The photograph collections contain approximately ten thousand images and two thousand negatives. The largest collection is a General Historical Collection of prints of people, places, and events in Hawai‘i’s history. The photographs date from the 1860s to the modern period, with the majority being from the 1880s through the 1920s. There are also several small special collections by single photographers, historical postcards, and photograph albums from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Library subject guides or inventories are available for most of the collections.
The special photograph collections include: The Theodore Kelsey Collection of people and places primarily in the Hilo area in the 1920s; the R. J. Baker Collection, “Persons & Places in Hawaii,” 1908 to 1920; the W. H. D. King Collection, “Pictorial Maritime History of Hawaii,” depicting sailing ships and steamships that came to Hawai‘i; the Robin Kaye Collection, “Lanai Photo Documentary,” 1972; and a Micronesian Collection of missionary activities in the Caroline and Marshall Islands, 1897–1898.
The photograph collections also include reproductions of 237 glass-plate photographs made by Dr. Eduard Arning between 1884 and 1886. Arning, a German microbiologist, came to Hawai‘i under the sponsorship of King Kalākaua to study leprosy. The Arning photographs are the only large collection from this period to have been meticulously documented to time and place. The originals are in the Hamburgisches Museum für Völkerkunde in Germany.
Descriptions of most of the Society’s Historical Photographs Collection, along with selected digitized images, can be found in an on-line database.