Alternative Form of Material Available
Scope and Content
University of California, Santa Cruz
Title: Branson DeCou Archive
DeCou, Elsie Vera Stanley,
Identifier/Call Number: MS.038
118 Linear Feet
85 boxes, 25 drawers, 5 items
Date (inclusive): 1910-1941
Date (bulk): 1920-1941
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 ca.
Physical Location: Stored in Special Collections and
Archives: Advance notice is required for access to the collection.
Language of Material:
Collection open for research. Audiovisual media is unavailable until reformatted. Contact
Special Collections and Archives in advance to request access to audiovisual media.
Copyright for the items in this collection is owned by the creators and their heirs.
Reproduction or distribution of any work protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair
use requires permission from the copyright owner. It is the responsibility of the user to
determine whether a use is fair use, and to obtain any necessary permissions. For more
information see UCSC Special Collections and Archives policy on Reproduction and Use.
Branson DeCou Archive. MS 38. Special Collections and Archives, University Library,
University of California, Santa Cruz.
Gift of Elsie DeCou, August 1971. Additional gifts from Gail Frazar and Heather
Frazar-Smith in 2023. (Gail Frazar was a neighbor of Elsie DeCou.)
Alternative Form of Material Available
This collection has been partially digitized. Images from this collection are available
through UCSC Library Digital Collections.
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, Head of Special Collections and Archives.
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 many countries of the world, from circa
1920-1941. There are also accompanying negatives, 48 photographic albums, notebooks,
travelogues, slide storage boxes, slide projectors, and films.
The archive is divided into 8 series: Photographic Albums, Notebooks and Travelogues,
Lantern Slides, Photographic Prints, Negatives, Realia, Films and Personal. The majority of
the materials are arranged into geographic divisions, by country or area.
Collection processed by Visual Resource Collection staff. 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 small portions of the collection to be indexed and preserved.
Subsequent additions in 2023 were processed by Kate Dundon.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Voyages and travels
Ireland -- Photographs
Italy -- Photographs
Oceania -- Photographs
Australia -- Photographs
North America -- Photographs
South America -- Photographs
Asia -- Photographs
Europe -- Pictorial works
DeCou, Branson, 1892-1941
DeCou, Elsie Vera Stanley,