The collection consists of the raw materials (completed schedules and catalogues) for a survey of material of historical interest and importance associated with American furniture manufacturers. There is a folder for each of the approximately 210 furniture manufacturing companies asked to participate in the survey, filed alphabetically by company.
Nearly all of the material has been kept in the original folders (not acid free) which are filed alphabetically by company. It is in excellent condition (1988) but should be transferred to acid free folders if a decision to keep it indefinitely is made).
This collection is arranged alphabetically by company name.
This collection constitutes the raw materials from an attempt to survey the archival holdings of American furniture manufacturers which was undertaken by the office of Dr. Richard H. Howland, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1978-1979. The survey was intended as a preliminary study of industry owned collections and the possibility of a repository for such material. A letter and schedule were sent to approximately 210 furniture companies in the summer of 1979. In some instances follow up letters were sent in the fall. Each company was asked to complete a single page schedule and to send a catalogue if available.
Of the approximately 210 companies which received schedules, over 100 companies failed to respond. Forty five schedules were returned and more then 60 companies provided catalogues. Several companies sent brochures, pamphlets or annual reports in addition to or in lieu of catalogues. A few folders contain correspondence relating to prospective visits by the project director, or to preliminary plans for the survey.
The material received was not analyzed and no formal report was written. Funding did not materialize and the project was discontinued.
David A. Hanks, who worked on various projects under Dr. Howland's sponsorship before moving to New York in 1979 and Mrs. Johanna Rieg, a volunteer, worked on the project.
Page 5 of David Hanks paper before the Decorative Arts Archives Conference held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 21, 1979 refers to a report by Mrs. Rieg on the initial findings of the survey. A telephone conversation with Mrs. Rieg March 2, 1988 indicated that her statement was an informal one not a written paper. At that time the project was not far enough along for any significant data to be available.
Immediate source of acquisition unknown.
The collection is open for research use.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Reproduction permission from Archives Center: fees for commercial use.
The records of Boston picture frame company Foster Brothers measure 12.5 linear feet and date from 1875-1973 with the bulk of the material falling between 1893 and 1942. Correspondence, stock records, financial records, writings, miscellaneous business records, printed material, scrapbooks, and photographs document the history of this company that operated a factory, retail store, and wholesale and mail order businesses between 1893 and 1942. A small number of family papers are included, with items pre-dating and post-dating the business.
Scope and Content Note:
The records of the Boston picture frame company Foster Brothers measure 12.5 linear feet and date from 1875 to 1973 with the bulk of the material falling between 1893 and 1942. Correspondence, stock records, financial records, writings, miscellaneous business records, printed material, scrapbooks, and photographs document the history of the picture frame company that operated a factory, retail store, and wholesale and mail order businesses between 1893 and 1942. A small number of family papers are included, including items from periods when Foster Brothers was not in business. Scattered throughout the collection are small slips of papers with explanatory notes and background information supplied by the donor, Helen Foster Osborne.
Correspondence mostly concerns routine business with suppliers, distributors, and wholesale and retail customers and is relatively sparse for 1897-1941. Foster Brothers' last year in business, 1942, is well documented and includes letters from S. W. Osborne (Margaret Foster's husband) written while traveling to meet with wholesale clients in cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest.
Stock records include stock cards, inventory records and price lists. Also found are a large number of paper stencils that were used to transfer carving designs to frames, and extensive drawings of frames and moldings including finished, colored drawings by master craftsman C. F. Richter.
Financial records consist mainly of routine accounting records, but also include annual financial reports, orders, and sales records. Among the writings and lists are an unsigned article concerning Foster Brothers' craftsmen and their early use of machinery. Notes include material for a history of mirrors by Helen J. Foster, and "The Art of Framing" by John R. Foster.
The majority of printed material relates to advertising and consists of catalogs and brochures about frames, mirrors, and published reproductions. Eight volumes of scrapbooks also contain printed material consisting of advertising, brochures and catalogs, form letters, and reproductions of miniatures and silhouettes published by Foster Brothers.
Family papers consist of a small number of personal papers of the founders, John Roy and Stephen Bartlett Foster, and also of Helen Foster Osborne (John's daughter). They include Foster Oborne's 1973 reminiscence of having her portrait painted by William Paxton in 1923, John R. Foster's personal account book and Foster Osborne's correspondence with Ernest Donnelley concerning the sale of printing plates and dies from the miniature reproduction business.
Photographs are of founders John Roy and Stephen Bartlett Foster, some of their employees, and early pictures of the first Foster Brothers frame factory on Cambridge Street.
The collection is arranged as 9 series:
Series 1: Correspondence, 1897-1942 (Box 1; 1.0 linear feet)
Series 2: Stock Records, 1905-1942 (Boxes 2-6, 11, OVs 23-24, BVs 13-15; 6.2 linear feet)
Series 3: Financial Records, 1892-1959 (Boxes 7-9; BVs 16-19; 3.3 linear feet)
Series 4: Writings and Lists, 1920s-circa 1942 (Box 9; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 5: Miscellaneous Business Records, 1898-1939 (Box 10; 7 folders)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1893-1947 (Box 10, OV 25; 0.25 linear feet)
Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1906-1942 (Boxes 10, 12, BVs 20-22; 1.3 linear feet)
Series 8: Family Papers, 1875-1973 (Box 10; 6 folders
Series 9: Photographs, circa 1880s-1918 (Box 10; 5 folders)
Established by Stephen Bartlett Foster (1856-1932) and John Roy Foster (1863-1931), Foster Brothers opened in 1893 at 164 Boylston Street, Boston. By 1896, Foster Brothers had moved to 3 Park Square, just around the corner from its first location. Eventually, the business relocated to 4 Park Square, where it stayed for the remainder of its existence. The original Foster Brothers factory was housed in the old Parkman's Market building on Cambridge Street in Boston. In 1918, the Fosters built a new factory in Arlington, the suburb in which the brothers lived.
Foster Brothers was known for high quality frames that featured expert carving and gilding by fine craftsmen, consistent with the esthetic and philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement of the time. Their frames that incorporated elements of early Dutch frames especially appealed to Boston School artists such as Edmund Tarbell and William MacGregor Paxton. Custom orders were welcomed from museums, galleries, collectors, and artists. In the 1890s, Foster Brothers operated a small gallery that featured watercolors and sketches by local artists; sporadic exhibitions continued throughout the 1930s. Early business cards and advertisements indicate that the company sold "wedding presents, etchings, engravings, water colors and picture frames." Among its best selling merchandise were mirrors in a wide variety of styles. As early as 1898, Foster Brothers began to copyright and publish reproductions of paintings, drawings, silhouettes, and miniatures. These were framed in sets and sold by Foster Brothers in its retail shop and by mail order; in addition, they were distributed through department stores, furniture stores, gift shops, and interior decorators.
John Roy Foster was in charge of promotion and merchandising, designing the retail line, and managing the company's wholesale and mail order businesses. Stephen Bartlett Foster managed the factory and oversaw all aspects of the manufacturing. Helen J. Foster, John's daughter, studied art at Smith College and by the late 1920s was a successful manager and saleswoman in the retail store. The Depression brought a sharp decline in sales. After the deaths of John and Stephen Foster, Helen and her husband, Shattuck Osborne, owned and managed Foster Brothers for another decade. Although the business closed in 1942, Foster Brothers frames continue to command high prices and are highly prized and sought after today.
Helen Foster Osborne, daughter of John R. Foster, donated the Foster Brothers records to the Archives in four installments between 1973 and 1976.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.
The Foster Brothers records are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.