Foster Brothers records, 1875-1973, bulk, 1893-1942

A Finding Aid to the Foster Brothers Records, 1875-1973 (bulk 1893-1942), in the Archives of American Art, by Catherine S. Gaines

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Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art

Table of Contents:



Historical Information

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.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

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.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged as 9 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects-Topical:

  • Picture frame industry -- Massachusetts -- Boston
  • Picture frames and framing
  • Art -- Economic aspects

Types of Materials:

  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Stencils
  • Drawings
  • Works of art

Names:

  • Osborne, Helen Foster
  • Foster, John R.
  • Foster, Stephen Bartlett
  • Osborne, S. W.
  • Richter, C. F.

Provenance

Helen Foster Osborne, daughter of John R. Foster, donated the Foster Brothers records to the Archives in four installments between 1973 and 1976.

How the Collection was Processed

The entire collection was processed to an intermediate level by Catherine S. Gaines in 2007 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

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.

How to Cite this Collection

Foster Brothers records, 1875-1973 (bulk 1893-1942). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Correspondence, 1897-1942
(Box 1; 1.0 linear ft.)

Business correspondence with suppliers, distributors, and wholesale and retail customers concerns routine matters and special orders. The correspondence dated 1897-1941 is relatively sparse and primarily concerns copyright of artwork reproduced by Foster Brothers that was sold, framed, in gift shops, department and furniture stores.

The year 1942, the company's last year in business, is well documented. Of particular interest are letters from S. W. Osborne (Margaret Foster’s husband) written while traveling to meet with wholesale clients in cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest.

Chronological correspondence is followed by alphabetically arranged correspondence.

Box Folder
1 1 Correspondence, 1897-1915
1 2 Correspondence, 1916
1 3 Correspondence, 1917
1 4 Correspondence, 1918-1919
1 5 Correspondence, 1920-1921
1 6 Correspondence, 1922-1941
1 7 Abbott – Austin-Hastings Co., 1942
1 8 Babcock – Bittinger, 1942
1 9 Boaler Burchell and Dillon – Boyce Studio, 1942
1 10 Brandenburg – Butterfield, 1942
1 11 Cabot – Closson Co., 1942
1 12 Cocks – Cusik Studios, 1942
1 13 Davenport – Drakenfeld Co., 1942
1 14 E and E Art Shop – Fulda, 1942
1 15 Gamble – Gump’s, 1942
1 16 Hagerty – Hurley, 1942
1 17 Ideal Furniture Co. – Jordan, 1942
1 18 Kahn’s Art Gallery – Kromhaut, 1942
1 19 Lake – Lyon Furniture Mercantile Agency, 1942
1 20 Macy and Co. – McVicker, 1942
1 21 M/E Framing Guild – Myers, 1942
1 22 Nature Food Centres – Osborn, 1942
1 23 Osborne, S. W., 1942
1 24 Ozark Arts and Crafts Center – Payne, 1942
1 25 P P and H Moulding Co. – Putnam, 1942
1 26 Radas – Ryder, 1942
1 27 Sanders Co. – Sebatia Products, 1942
1 28 Shaker Gift Center Inc. – Swartz, 1942
1 29 Taber – Vixsboxse Art Galleries, 1942
1 30 Wadsworth, Howland and Co. – Waverly Fabrics, Inc., 1942
1 31 Webb – Wyman, 1942
1 32 Yale Athletic Association – Yuenger Manufacturing Co., 1942

Series 2: Stock Records, 1905-1942
(Boxes 2-6, 11, OVs 23-24, BVs 13-15; 6.2 linear ft.)

This series contains stock cards, inventory records, and price lists in addition to blueprints, drawings, and stencils and designs for wood carving.

Stock cards (mostly 8" x 10" pieces of mat board) describe merchandise produced or sold by Foster Brothers, including frames for pictures and mirrors, candlesticks, glove boxes, moldings, painted glass and stands. Each card contains at least one image (drawing, photograph, or printed reproduction) of the item and its stock or style number, and sometimes notes dimensions and prices. Some loose images are interfiled with the cards.

A large number of paper stencils that were used to transfer carving designs to frames survive, although many are fragile. Many stencils are annotated with the corresponding stock or style number; other designs for woodcarving are merely drawn on paper. In addition, there are extensive drawings of frames and moldings, loose and in bound volumes, including finished, colored drawings by master craftsman C. F. Richter.

One volume titled "Cost on Mirrors" (1929) analyzes the amount of time needed to carve, gild, and polish frames, the cost of materials, and prices of frames #1001-1308.

