In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Early Maine Photography

The Vickery-Shettleworth Collection

Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. and James B. Vickery, III
Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. and James B. Vickery, III

The Vickery-Shettleworth Collection of Early Maine Photography resulted from the commitment of two individuals, who collected images of Maine people and places made between 1840 and 1870. As James B. Vickery III wrote to Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. in 1967:

What makes me get rather ecstatic over these early forms of photography is difficult to write. Nevertheless, they have a charm of their own, whether it is the forbidding visage of an old deacon or the artless innocence of a child. They convey an artistry of another period and provide considerable historical clues.

Born in Unity in 1917, James B. Vickery, known as Jim, grew up on his family’s farm. At an early age, he showed intellectual promise, and his parents sent him to the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, followed by Bates College, from which he graduated in 1940. That year he began public school teaching, which was interrupted by service in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he resumed teaching, first in Dexter and then in Brewer, retiring in 1981. Early in his teaching career, he earned a master’s degree in history from the University of Maine. His thesis on his native Unity was published as the town’s official history in 1954.

John and Sarah Williams Young, Hallowell, ca. 1864
John and Sarah Williams Young, Hallowell, ca. 1864Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Early in life Jim Vickery became fascinated with history. As a teenager in high school and college, he researched the genealogies of his and related families. In the process, he acquired ancestral daguerreotypes and ambrotypes that formed the basis for his collection of early images.

When Vickery returned from World War II, his collecting broadened to include Maine books, pamphlets, ephemera, manuscripts, and photographs of all kinds – daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, carte-de-visits, stereo views, and mounted images. Never learning to drive, he relied on his older brother Eric, his longtime teaching colleague Ruth Slater, and in later years James Mundy and Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. to take him on day trips to antique and book shops throughout Eastern Maine and the coast. When James Vickery died in 1997 at the age of eighty, he left his collection of early Maine images to his friend, Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.

Clara Shepherd, ca. 1845
Clara Shepherd, ca. 1845Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Like James Vickery, Earle Shettleworth, Jr.'s lifelong fascination with collecting historical photography stems from childhood. When he first visited Maine antique shops as a child in the 1950s, the contents of estates were the source of many dealers’ stocks. Inevitably, these accumulations contained family photographs, often unidentified, that included daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes from the period of 1840 to 1870. Shettleworth’s early interest in the Civil War led him to examine these images and purchase military examples when he could find them. Soon his criteria expanded to include portrait photographs of Maine people by local photographers.

In junior high school, Earle Shettleworth read Beaumont Newhall’s book "The Daguerreotype in America" (1961), which provided him with a broader context for understanding the significance of the pictures he was collecting. By the time he was in high school, he met James B. Vickery, who further inspired his collecting. In his sophomore year at Colby College, Shettleworth wrote a paper entitled "The Daguerreotypists of Portland, Maine."

Many of Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.'s daguerreotypes and ambrotypes were exhibited for the first time within the Maine Historical Society’s 1999 exhibition First Light, The Dawn of Maine Photography. In 2006, the Vickery-Shettleworth Collection of Early Maine Photography was established at Maine Historical Society (MHS), to provide a permanent home for the images gathered by the two collectors. The collection was again featured within MHS' 2015 exhibition Early Maine Photography, as well as Maine Photography: A History 1840-2015, co-authored by Shettleworth, Libby Bischof and Susan Danly (2015). As of 2019, Earle Shettleworth, Jr. continues to acquire and donate images to the collection.