Antique Office Illustrations & Photographs
|Click to Enlarge||Description||Source|
|"An Old-Time Counting Room," Fell's Point, Baltimore, MD, c. 1770; drawing dated 1879. "In sight of his ships and his goods, on the ground-floor of his warehouse usually, the old-time merchant had his counting-room. It was separated by a slight partition from the surrounding mass of merchandise. None of the elegance of modern counting-rooms graced the interior. In harmony with the rude beams, an arch of solid masonry supported the safe, built into the walls, and closed by its iron door with a lock to make a modern burglar laugh. From an armchair, as from a throne, the 'head of the house' surveyed a row of deferential clerks at their high desks, almost buried behind their ponderous ledgers. Innumerable bills, ruthlessly impaled on wires, met a deserved fate. Rows of tin or wooden coffers, marked with the names of dead years, rested in dusty security on a high shelf, and suggested long-passed transactions." Referring to the clerks, the article continues: "These youths, whom it was a favor to admit to a great commercial house, were in training as the future merchants and as gentlemen."||"Old Baltimore and Its Merchants," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Nov. 1880.|
|Merchant's counting house.||Boorum & Pease Co., The Story of a Century, 1842-1942, Brooklyn, NY, 1942. Boorum & Pease, which is still in business, was founded in 1842 as a maker of blank books and ledgers.|
|Office, General George Washington's 1779-80 Winter Headquarters, outside Morristown, NJ, now Morristown National Historical Park. This postcard was published in 1905.||Early Office
|George Washington's Study, Mount Vernon, VA, photo by Hal Conroy. This photo shows Washington's letter copying press and the desk Washington purchased in Philadelphia at the end of his presidency (1789-97).||Early Office
|"Secret Office, at the General Post Office," London, England, 1844. Letters were opened and re-sealed in the Secret Office under the authority of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Secret Office "is also used as the Money-Order Office. The ordinary business transacted in the room is the keeping of the accounts connected with the order department, and the franking, &c., of official communications."||Illustrated London News, June 29, 1844.|
|Joseph Bimeler's Office, Zoar Village, OH, reconstruction. Bimeler (1778-1853) was the leader of German separatists, or Zoarites, who came to the US in 1817 and settled in Zoar, OH, where they established a communistic society. The group prospered but during the second half of the 19th century its members lost interest in the original concept. The society was dissolved in 1898. The Ohio Historical Society operates part of the town as an historic site, with restored buildings open to the public. The safe in this photo is similar in appearance to those sold in the US in the 1830s. See our page on safes.||Early Office
Counting-Room, General Office, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY,
1855. This engraving shows the general
office on the first floor of the building. (Click here to see an image of
the front of the building.) "The view [reproduced to the left] is
taken from the back side of the room, looking forward. The staircase is
seen in the centre, coming up from the great door on the
In the background of the picture, which represents, of course, the front side of the room, there is a rectangular space, about forty feet by fifteen, inclosed by a railing, which may be considered the counting-room proper. Here are the desks and seats of the proprietors of the establishment, with sofas and chairs along the sides of the inclosure for visitors, or persons having business with the proprietors personally. The four brothers Harper, the original founders and present proprietors of the establishment, are almost always to be seen here, engaged in their various duties, such as receiving reports and listening to inquiries from the various mechanical departments, issuing orders, answering questions, holding consultations, considering new projects, waiting upon authors who come to offer manuscripts, and artists who bring in drawings or engravings, and in other like occupations. A vast deal of very important business is transacted here, and often by men of high distinction both in the literary and business world.
Without the railing, on each side of the staircase, are several desks. Four of these are seen in the engraving. They are placed so as to face toward the centre of the room. They are occupied for the various departments connected with the book-keeping and accounts, and for business connected with the city trade. On the left we see a large iron safe.
