John Lyman Lovell: Photography and Publishing in Amherst

Amherst photographer John Lyman Lovell

Amherst photographer John Lyman Lovell

John Lyman Lovell’s 1903 obituary in the Amherst Record spoke of his photography as a body of artwork as well as a livelihood. Many other sources reflect a similar appreciation for his work. Lovell began making daguerrotypes in 1849, working in nearby Ware. After moving to Amherst, he kept business quarters in a number of building blocks until settling into his Amherst Picture Gallery, which was in business for nearly half a century.

Printed information on the Daguerreian process first reached the United States in 1839. Ten years later, Lovell was learning how to make daguerrotypes in rural Massachusetts. The new technology flooded the market with a model of near-instant portraiture in small-town America. As the photographic technologies evolved into ambrotypes, tintypes, then photographs in the following decades, the popular interest in photography remained much the same. Local picture galleries advertised for patrons to come into the studio and have their likenesses made for a relatively small fee.

Envelope from Lovell’s Amherst Picture Gallery

Envelope from Lovell's Amherst Picture Gallery

Lovell’s own Amherst Picture Gallery was very well advertised; much ephemera survives as evidence. Among the more substantial of his campaigns was the publication of the Amherst Photographer, an eight-page newspaper printed in May of 1868. Half of the paper is composed of advertisements, most of which relate to Lovell’s studio. Other articles provide advice on how to have a likeness taken and information on the photographic technologies of the day. The paper was distributed free of charge.

The information it relates is useful, now, toward understanding public attitudes around photography in its time. One short article, entitled “Curiosities of Photography,” tells of incredible feats achieved by image capture. Photographers had by then captured, for example, a bullet speeding through the air and the sun in eclipse. Another piece gives a brief history of photographic technologies, beginning with the daguerrotype. A first-page article tells a fictional “Photographic Love Story,” in which the photographer falls in love with a lovely woman sitting for her portrait. The existence of this piece is a fascinating testament to photographic portraiture’s significance in the culture of 1860s Amherst.

John Lovell’s Amherst home

John Lovell's Amherst home

Then, there are the advertisements. Some offer dry goods, medicines, boots, wines, and liquors. Most detail the services available at Lovell’s Amherst Picture Gallery. Colored photographs, ambrotypes, porcelain pictures, and frame making are all offered for a low price. Stereoscopic views of Amherst and the surrounding towns are marketed to Hampshire County natives and to Amherst College graduates. The Amherst Picture Gallery is proclaimed to be “Head Quarters for any thing in the photographic art.”

J.L. Lovell began working as a class photographer for Amherst College. Eventually, his business grew to incorporate a number of photographic technologies and services for the general public. The Amherst Picture Gallery was the first and among the most well known in all of Hampshire County. When Lovell published the Amherst Photographer in May of 1868, the Amherst Picture Gallery was already well established in the area. As a short piece on the third page assures, Lovell was committed to his Picture Gallery and had no association with other photographic enterprises. The Amherst Photographer was clearly and explicitly intended to display Lovell’s loyalty to his Amherst Picture Gallery and its patrons.

Coupon from Lovell’s Amherst Picture Gallery

Coupons from Lovell's Amherst Picture Gallery

The eight-page newspaper was printed by Skinner & McCloud, and published by Lovell. Its publicationis catalogued in Amherst Imprints, an index created by McKeon & Cowles in 1946. Inspired by the Works Progress Administration’s American Imprints Survey during the New Deal era, the book tracks every publication made in Amherst since the first done by Amherst College at its founding in the 1820s. The years following saw little rush to publish newspapers or other serials; Amherst was well supplied by the nearby city of Springfield. Once newspapers began to come out of Amherst, publishers went in and out of business in relatively quick succession. Skinner & McCloud, the publishers of Lovell’s Amherst Photographer, only existed in that incarnation from February through December of 1868. Lovell’s May publication of the Amherst Photographer came by chance during those few months.

John L. Lovell's "Amherst Photographer"

John L. Lovell's "Amherst Photographer"

Written by Louisa Lebwohl

Hampshire College 2014


Amherst Photographer. May 1868. Jones Library Special Collections. Amherst, MA.

Lombardo, Daniel. Tales of Amherst: A Look Back. Amherst, MA: Jones Library, 1986.

"Lovell, J.L. -- Photographer." Jones Library Special Collections. Amherst, MA.

"Lovell, J.L. -- Photographic business." Jones Library Special Collections. Amherst, MA.

McKeon, Newton Felch and Katharine Conover Cowles. Amherst, Massachusetts imprints, 1825-1876. Amherst, MA: Amherst College, 1946.

Severa, Joan L. My Likeness Take: Daguerreian Portraits in America. Kent, OH: Kent State University, 2005.

John Lyman Lovell: Photography and Publishing in Amherst