Penobscot Marine Museum has announced a campaign to acquire 7,500 glass plate photographic negatives that document Maine towns from the early 20th century. The acquisition will bring the museum a big step closer to completing its important collection of photographs from the Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Company. The museum is seeking donations from individuals and local businesses to help it acquire the collection.

“If we meet our goal, these remaining negatives will make the Eastern collection one of the largest and most significant coherent collections of historic photography from this region and era,” said Kevin Johnson, the museum’s photography archivist. “It will be a valuable resource for educators, historians, genealogists and anyone interested in New England history.”

The museum already has received pledges for approximately half the funds needed to acquire the collection, which documents more than 230 cities, towns and villages in Maine, as well as towns in other northeast states. The museum has posted an index of the Maine towns and the number of negatives from each on its Web site penobscotmarinemuseum.org (click on the Eastern Illustrating 2010 Campaign pdf). Individuals and businesses can “adopt” a town for a donation of $10 per negative.

Founded in Belfast, Maine, in 1909, the Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Co. published “real photo postcards” with images taken by its own photographers throughout New England. The negatives, mostly on old-style glass plates, represent a fragile and irreplaceable record of the region’s physical and cultural history up to the early 1950s.

Since 2007, when it acquired the bulk of the Eastern Illustrating collection through a generous donation, Penobscot Marine Museum has been steadily compiling pieces of the collection that had “escaped” over the previous decades. Currently, the collection contains more than 40,000 negatives. The museum is scanning them with the help of volunteers, and plans to make the images available online later this year. Donations can be made by contacting the museum at 548-2529 or via the Web site. Penobscot Marine Museum is located on Route 1 at Church Street. For more information, call 548-2529.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.