The largest portion of the negatives in the collection--more than 25,800 5x7 inch glass negatives--were scanned between 2013 and 2015 and are available online. The remaining larger format negatives can be viewed on microfilm in the Prints and Photographs Reading Room.
The negatives were held in a variety of storage locations and conditions before arriving at the Library of Congress, including a succession of basements and some farm buildings. Some of the negatives show deterioration and blemishes.
Several studio logbooks and alphabetical client registers were found among the crates of C. M. Bell negatives when they were received. Where this information could be readily matched to a negative, it has been included in the description for the items that are online.
A note about identification of individuals in the images: The identification of the individuals shown in the photographs are taken from the information the studio recorded on negative sleeves, negatives, or studio client registers. Sometimes the name may actually be the person who ordered the photograph, rather than the person who sat for the portrait (e.g., the name of the parent of children who were photographed). Also, handwriting on the negatives is sometimes difficult to read, making it difficult to transcribe accurately, and the notations may have contained misspellings to begin with. The labels on the negatives are sometimes readable in the scans, sometimes partially readable and fairly often they are opaque and can't be read. On the microfilm that reproduces all the glass negatives (see below), the labels are much easier to read. The studio logbooks offer an additional source of information in some cases: they may include the person's name and a specific date, presumably when the photograph was made. Occasionally they include address information for the person pictured.
In general, the negative numbers were assigned by the studio and are roughly chronological. Unfortunately, no logbooks were found for the early part of the studio's history, so negatives with numbers below 35,838 do not have logbook information. Negatives with numbers above 58,572 were apparently added after the studio closed, presumably by I. M. Boyce, a later owner of the collection of negatives.
Although the 5x7 inch glass negatives that have been digitized are a significant portion of the collection, the larger format glass negatives, some of which show sites in Washington, D.C., and delegations of Indigenous people, are not yet digitized. The glass negatives are fragile and are not served, but all of the negatives can be viewed in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room on microfilm.
Modern photographic prints of a selection of the images are available in LOTs (groups) organized by subject. The studio logbooks are also available on microfilm.