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H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Smith, H. Daniel, 1928-
Title: H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive
Inclusive Dates: 1906-1993
Quantity: 33 linear ft.
Abstract: Collection of 3500+ mass-produced color prints depicting Hindu gods, goddesses, saints and sacred sites. Also includes color slides, comprehensive card file inventory, books, articles, and Smith's own field notes, photographs and other material. Collected by H. Daniel Smith, scholar and Professor Emeritus of Religion at Syracuse University where he taught for 35 years.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

H. Daniel Smith, Emeritus Professor of Religion at Syracuse University, taught at Syracuse University for 35 years (1958-1993). He has produced eleven documentary films on south Indian urban religious rites and celebrations and has authored a number of scholarly works, including bibliographical studies of Pancaratra Agama texts in Sanskrit (Baroda, Gaekwad's Oriental Series 158 & 168, 1975 & 1980) and of works in English based on Valmiki's Ramayana (Syracuse, 1983 & Bombay, 1989). With M. Narsimhachary, he is the author of Handbook of Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Saints, a collection of essays.

Smith's research led him to visit India a number of times from the 1950s to the 1980s, during which time he amassed a significant collection of Indian art, both three-dimensional and printed works, the latter including Sanskrit books and religious posters. At his retirement, Smith donated his collections to the Syracuse University Art Galleries and to the Special Collections Research Center. Professor Smith's material provides an invaluable resource for the study of Indian art, whether classical, folk or popular.

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

Description of the collection

The H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive is comprised of four types of preserved materials: (1) a core collection of some 3500 design specimens; (2) a 3"x5" card inventory file; (3) a repository of 2"x2" color slides reproducing a majority of the specimens in the Archive, each slide correlated by number with inventory file entries and thereby with the original broadside; and (4) a modest number of books, xeroxed articles, and other realia relevant to "god posters" research.

Design specimens range in size from 22"x30" down to wallet size; the bulk of the collection measures 14"x10". Roughly 30% of these are bound, either in samplebooks once distributed by wholesalers for bulk market orders or in conventional multipage calendars. The remainder are printed as single sheets. The reverse of each sheet and of most calendar illustrations is stamped with the collection name and has a pencilled inventory number. The number of illustrations in each category is given in parenthesis.

The Card file contains information on 2200+ broadsides. Cards are filed in ascending order by inventory number, which number matches the number on the reverse side of the corresponding broadside. For each broadside, the inventory card includes the following information (if known): title (or, if untitled, the general subject), artist, publisher, place of publication, dimensions, and a checkbox showing whether there is a color slide of the item.

Color slides are stored in nine loose-leaf binders. The bulk of these are 2"x2" color slides of broadsides in the Archive, though it also includes approximately 300 slides of specimens in other "god poster" collections. The slides are grouped by subject and each has an inventory number which correlates with the card file and the original print.

Books, articles, photocopies, and other Miscellaneous material include commercial items (e.g. books and three framed posters which were elaborately hand-embroidered as a marketing strategy) and references cited in bibliographies attached to studies of Indian popular illustration, normally difficult to find through libraries or used book dealers. Smith's original inventory with two detailed indexes, his field notes and other files dating to 1988 are also here, which include uncommon data on publishing houses, rare insights into artists' careers, field photographs, and notes from interviews with selected artists and publishers conducted in 1988. Also included here are three volumes of press prints from 1930s and 1940s India, collected by Norvin Hein.

A detailed Excel spreadsheet inventory is also available; see Other Related Finding Aids below for more information on this file.


The full gamut of subjects depicted in chromolithographs (also known as oleographs, calendar art, popular bazaar prints, etc) so widely disseminated in 20th century Indian homes, shrines, schools, public halls and workplaces: where they usually function as pinups, framing pictures, and calendar illustrations: includes animals, babies, cine stars, flowers and fruits, political personalities, scenics (landscapes, cityscapes, thoroughfares), sports figures, and religious images attractive to India's Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Parsi, and Christian populations. The H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive is a study collection of one genre only of the mass-produced color prints: those which depict Hindu gods, goddesses, saints and sacred sites. The bulk of the Archive reflects what was produced within the Indian subcontinent from the 1950s to the 1980s, during which period H. Daniel Smith (Syracuse University faculty, 1958-1993) made several trips to India and purchased in different regions what now constitutes the H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive. The collection also includes a significant but numerically limited sampling of "god posters" and other mythological subjects from earlier decades, as far back as the 1890s.

(For a sampling of the full range of portrayals, see the samplebooks in boxes 17, 19 and 20. Individual broadsides which found their way into the collection and which depicted, for example, political personalities, Muslim mosques, Sikh gurus and the like, were systematically deaccessioned over the years by Dr. Smith in order to enhance the focus on Hindu religious subjects. The continuing presence in the collection of figures such as Gandhi and the Buddha merely serve as testimony that clear distinctions are not always possible.)

There are in the West only two collections accessible to the public that are comparable to the H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive: one, a somewhat smaller collection of Indian Calendar Art, at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada); the other, the more extensive collection housed in the Museum für Volkerkunde (Hamburg, Germany). There are other public collections more limited in scope, as well as private collections throughout the world; some, amassed by educators, serve as resources for individual pedagogical enterprises while others, maintained by aficionados, emphasize a particular artist, period, region, and/or sectarian identity. As of this writing, no extensive collection of consequence are confirmed to be currently under conservation in India.

