Scope and Content
Title: Branson DeCou Archive,
Date (inclusive): 1920-1941
Collection number: MS 38
50 boxes & 8,000 lantern slides
University of California, Santa Cruz. University Library.
Special Collections and Archives
Santa Cruz, California 95064
Abstract: Glass lantern slides, negatives,
photographic albums, notebooks, travelogues, and miscellaneous artifacts
that document DeCou's travels in five continents and subsequent travel lecture tours
Physical location: Stored in Special Collections and Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the collection.
Collection is open for research
Property rights reside with the University of California. Literary rights are retained by the creators of the records and
their heirs. For permission to publish or to reproduce the material, please contact the Head of the Special Collections and
Branson DeCou Archive. MS 38. Special Collections and Archives, University Library, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Gift of Elsie DeCou, August 1971
In 1999 the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation of New York,
, provided a grant to support to preserve, digitize and catalog 1,475 lantern slides of Italy. Grants from the American Irish
Foundation and the Friends of the UCSC Library have enabled the Irish collection to be indexed and preserved.
Photographer and travelogue lecturer Branson DeCou journeyed the world for thirty years before his death in 1941 at the relatively
young age of 49. He was born October 20, 1892, in Philadelphia, a city with a long history of photographic invention, from
the pioneer Langenheim brothers to the work of Thomas Eakins. The city also has a tradition of collecting and publishing photographs--the
Library Company of Philadelphia, American's oldest cultural institution, had exceptional holdings of photographic works well
before 1900--as well as active associations for professionals and amateurs such as the Philadelphia Photographic Exchange
Club and the Philadelphia Photographic Society.
DeCou's father was in the wholesale shoe business in Philadelphia, but the family relocated to New Jersey where Branson attended
Blair Academy in Blairstown. Upon graduation in 1910 he entered the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken where he more
fully developed his interest in photography. After a year, however, he left to initiate what would become a lifelong pursuit
of touring the world.
The fabulous Panama Pacific International Exposition of San Francisco's 1915 World's Fair attracted an enormous number of
visitors, including Branson DeCou, who in a series of photographs recorded the Fair's night effects so effectively that they
were brought to the attention of Underwood and Underwood, a leading American photographic concern, for publication. The wide
circulation of these images encouraged DeCou to begin his own work in travelogue lecturing, allying his interests in travel
and photography. He embarked in a field that was widely popular at the time as a form of entertainment and education. Since
the mid-1800s, public and private lantern slide shows were put on by photographers in clubs, schools, lodges, and museums
on a variety of themes including world travel, religion, temperance, comic subjects, or literary retellings. DeCou traversed
America speaking to local community organizations such as the Union League Club of Chicago, the New Jersey Orange Women's
Club, and also lecturing in academic and cultural institutions such as the University of Hawaii and the American Museum of
Natural History in New York.
In each venue the travelogue was illustrated with an average of 150 hand-colored lantern slides and the images synchronized
to music. He called his shows "Dream Pictures" and advertised them as a "fascinating new form of entertainment." His promotional
brochures exclaimed "with the aid of the dissolving shutter and double stereopticon exquisitely colored slides are projected
perfectly synchronized to the music of the masters reproduced on the Victrola, the combination of the two inspiring emotions."
DeCou was available for single engagements on selected subjects such as "Jungle Bound Angkor" or he could be booked for a
complete series given in the form of a continuous trip "Around the Southern Hemisphere: South Africa, South America, Australia,
Tasmania, and the South Sea Islands."
DeCou was apparently highly successful, as these testimonials from several engagements convey. "The slides were the most beautiful
that we have ever had the opportunity to view. As for the lecture, you had them so spellbound that they forgot to get uneasy
and restless even in the uncomfortable camp chairs. Your enunciation is clear and the little witty personalities that you
inserted were very kindly received. You have the gift of side-stepping the stereotyped line of talk usual in travelogues,"
observed a reviewer for the Newark Camera Club of New Jersey. "You surely have reason for a swelling of the chest over that
magnificent audience and its evidence of deep satisfaction with the evening," wrote Charles Atkins, Director of the Brooklyn
Institute of Arts and Sciences. Each of the programs had its own title: "Alluring Bali: The Last Paradise," "Ever Captivating
Paris," "The Garden of Allah: Algeria and Tunisia," and also its special music: Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Sharp Minor for
"Nature's Supreme Spectacle: The Grand Canyon of the Colorado," the second movement of Haydn's Trio in G Major for the "Wonders
of San Marco."
In March of 1932 DeCou made a second marriage to Elsie Vera Stanley, a fellow lecturer. For the last nine years of his life
they traveled extensively, and together they continued to present what then were called "musical travelogues, illustrated
with masterpieces of art and photography." Often Elsie, in a booked two week long engagement, would lecture one evening on
a specific country and Branson would perform on the next. For reserved single admission the price would be 75 cents, for a
series ticket the cost was $2.00. Ever the constant travelers, the DeCous appear to have established temporary residencies
in several cities, including Hollywood, California, where they held screenings for cultural notaries. "I must tell you how
delighted we all were with the lovely DeCou pictures and music. My guests included Rex Ingram, Mr. and Mrs. William DeMille,
etc.--all of who enjoyed them tremendously," wrote Ruth St. Denis of Los Angeles.
Branson died of a heart attack on December 12, 1941, at the home of his mother, Mrs. Charles Berwin of East Orange, New Jersey.
He had come to New Jersey after completing a lecture tour in the Eastern section of the country. Elsie continued to lecture
for several years using Branson's slides. She lived in California in Carmel, Laguna Beach, and eventually San Marcos, where
she died on the first day of January, 1997, at the age of 96. In the decades after Branson's death she continued to travel,
often observing the changes in culture and landscape, and frequently commenting that the pollution of some world regions made
her heartsick. Some of her correspondence, for example, notes that in 1984, at the age of 83, she had spent the winter in
Europe, three months in Nairobi, and had also been to Manila and Hong Kong.
The days of lecturing with lantern slides were long over, however. Commercial color slides had been available since the 1940s,
replacing the magical, hand-tinted and luminous lantern slides as a more accurate and expedient way to provide instruction
and entertainment to viewers. Elsie, at the suggestion of fellow Carmel resident Ansel Adams, proposed that the newly inaugurated
campus of the University of California in nearby Santa Cruz be the recipient of her late husband's photographic work. In 1971,
UCSC's University Library received Branson's artistic inheritance of 10,000 photographic images. The works covered every part
of the world: from Laplanders to South Pacific Islanders, from Japanese pagodas to Egyptian pyramids. Through DeCou's vision
we, who have inherited the images, can see life before industrialization, the destruction of World War II, the effects of
urbanization, and the loss of local craft and cultural traditions.
Biography by Christine Bunting
Scope and Content
The Branson DeCou Archive consists of 8,000 hand-tinted 3-1/4" x 4" glass lantern slides used in years of travel lecture tours
covering all countries of the world, from ca. 1920-1941. There are also accompanying negatives, 48 photographic albums, notebooks,
travelogues, slide storage boxes, and two slide projectors.
The 8,000 lantern slides and projection hardware are cataloged and stored separately.
The archive is divided into 7 series: Photographic Albums, Notebooks and Travelogues, Slides, Photographs, Negatives, Resource
Material, and Artifacts. The majority of the materials are arranged into geographic divisions, by country or area.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
Voyages and travels--Pictorial works
North America--Pictorial works
South America--Pictorial works