Box Folder
2 Stock Cards
2 1-19 Frames #515-4599, undated
(19 folders)
Box Folder
3 1-18 Frames #4600-5099, undated
(18 folders)
Box Folder
4 1-18 Frames #5100-6011; unnumbered, undated
(18 folders)
Box Folder
5 1 Candlesticks #1-8, undated
5 2 Glove Boxes #6-9, undated
5 3 Light Bracket; Wall Candelabra #1-2, undated
5 4 Moldings #1w-186w; #1-172; #4533-4966, undated
(see also BV 13)
5 5-6 Painted Glass #1-62, undated
(2 folders)
5 7 Pier Mirrors (#P1-P17), undated
5 8-9 Stands #1-40; unnumbered, undated
(2 folders)
5 Blueprints
5 10 Mirrors #1004-1167, undated
5 11 Catalog (includes blueprints and printed reproductions) – Mirrors #1053-1143, undated
(1 vol.)
5 12 "Cost on Mirrors," 1929
(1 vol.)
5 Drawings (hand colored) by C. F. Richter
(see also BVs 14-15)
5 13 Cabinets, undated
5 14 Foster Brothers Mirrors in Room Settings (unsigned), undated
5 Inventories
5 15 Vol. 1: 1933-1942
5 16 Vol. 2: 1939-1941
(loose leaf notebook, disbound)
5 17 Vol. 3: undated
5 18 Miscellaneous Lists, 1939, undated
5 Price Books
(loose leaf notebooks, disbound)
5 19 Vol. 1: Stands and Frames, 1919-1938
5 20 Vol. 2: Frames, 1919-1939
5 21 Vol. 3: Frames, 1923-1942
5 22-23 Price Lists, 1929-1942, undated
(2 folders)
Box Folder
6 1-34 Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, #100s-#6000s, unnumbered, undated
(34 folders; see also OVs 23-24, BV 13)
Box Folder
11 (hol) 1-8 Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, unnumbered, undated
(8 folders; see also OVs 23-24, BV 13)
Box
OV 23 Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, (#1000s-2000s, 4000s), undated
Box
OV 24 Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving (unnumbered), undated
Box
BV 13 Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving (unnumbered), 1905
BV 13 Drawings of Moldings, #1-3038, 1905
Box
BV 14 Drawings (probably by C. F. Richter), "Sketches" (mirrors and frames), undated
Box
BV 15 Drawings (probably by C. F. Richter), "Mirrors and Frames," undated
(see also Box 5, BV 14; includes boxes, stands, letterhead design, printed reproductions; some loose items)

Series 3: Financial Records, 1892-1959
(Boxes 7-9; BVs 16-19; 3.3 linear ft.)

Financial records consist mainly of accounting records, but also include annual financial reports, orders, and sales records. There are relatively few records before the early 1900s.

Box Folder
7 Accounting Records
7 1 Account Balances, Wholesale and Retail, 1940-1941
7 2-3 Accounts Payable, A-Z, 1936-1941
(2 folders)
7 4 Accounts Payable, Summary, 1919-1938
(5" x 8" cards)
7 5-8 Accounts Receivable, A-Z, 1907-1940
(4 folders; 5" x 8" cards)
7 9 Accounts Receivable, Summary, 1919-1938
(5" x 8" cards)
7 10 Advertising, 1928-1931
(5" x 8" cards)
7 11 Automobile, Reserve for Depreciation, 1931-1937
(5" x 8" cards)
7 12 Balance Sheets, 1919-1930
7 13 Balances, Sundry Credit and Debit, 1931
(5" x 8" cards)
7 14 Bank Deposits, 1919-1939
(5" x 8" cards)
7 15 Cash, 1919-1939
(5" x 8" cards)
7 16 Cash Journal, Vol. 1: Jan. 11, 1938-Jan. 1, 1939
7 17 Cash Journal, Vol. 2: Jan. 3-Nov. 1, 1939
7 18 Cash Journal, Vol. 3: Nov. 13, 1939-Sept., 21, 1940
7 19 Cash Journal, Vol. 4: Sept. 23, 1940-Sept. 6, 1941
7 20 Cash Journal, Vol. 5: 1939
(see: BV 16)
7 21 Cash Journal, Vol. 6: 1940
(see: BV 17)
7 22 Cash Journal, Vol. 7: 1941
(see: BV 18)
7 23 Code Numbers, undated
7 24 Consignments, 1935-1941
(1 vol.)
7 25 Expenses, Factory and Store, 1900-1931
(5" x 8" cards)
7 26 Foster, Georgette K., Helen J., John R. and Estate of John R., 1902-1938
(5" x 8")
7 27 Furniture and Fixtures, 1919-1938
(5" x 8" cards)
7 28 General Ledger, Profit and Loss, 1938
(see: BV 19)
7 29 Insurance, 1937-1938
(5" x 8")
7 30 Interest and Discount, 1919-1939
(5" x 8")
7 31 Inventories, Consigned, Factory, and Store, 1919-1938
(5" x 8" cards)
7 32 Inventories, Factory and Store Equipment, Supplies, Fixtures, 1920
7 33 Investment Account, 1919-1932
(5" x 8" cards)
Box Folder
8 1 Payroll, 1931
(5" x 8" cards)
8 2 Payroll - Factory, Vol. 1: 1936-1937
8 3 Payroll - Factory, Vol. 2: 1937-1938
8 4 Payroll - Factory, Vol. 3: 1939-1940
8 5 Profit and Loss, 1919-1939
(5" x 8" cards)
8 6 Sales and Purchases, 1919-1938
(5" x 8" cards)
8 7 Sales and Purchases; Expenses, 1939-1942
8 8 Taxes, 1925-1931
(5" x 8" cards)
8 9 Annual Financial Reports, 1925-1932
8 10 Annual Financial Reports, 1934-1942
8 11 Order Books – Retail, Vol. 1: 1939
8 12 Order Books – Retail, Vol. 2: 1940
8 13 Order Books – Retail, Vol. 3: 1941
8 14 Order Books – Wholesale, Vol. 1: 1937-1939
8 15 Order Books – Wholesale, Vol. 2: 1939-1941
8 16 Sales, Vols. 1-3: 1892-1910
8 17 Sales, Vol. 4: 1937-1939
(wrapped package)
Box Folder
9 1 Sales, Vol. 5: 1939-1941
9 2-14 Sales Records, Jan. 1942-Jan. 1943
(13 folders)
9 15 Sales, Monthly Summaries, 1926-1942
9 16 Sales, Davidson, C. E., 1938-1942
9 17 Sales, Wholesale Sales Trips (itineraries, customer lists, expenses, sales), 1930-1942
Box
BV 16 Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 5, 1959
Box
BV 17 Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 6, 1940
Box
BV 18 Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 7, 1941
Box
BV 19 Accounting Records, General Ledger, Profit and Loss, 1938

