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Early Office Museum

Antique Office Illustrations & Photographs 
~ 1770-1879 ~

When no date is provided in the Description column below, we do not know the date of the image or photograph.  
We have placed undated images and photographs in their likely chronological order.
If the source in the right-hand column is anything other than "Early Office Museum Archives," 
we do not have the ability to grant permission for use or to provide a high resolution image.

Click to Enlarge Description Source
An_Old-Time_Counting_Room_Baltimore_c_1770_Harpers_New_Monthly_Mag_Nov_1880.jpg (302284 bytes) "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.
Early_Use_of_Boorum__Pease_Ledgers.jpg (289286 bytes) 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.
1905_Office_Washington_Headquarters_Morristown_NJ_OM.jpg (222673 bytes) 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
Museum Archives
Washingtons_Mt_Vernon_Study_by_Hal_Conroy.jpg (212315 bytes) 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
Museum Archives
1844_Secret_Office_General_Post_Office_Illus_London_News_June_29.jpg (178289 bytes) "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_Bimelers_Office_Zoar_Village_State_Memorial_OH_OM.jpg (271867 bytes) 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
Museum Archives
1855_Counting_Room_Harper__Brothers_NYC_OM.JPG (131878 bytes) 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 Franklin Square front. 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!
1855_Magazine_Corner_Harper__Brothers_NYC_OM.JPG (113455 bytes) 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 Franklin Square building that contains the counting room, is the place where these copies are addressed, and then mailed in bags sent from the Post-office to receive them. Here, too, all the accounts are kept both of the Story Books and the Magazine." (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. 
1855_Counting_Room_Floor_Plan_Harper__Brothers_NYC_detail.JPG (102343 bytes) Floor Plan, General Office, Harper & Brothers, New York, NY, 1855.  See 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 similar furniture.   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. 
1855_Bank_of_London_Head_Office_Illustrated_London_News_OM.JPG (115965 bytes) Head Office, Bank of London, London, England, 1855 Illustrated London News, Dec. 1855
1856 Western Union Telegraph Co Main Office Rochester NY.jpg (73461 bytes) 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.

1837_Law_Office_Rented_by_A._Lincoln_Harpers_Weekly_1860.jpg (41764 bytes)
As it appeared in 1860

"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
1860_Law_Office_of_A_Lincoln_F._Leslies_Dec_22.jpg (157390 bytes) "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
1862_Assessors_Office_NYC_Frank_Leslies_Ill_Newspaper_Nov_1.jpg (208561 bytes) "The New Tax Law--Interior of a New York Assessor's Office, Broadway, New York," 1862. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Nov. 1, 1862.
1864 Adams Express Office Harper's Wkly Nov. 5 OMx.jpg (48362 bytes)

"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
Image, Source: b&w film copy neg. "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.
1867_Wells_Fargo_Express_Office_San_Francisco.jpg (51469 bytes) 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
1868_Continental_Insurance_Co_same_pres_and_sec_on_1869_stock_certificate_OM.JPG (41985 bytes) Continental Insurance Co., New York, NY, stereoview, 1868. Early Office
Museum Archives
1870 Counting-Room Oneida Community x.JPG (71766 bytes) "Counting-Room, Oneida 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.  
1870_US_Treasury_Second_Floor_Office_in_the_South_Wing_b020p_019.jpg (83094 bytes) 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
1870_Bank_of_England_Accountant_Office_Graphic_11.16.1870.JPG (146777 bytes) "The Accountants' Bank Note Office," Bank of England, London, England, 1870. The Graphic, Nov. 16, 1870.

1872_Office_Cheshire_Republican_Keene_NH_x.JPG (153076 bytes)

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
Museum Archives

1874_Harpers_Weekly_Kansas_Land_Office_7.11.1874.jpg (79606 bytes)

"A Kansas Land Office," engraving, 1874.
Harper's Weekly, July 11, 1874.
1874_Head_Office_of_the_Royal_Canadian_Insurance_Co_Montreal_Canadian_Illust._News_61574-v6.jpg (112277 bytes) "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.