The back part of the room, a small portion of which only is seen in the foreground of the engraving, is occupied for the purpose of filling orders for books, packing the books in boxes and bundles, mailing the subscribers' copies of the Magazine and Story Books, keeping sundry accounts, and other similar purposes." (Abbot 1855)
Immediately below is an image of the Magazine Corner of the general office. Below that is the floor plan of the general office, which was the only office room in the building.
|Jacob Abbot, The Harper Establishment, or, How the Story Books are Made, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1855. Courtesy of Pat Pflieger, Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read. Pflieger's web site is spectacular!|
Magazine Corner, General Office, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY,
1855. See image above. "The Magazine
Corner, which was also located in the great office, was "appropriated
to the work of mailing periodicals. The great business at this place is,
of course, the mailing of the subscribers' copies of the Magazine. A
portion of the edition of the Magazine, and also of the Story Books, are
sent off in bales and boxes to booksellers and agents, who take them in
quantities. Others are sent to individual subscribers by mail. The office
shown in the engraving, which is situated on the back part of the great
room in the
||Jacob Abbot, The Harper Establishment, or, How the Story Books are Made, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1855. Courtesy of Pat Pflieger, Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read.|
Floor Plan, General Office, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1855.
two images above. The floor plan shows the Counting-Room at the top and
the Magazine Corner (M) at the bottom. "Toward
the centre of the apartment, is the area marked C, which is appropriated
to the city trade. The area is partially inclosed by desks, safes,
counters or cases for the exhibition of samples of books, and other
At the back side of the room [the bottom of the floor plan], near the centre, is the area marked F, devoted to the business of receiving and answering foreign orders. Here are large tables for assembling and packing books, and desks for keeping the accounts, and trucks for drawing away the boxes and packages, when they are made up." (Abbot 1855)
|Jacob Abbot, The Harper Establishment, or, How the Story Books are Made, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1855. Courtesy of Pat Pflieger, Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read.|
|Head Office, Bank of London, London, England, 1855||Illustrated London News, Dec. 1855|
|Main Office, Western Union Telegraph Co., Rochester, N.Y., c. 1856. This photo was taken not long after Western Union was formed by consolidation of numerous separate telegraph lines in 1856. This room was later reconstructed at the Rochester Museum & Science Center. You can read about the reconstruction and see a photograph by clicking here.||Western Union Telegraph Co.|
|"The First Law Office Rented in 1837 by Abraham Lincoln, in Hoffman's Row, Third Division, Upstairs, Springfield, Ill.," engraving made in 1860, when the artist visited the office. "When Abraham Lincoln first went to Springfield, nearly thirty years ago, he ran for the Legislature, was elected, and served several terms. In 1837 he opened a law office under the firm of Stuart & Lincoln, in Hoffman's Row."||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Dec. 22, 1860|
|"The Present Law Office of Abraham Lincoln, the President Elect, on Fifth Street, West Side of the Public Square, Springfield, Illinois," engraving, 1860. "Mr. Lincoln's present law office is situated in Fifth street, west side of State Square. He is in partnership with Mr. Herndon, a lawyer of considerable ability and reputation."||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Dec. 22, 1860|
|"The New Tax Law--Interior of a New York Assessor's Office, Broadway, New York," 1862.||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 1, 1862.|
"Adams Express Office at City Point, Virginia, on Pay-Day," engraving by J. R. Hamilton, 1864. Adams Express Co., a competitor of Wells, Fargo & Co., was incorporated in 1854 and was the paymaster for the Union Army during the Civil War.
|Harper's Weekly, Nov. 5, 1864|
|"Interior of Chief Detective Col. Baker's office, opposite Willard's Hotel, Washington, D.C. Col. Baker laying down the plan of Booth's capture to his chief subordinates," wood engraving after W.T. Crane, 1865.||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 20, 1865, p. 133. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.|
|Wells Fargo Express Office, San Francisco, 1867. There is a pigeon-hole file against the far wall and a letter copying press to the right of the cast iron stove.||Wells Fargo Archives|
|Continental Insurance Co., New York, NY, stereoview, 1868.||Early Office
Community," Oneida, NY, 1870.