Series 4: Writings and Lists, 1920s-circa 1942
(Box 9; 0.25 linear ft.)

Writings consist of articles, lists and notes. An unsigned article concerns 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.

Box Folder
9 18 Articles by Unknown, undated
9 19 Draft of Mirror Brochure (with illustration), undated
9 20 Lists, Mailing, 1940-1941
9 21 Lists, Store and Factory Locations; Unusual items Framed for Customers by Helen Foster, undated
9 22 Lists, Trade (by city), 1939
9 23-24 Lists, Retail Customers (Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Lexington, Medfords, Worcester), undated
(8 vols. in 2 folders)
9 25 Lists, Wholesale New England Customers or Possible Customers by Helen Foster, undated
9 26 Notebooks, Helen Foster – Business Information, A-Z, undated
9 27 Notebooks, John R. Foster – Notes and Figures; Lists, 1920s-1930s
(2 vols, disbound)
9 28 Notebooks, Margaret J. Melly [Mrs. McLaughlin] (in charge of wholesale orders and advertising) and Helen J. Foster – "Interesting Information of All Kinds," undated
9 29 Notes, Artist Biographies by Unknown, undated
9 30 Notes, History of Mirrors by Helen J. Foster, undated
9 31 Notes, Miscellaneous and Lists by Helen J. Foster, circa 1942
9 32 Notes, Picture Frames; "The Art of Framing" by John R. Foster, undated
9 33 Notes, Reproductions Published by Foster Brothers, undated

Series 5: Miscellaneous Business Records, 1898-1939
(Box 10; 7 folders)

Included in this series are copyright and trademark information, a building permit, and records relating to an exhibition of etchings by Dorsey Potter Tyson held at Foster Brothers.

Box Folder
10 1 Building Permit for Arlington, Mass., Factory, 1918
10 2 Census of Manufacturers, 1929-1939
10 3 Contracts (Telephone and Electric Co.), 1898-1907
10 4 Copyright Registration for Photograph, "Irene" and Print, "Your Picture of Today Will be the Keepsake of Tomorrow," 1898, 1926
10 5 Exhibition of Etchings by Dorsey Potter Tyson, 1937
10 6 Insurance, Workmen’s Compensation, 1912
10 7 Trademark of Foster Brothers, 1899

Series 6: Printed Material, 1893-1947
(Box 10, OV 25; 0.25 linear ft.)

The majority of printed material relates to advertising and consists of catalogs and brochures about frames, mirrors, and published reproductions. Unless otherwise noted, all items were produced by or are about Foster Brothers. Scrapbooks in Series 7 contain additional printed material.