1874_The_Central_Telegraph_Office_Illustrated_London_News_Dec_12_1874.jpg (63890 bytes)

Central Telegraph Office, London, England, 1874. Illustrated London News, Dec. 12, 1874.
Counting-Room_N_W_Ayer__Sons_Advertising_Agency_Phila_PA.jpg (138786 bytes) "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 
Museum Archives
Governor_Samuel_J._Tilden_of_New_York_Transacting_Business_Executive_Chamber_Albany_F_Leslies_Feb_20_1875_OM.jpg (88578 bytes) "Governor Samuel J. Tilden of New York Transacting Business, Executive Chamber, Albany," NY, 1875. Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Feb. 20, 1875.
Image, Source: b&w film copy neg. 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
1876_Postmasters_Office_Montreal_Canadian_Illust._News_64694-v6.jpg (116058 bytes) "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.
1876_Dun_Barlow__Co_NY_NY.jpg (257135 bytes) 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.
1876_Principal_Office_of_the_NY_Life_Ins_Co_by_JNAllan_from_JBLossing_The_American_Centenary_Philadelphia.jpg (117759 bytes) "Principal Office of the New York Life Insurance Company," engraving by J. N. Allan, 1876. Benson John Lossing, The American Centenary, Philadelphia, 1876.
1876_Scientific_American_Reference_Book_Munn__Co._NY_NY.jpg (59400 bytes) Scientific American Office, New York, NY, 1876. The Scientific American Reference Book, Munn & Co., NY, NY, 1876.
1876_General_Lees_Office_Just_As_He_Left_It_OM.JPG (197144 bytes) "General Lee's Office, Just as He Left It," 1876. Private Collection
1873_Marble_Cash_Room_Treasury_Dept_Wash_DC_Chandler_Seaver_Jr_OM.jpg (285078 bytes)
1876_The_New_Marble_Cash_Room_U_S_Treasury_Wash_Ames_p._341.jpg.jpg (196197 bytes)
"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
Museum Archives

1877_Scientific_American_Office_NY_OM.JPG (56148 bytes)

"Interior of the Scientific American Office," New York, NY, 1877. The Scientific American Reference Book, Munn & Co., NY, NY, 1877.

Clerk's Office US Court Chicago IL OM.jpg (56148 bytes)

Clerk's Office, US Court, Chicago IL. Stereoview from the series "American Scenery: Chicago & Vicinity" Early Office
Museum Archives
Office_BF_Bowdish_Photo_Columbus_OH_active_1873_OM.jpg (307197 bytes) Office with two men, stereoview by R. F. Bowdish, Columbus, OH. This may be the office of a Columbus criminal defense attorney but it is difficult to tell what type of business it actually is from the image. Notice the gas ceiling lighting fixture and the gas line running from the ceiling fixture to a fixture on the counter. Robert F. Bowdish was active as a photographer in Columbus, OH, during at least 1872-82. In 1872 he created a stereoview card showing the senior class at the Ohio Wesleyan Female College, Delaware, OH. (See: http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/stereoview-class-1872-ohio-wesleyan-135674913) In 1882 he created a stereoview card showing elderly people who had been early settlers in Sterling, IL. (See: http://www.idaillinois.org/cdm/ref/collection/stpl/id/995) Early Office
Museum Archives
Interior_of_Hollister__Dans_Ins_Office_E_Bowie_Corry_PA_active_1860s-70s_OM.JPG (31399 bytes) "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
1878_Secretary_Spencer_Bairds_Office_Smithsonian_Inst_Arvhies_2002-10672.jpg (158826 bytes) 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
1879_Carl_Schurz_Sec_of_the_Interior_Frank_Leslies_IN_Nov_1_OM.JPG (333709 bytes) 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

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