Highlights from the Photograph Collection – Lost on the Shelf

You never know what you’re going to find in an archives office. While the idealized vision is probably a mirror-image of the storage vault, with its neat rows of gray manuscript boxes and acid-free record cartons, this is almost never the case. Any flat surface can become a not-so-temporary resting place for the odd accession or accrual, or the item that was removed from its collection for research or exhibit, but has yet to find its way back to its proper housing.

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This photograph of an early 20th-century surgical procedure was found a few weeks ago on top of one of our many filing cabinets. Who knows how it ended up there—or how long it had been waiting to be found again. Luckily, it carried a notation that it was from the Julius Comroe collection and the carton dedicated to illustrations for his book, Exploring the Heart. Looking at his notes, it is evident that Comroe had intended to use this photograph as the first illustration in his chapter on open heart surgery, but had later opted to use the Thomas Eakins painting, “The Agnew Clinic,” instead. Unfortunately there are no other notations or attributions on the photograph or its folder to tell us more about it, but at least this orphan work has found its way home—and we were given this opportunity to share it.

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“The Agnew Clinic” by Thomas Eakins, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/1800s/1889med/agnewclinic.html

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