Box Folder
10 8 Advertising, undated
10 9 Advertising (R. H. Macy and Co., featuring Foster Brothers’ mirrors, frames, and reproductions), undated
10 10 Broadside, undated
(see: OV 25)
10 11 Brochures about Reproductions (not Foster Brothers), undated
10 12-14 Brochures and Catalogs, 1890s-1930s, undated
(3 folders; see also OV 25)
10 15 Business Card of Helen Foster, undated
10 16 Clippings, About/Mentioning Foster Brothers, 1893-1947, undated
10 17 Clippings, About Picture Frames, 1934, undated
10 18 Clippings, Miscellaneous Subjects, 1893, undated
10 19 Exhibition Catalogs, 1893-1894
10 20 Frame Labels, undated
10 21 Order Form for Reproductions, undated
10 22 Pamphlet about History of 2 Park Street, Boston (Houghton Mifflin Co.), 1923
10 23 Reproductions of Silhouettes Published by Foster Brothers, undated
Box
OV 25 Broadside, undated
OV 25 Brochures and Catalogs

Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1906-1942
(Boxes 10, 12, BV 20-22; 1.3 linear ft.)

8 volumes of scrapbooks contain printed material including clippings, advertising material, brochures and catalogs, form letters, and reproductions of miniatures and silhouettes published by Foster Brothers.

Box Folder
10 24 Vol. 1: Advertising, 1906-1914
10 25 Vol. 2: Advertising, 1915-1923, undated
(see BV 20)
10 26 Vol. 3: Advertising, 1934-1942
(see BV 21)
10 27 Vol. 4: Advertising in Magazines, 1918-1919
10 28 Vol. 5: Advertising in Magazines, 1924-1934, undated
(disbound volume; see Box 12)
10 29 Vol. 6: Advertising in Magazines, 1927-1931
10 30 Vol. 7: Reproductions of Miniatures and Silhouettes (published by Foster Brothers), undated
(See: Box 12)
10 31 Vol. 8: Reproductions of Drawings by Alfred Shaw, Francis Getty, Kenneth Conant (copyrighted and published by Foster Brothers), 1921-1930
(see BV 22)
10 32 Loose Items [from unidentified scrapbook(s)], 1924-1932, undated
Box
12 (sol) Vol. 5: Advertising in Magazines, 1924-1934, undated
12 (sol) Vol. 7: Reproductions of Miniatures and Silhouettes (published by Foster Brothers), undated
Box
BV 20 Vol. 2: Advertising, 1915-1923, undated
Box
BV 21 Vol. 3: Advertising, 1934-1942
Box
BV 22 Vol. 8: Reproductions of Drawings by Alfred Shaw, Francis Getty, Kenneth Conant (copyrighted and published by Foster Brothers), 1921-1930

Series 8: Family Papers, 1875-1973
(Box 10; 6 folders)

Family papers consist of a small number of personal papers of Foster Brothers founders, John Roy and Stephen Bartlett Foster, and also of Helen Foster Osborne (John’s daughter). A letter from Edward Everett Hale, 1889, accepting an invitation addressed to Mr. Foster could have been intended for either Stephen or John Foster. Also included are a silhouette of John R. Foster cut by Doris Burdick, and his personal account book with some brief diary entries that pre-date the establishment of Foster Brothers by more than a decade. Of particular interest is Helen Foster Osborne’s 1973 reminiscence of having her portrait painted by William Paxton in 1923. Helen Foster Osborne’s correspondence with Ernest Donnelley, post-dating the closing of Foster Brothers, concerns the sale of printing plates and dies from the miniature reproduction business.

Box Folder
10 33 To Mr. Foster, Letter from Edward Everett Hale, 1889
10 34 John R. Foster, Account Book, 1875-1880
10 35 John R. Foster, Silhouette Cut by Doris Burdick, undated
10 36 Stephen B Foster, Will, 1915
10 37 Helen Foster Osborne, Correspondence with Ernest Donnnelly, 1945-1946
10 38 Helen Foster Osborne, Photograph of Portrait of her by William Paxton (with reminiscence), 1923, 1973

Series 9: Photographs, circa 1880s-1918
(Box 10; 5 folders)

Photographs are of the Foster brothers, John Roy and Stephen Bartlett Foster. One portrait of each is in a "Keepsake Frame," a popular item designed and manufactured by Foster Brothers. Other people appearing in photographs are employees, most of whom are unidentified. Also included are pictures of the Foster Brothers' first frame factory on Cambridge Street, picturing the exterior of the factory and the "fitting room."

Box Folder
10 39 People, Employees, 1896, undated
10 40 People, Foster, John Roy, 1880s-circa 1914
10 41 People, Foster, Stephen Bartlett, circa 1880s-1890s, undated
10 42 Places, Foster Brothers Factory, Cambridge St. (exterior and "fitting room"), 1890s-1918
10 43 Places, John and Stephen Foster, Charles Street Apartment, undated