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Online Collection

Benjamin H. Conant Collection

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These photographs are a unique collection: they were all taken by Wenham resident Benjamin H. Conant from the late 19th into the early 20th century. The glass plate negatives were rediscovered in 1969 during a “spring cleaning” in the attic of the historic house at the Wenham Museum. The collection includes 3,636 glass plate negatives and several hundred prints made by Conant himself. Benjamin Conant used 8×10, 5×7, and 4×5 glass plate cameras, recording in his notebook the date, subject, and plate number associated with each image. Most of Conant’s notebooks survive and are held in the Wenham Museum’s collection. Benjamin Conant was a descendant of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem, Massachusetts. He was a Civil War veteran, shoemaker, historian, Wenham’s first librarian, an organist and clerk for the First Church of Wenham, custodian of the town clock, and (most importantly for us), a photographer. Conant photographed everything – people, houses, businesses, animals, the fire department, Wenham Lake, Sunday outings, and more – creating an almost 40-year record of changes to the town of Wenham and American life, captured in beautifully clear, detailed images, a tribute to Benjamin Conant’s skill as a photographer and determination as an historian.

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