A Finding Aid to the Foster Brothers Records,
1875-1973 (bulk 1893-1942), in the Archives of American Art, by Catherine S. Gaines
Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art
Table of Contents:
- Historical Note
- Overview of the Collection
- How to Use the Collection
- Detailed Description and Container Inventory
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.
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:
- Series 1: Correspondence, 1897-1942 (Box 1; 1.0 linear ft.)
- Series 2: Stock Records, 1905-1942 (Boxes 2-6, 11, OVs 23-24, BVs 13-15; 6.2 linear ft.)
- Series 3: Financial Records, 1892-1959 (Boxes 7-9; BVs 16-19; 3.3 linear ft.)
- Series 4: Writings and Lists, 1920s-circa 1942 (Box 9; 0.25 linear ft.)
- Series 5: Miscellaneous Business Records, 1898-1939 (Box 10; 7 folders)
- Series 6: Printed Material, 1893-1947 (Box 10, OV 25; 0.25 linear ft.)
- Series 7: Scrapbooks, 1906-1942 (Boxes 10, 12, BVs 20-22; 1.3 linear ft.)
- Series 8: Family Papers, 1875-1973 (Box 10; 6 folders
- Series 9: Photographs, circa 1880s-1918 (Box 10; 5 folders)
Subjects and Names
This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:
- Picture frame industry -- Massachusetts -- Boston
- Picture frames and framing
- Art -- Economic aspects
- Types of Materials:
- Works of art
- Osborne, Helen Foster
- Foster, John R.
- Foster, Stephen Bartlett
- Osborne, S. W.
- Richter, C. F.
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.
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.
|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.
|2||1-19||Frames #515-4599, undated (19 folders)|
|3||1-18||Frames #4600-5099, undated (18 folders)|
|4||1-18||Frames #5100-6011; unnumbered, undated (18 folders)|
|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||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||14||Foster Brothers Mirrors in Room Settings (unsigned), undated|
|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)|
|6||1-34||Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, #100s-#6000s, unnumbered, undated (34 folders; see also OVs 23-24, BV 13)|
|11 (hol)||1-8||Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, unnumbered, undated (8 folders; see also OVs 23-24, BV 13)|
|OV 23||Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving, (#1000s-2000s, 4000s), undated|
|OV 24||Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving (unnumbered), undated|
|BV 13||Stencils and Designs for Woodcarving (unnumbered), 1905|
|BV 13||Drawings of Moldings, #1-3038, 1905|
|BV 14||Drawings (probably by C. F. Richter), "Sketches" (mirrors and frames), undated|
|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.
|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)|
|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)|
|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|
|BV 16||Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 5, 1959|
|BV 17||Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 6, 1940|
|BV 18||Accounting Records, Cash Journal, Vol. 7, 1941|
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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|
|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.
|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|
|12 (sol)||Vol. 5: Advertising in Magazines, 1924-1934, undated|
|12 (sol)||Vol. 7: Reproductions of Miniatures and Silhouettes (published by Foster Brothers), undated|
|BV 20||Vol. 2: Advertising, 1915-1923, undated|
|BV 21||Vol. 3: Advertising, 1934-1942|
|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.
|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."
|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|