The American Indian Souvenir Playing Cards, ca. 1900.

“Fifty-three of the best photographs of the homes and faces of the Pueblo Indians, taken in the last few years by A. C. Vroman of Pasadena, are ingeniously arranged and excellently reproduced for The American Indian Souvenir Playing-Cards; and a zarape in colors illuminates the back of each card. It is a handsome and typical collection. Lazarus & Melzer, Los Angeles, $1.”

–Advertisement from The Land of Sunshine: The Magazine of California and the West (Volume XIII, June-December, 1900).

Thanks to a gift of Donald Farren ’58, the department recently acquired two sets of souvenir playing cards illustrated with half-tone reproductions of photographs taken by noted photographer of the Southwest, A. C. Vroman.
Adam Clark Vroman was born in La Salle, Illinois, in 1856, and moved to Pasadena, California, in 1892 in hope of finding a better climate for his wife, Ester H. Griest, who was dying of tuberculosis.  Following her death in 1894, Vroman and an associate opened a store in Pasadena specializing in books, stationary, and photographic supplies.  The success of the store, which is still in operation today as southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore, Vroman’s Bookstore, provided Vroman with the means to pursue his many interests, including amateur pursuits in archaeology and historical documentation of the American Southwest.

In 1895, Vroman took his first trip through the Southwest, visiting Arizona and New Mexico, which he documented extensively through photography.  Between 1895 and 1904, Vroman continued to explore and document the Southwest, collecting Southwestern Indian artifacts and photographing Native American villages and the people and customs of the Southwestern Indians (Apache, Hopi, Navajo, and Pueblo).

 

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections holds several individual Vroman photographs and three photograph albums, all of which can be viewed online in the Princeton University Digital Library. Two of the Vroman albums represent (at least in part) the cultural studies of the Museum-Gates Expedition of 1901, led by Peter Goddard Gates, a California philanthropist, and Dr. Walter Hough of the United States National Museum.  Vroman served as the official photographer of the expedition.

Vroman was a man of many interests, and after 1904 his attention turned abroad with tours in Japan and Europe, which included collecting Japanese netsuke and photographing European architecture.  His last tours in North America, in 1914, were of the Canadian Rockies and the East Coast.  Vroman, who died of cancer in 1916, left a substantial collection of Indian artifacts to the Southwest Museum, and his Californiana collection and sixteen albums of platinotype prints from his various expeditions were given to the Pasadena Public Library, where they are still available to view by appointment.  Vroman’s collection of Japanese netsuke is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which described the collection as one “considered to be the finest and largest in the United States at that time [1910].  This group of 2,500 pieces had been assembled by A. C. Vroman of Pasadena, California, and was purchased and presented to the Museum by Mrs. Russell Sage, one of the Metropolitan’s first great benefactors” (Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Fall 1980).

Select Bibliography

Apostol, Jane. Vroman’s of Pasadena: A Century of Books, 1894-1994. Pasadena: A.C. Vroman, 1994.

Mautz, Carl. Biographies of Western Photographers: A Reference Guide to Photographers Working in the 19th Century American West. Nevada City, Calif.: Carl Mautz Publishing, 1997.

Powell, Lawrence Clark. Vroman’s of Pasadena. Pasadena: [s.n.], 1953.

Vroman, A. C. Photographer of the Southwest: Adam Clark Vroman, 1856-1916. Edited by Ruth L. Mahood with the assistance of Robert A. Weinstein. Introduction by Beaumont Newhall. [Los Angeles]: Ward Ritchie Press, 1961.

Watts, Jennifer and Andrew Smith. Adam Clark Vroman: Platinum Prints, 1895-1904. Los Angeles: Michael Dawson Gallery; Santa Fe: Andrew Smith Gallery, Inc., 2005.

Webb, William and Robert A. Weinstein. Dwellers at the Source: Southwestern Indian Photographs of A. C. Vroman, 1895-1904. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1973.

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