Archives Acquires Rare Ambrotype of William W. Swain

The Archives and Special Collections recently received this ambrotype (photographic) portrait of William W. Swain. It likely is quite rare, since the only other portraits to have been reproduced are an oil portrait pictured in the Swain School Catalogs (it hung in the school for many years) and an engraved portrait which appears in Leonard Bolles Ellis’s 1892 “History of New Bedford and its Vicinity, 1602-1892.” The New Bedford Whaling Museum owns a portrait of Swain by an anonymous artist.

Ambrotypes, which are collodion negatives on glass supports, a process patented in 1852 and 1854, were most popular in the mid-1850s. This portrait was probably made about 1854, four years before Swain died. He looks younger than in the other portraits.

William Swain bequeathed his estate to establish a school that would be free, and would provide “an education upon the most liberal and enlightened principles.” The trustees established the Swain Free School, which opened in 1882 in New Bedford. It eventually became a school of art and design, the Swain School of Design, which since 1988 has been part of UMass Dartmouth.  Below is William W. Swain’s original home, at the corner of Hawthorn and County Streets, which he bequeathed along with his fortune, to establish the Swain School.  It succumbed to a fire in the 1940s.



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