promote the Union cause. Illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, remain the only non-historical paintings in the collection. The Little Match Girl sequence is incomplete, missing one of the eight paintings adapting the Danish author's short story.
Series II. Related Materials include artifacts and printed items which place Beale's work in the context of his own life and the magic lantern industry. Particularly notable, are the glass magic lantern slides produced from Beale's paintings. Three of the eight glass slides in the collection do not depict illustrations painted by Joseph Boggs Beale. The January 8, 1940 issue of LIFE Magazine published a brief two-page biography on Beale, containing eight of his paintings and a photograph of the artist. The series additionally contains (but not limited to) Beale illustrated postage stamps, a commemorative plate, sheet music, and a short religious film.

Related Material

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia houses the Arthur Colen Collection of Joseph Boggs Beale Papers (1856-circa 1973).

Separated Material

The DVD performance of The American Magic Lantern Theater was cataloged with the Moving Image collection and placed into cold storage.

Index Terms


Beale, Joseph Boggs, 1841-1926.


Caspar W. Briggs & Sons.
Daily graphic (New York, N.Y.).
Frank Leslie’s illustrated newspaper.


Artists--American--19th Century.
Lantern projection.
Lantern slides--1860-1900.
United States--History.


Philadelphia (Pa.).

Document Types

Lantern slides.
Paintings (visual works).
Postage stamps.
Serials (publications).
Sheet music.

Container List