Courtesy of Oneida Community Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse Univ. Library, and Oneida Community Mansion House, Oneida, NY.
|John B. Ellis, Free Love and Its Votaries: or, American Socialism Unmasked, United States Publishing, New York, NY, 1870.|
|Women employees and a male supervisor in a second floor office in the South wing of the U.S. Treasury building, Washington, DC, stereoview, 1870.||Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC|
|"The Accountants' Bank Note Office," Bank of England, London, England, 1870.||The Graphic, Nov. 16, 1870.|
|Counting room of the Cheshire Republican, a newspaper, Keene, NH, 1872, by Jotham A. French. The man at the desk may be the proprietor, Julius N. Morse (1840-96). To the left of the desk is a safe. On the wall above the safe is an advertisement for the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company.||Early Office
|"A Kansas Land Office,"
||Harper's Weekly, July 11, 1874.|
|"Head Office of the Royal Canadian Insurance Company. St. James St.," Montreal, PQ, by Eugene Haberer, 1874.||Canadian Illustrated News, X(25) 393, reproduced from National Library of Canada.|
|Central Telegraph Office, London, England, 1874.||Illustrated London News, Dec. 12, 1874.|
|"Counting-Room -- N. W. Ayer & Son's Advertising Agency -- Philadelphia," PA. This firm was established in 1869 and for a long time was the nation's leading advertising agency.||Early Office
|"Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York Transacting Business, Executive Chamber, Albany," NY, 1875.||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Feb. 20, 1875.|
|General Operating Department, Western Union Telegraph Building, New York, NY, c. 1875.||Library of Congress, Prints
and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.
ID: cph 3b26096
Repro. No: LC-USZ62-79015
|"Postmaster's Office," Interior Views in the New Post Office, Montreal, PQ, by Eugene Haberer, 1876.||Canadian Illustrated News, XIV(20) 313, reproduced from National Library of Canada.|
|Business office, Dun, Barlow & Co., New York, NY, 1876. Mercantile agencies were credit reporting services. They evaluated the credit-worthiness of businesses that were potential borrowers. The revenues of mercantile agencies were derived mainly from annual subscriptions purchased by merchants and firms that gave credit and made loans. Founded as the Mercantile Agency in 1841, R. G. Dun & Co. was the leading U.S. credit reporting agency during the second half of the 19th century. The company also provided other types of commercial information to subscribers. From approximately 1860 to approximately 1880, when Charles Barlow was R. G. Dun's partner, the company was known as Dun, Barlow & Co.||Asher & Adams, Pictorial Album of American Industry, 1876.|
|"Principal Office of the New York Life Insurance Company," engraving by J. N. Allan, 1876.||Benson John Lossing, The American Centenary, Philadelphia, 1876.|
|Scientific American Office, New York, NY, 1876.||The Scientific American Reference Book, Munn & Co., NY, NY, 1876.|
|"General Lee's Office, Just as He Left It," 1876.||Private Collection|
|"The New Marble Cash Room, United States Treasury," Washington, DC, top stereograph 1873 by Chandler Seaver, Jr., bottom 1876 from Mary Clemmer Ames, Ten Years in Washington, 1876, p. 341.||Early Office
|"Interior of the Scientific American Office," New York, NY, 1877.||The Scientific American Reference Book, Munn & Co., NY, NY, 1877.|
|Office with two men, stereoview by B. F. Bowdish, Columbus, OH. Notice the gas ceiling lighting fixture and the gas line running from the ceiling fixture to a fixture on the counter. Apart from this stereoview card, the only information we have about B. F Bowdish is that he was active as a photographer in Columbus, OH, in 1873.||Early Office
|"Interior of Hollister & Dan's Insurance Office," stereoview by E. Bowie, Corry, PA. E. Bowie was active as a photographer in Corry, PA, during the 1860s-70s.||Private collection|
|Office of Secretary Spencer Baird (1878-87) in the Smithsonian Institution Building, Washington, DC, created by T. W. Smillie (1843-1917), c. 1878 according to proximate source. At the left is Baird's Wooton desk.||Smithsonian Institution Archives|
|Office of Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz, Washington, DC, 1879. Schurz (1829-1906) had a remarkable life. As a student in his native Germany, he participated in the 1848 revolution. He immigrated to the US, became a prominent member of the Republican Party, and was appointed US envoy to Spain after he supported Lincoln for the Presidency. He participated in many of the Civil War's major battles and became a Union general. He became a journalist, a US Senator, Secretary of the Interior, and managing editor of the New York Evening Post. To the left and behind Schurz's desk are what appear to be two roll-top desks, although the tambour tops are not visible. If these are roll-top desks, then this is the earliest evidence we have of a roll-top desk in the US.||Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 1, 1879, in Early Office Museum Archives|
|Telephone and Telegraph Office, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.||Smithsonian
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