The H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive thus provides a valuable perspective on subjects, artists, presses, and popular taste in India from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. An entire generation of prolific poster artists are represented, including Kartick Das, Murugakani, S.M. Pandit, Ramchandra, Mu. Ramalingkam, Yogendra Rastogi, Indra Sarma, B. G. Sharma, Ram Singh (Rang Roop Studios), K. P. Sivam, and T. S. Subbiah. For each of these, there are multiple examples demonstrating productive capacity, originality and style.

Notable also are two packets, representing respectively the entire inventory of 14"x10" prints in stock on particular dates in May 1983 at two of Bombay's most influential wholesale distributors, S. S. Brijbasi & Sons and Sharma Picture Publication (Storage Box 18). How to interpret the artists and subjects found remaining here, when compared to what stock must have been depleted in the wake of the "rush holiday season" is likely to remain controversial guesswork.

The collection is reasonably well balanced regionally; poster publishers and distributors in Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, Madras and Sivaski are represented. The few specimens from smaller regional presses bear witness to how much waits to be fully researched; the same must be said concerning the few examples of prints celebrating specific pilgrimage destinations. No attempt has been made to include in this collection materials circulate d by overseas or expatriate Indian communities.

A very few hand-painted mementos (inventory no's 0093, 0095, 0096), presumably procured many generations ago at temple sites visited by pilgrims, suggest what may have been precursor forms of certain kinds of popular devotional prints in such souvenirs (see Box 17).

Some early prints by late 19th and early 20th century artists and publishing houses are valuable historical artifacts (see especially the two hand-embroidered pieces, no's 1201 and 1202, and framed embroidered prints, no's 2186, 2187, 2188). Several by Ravi Varma represent publication dates both before and after his death in 1906 (no's 0053-0067 passim). The geographic spread of this art form is reflected by the fact that a number of prints produced by the Calcutta firm of Roy Babajee & Co. during the first three decades of the 20th century were printed in Germany (viz., no's 0091, 0092, 0110, 1148-1151), as were some by B. P. Banerjea (e.g. no's 0092 [dated 1906], 1151 [dated 1903]), while one by D. Banerjee (0044) and two by Naren (0041, 0045) were printed in Switzerland. Also of historical interest are a handful of prints of an undetermined date early in the 20th century from Chitrashala Press, Poona (e.g. no's 0073 and 0074, courtesy Alan Thrasher). Additionally, a trove of prints published between 1910 and 1930 in Calcutta by Art Framing Co., Ghosh Mazumdar & Co., and others represent the works of artists such as Sital, Naren, Satish, Phani Bagchi, et al, and help to fill in the history of popular color print publising in that region. Other famous and influential artists prior to the present generation who are represented by multiple examples are C. Kondiah Raju, Mulgaokar [sp.?], and Silpi (P. N. Srinivasan).

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Arrangement of the Collection

Design specimens and Color slides are arranged thematically in albums, grouped together by the various subjects depicted in the illustrations, which facilitates the retrieval of images by general nomenclature as well as by those divinities' subsidiary manifestations, and permits similar subjects to be viewed more or less together. This thematic arrangement also facilitates seeing with immediacy which subjects are repeated and which may be assumed to be the most popular (e.g. Diwali prints; episodes from the Ramayana; Siva as the great ascetic; Krishna as bucolic swain; etc).

Card file cards are arranged in inventory number order. Realia is in no particular order.

For the most part, the collection retains the original container names and labels ("Poster album 3," "Storage box 17") as provided by Smith.

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Other Related Finding Aids

Smith's original finding aid (provided with the collection in Box 4-C-1) includes two indexes, one of artists and one of publishers, mapped to inventory numbers, which the researcher may find useful. The bulk of this information, along with much of the data in the card file, has also been transferred to an extremely detailed Excel spreadsheet for ease in searching and sorting. The spreadsheet, which covers poster albums/binders 1 through 14, is available here.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Related Material

Dr. Smith's books, donated with the posters, have been cataloged; please refer to the Classic Catalog for a complete listing. See also the Smith Collection of Indian Art (Syracuse University Art Galleries), containing numerous puja objects, scrolls of Indian epics and stories, and sixty paintings from the Mithila region of northern India; and the Ruth Reeves Memorial Collection of the Folk Art of India (Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs' South Asia Center).

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Subject Headings


Ganesa (Hindu deity) in art.
Hindu gods -- Posters.
Hindu gods in art.
Hindu symbolism -- Specimens.
Karttikeya (Hindu deity) in art.
Popular culture -- India.
Popular culture -- Religious aspects -- India.
Posters -- Collections.
Rama (Hindu deity) in art.
Siva (Hindu deity) in art.
Vishnu (Hindu deity) in art.

Genres and Forms

Field notes.
Research notes.
Slides (photographs)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

H. Daniel Smith Poster Archive
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of H. Daniel Smith, collector, 1994, 2005, 2006.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: HDS
Date: 1994-10-25
Revision history: 21 Aug 2007 - converted to EAD (MRC); 10 Dec 2007 - updated (books cataloged)

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Design specimens
Vishnu, various aspects and minor incarnations
Aarati (6), Dasavatara (6), Adisesha (17), enthroned with Laksmi (9), Vishnu solo (18), Badarinath (2), Matsya (1), Nrsimha (12), Ranganatha (6), Sakyamuni (4), Satyanarayana (20), Venkatesvara (23), Vittoba (10). Plus duplicates.
Rama Vol. I: Episodes in Poster Art
141 designs. Plus duplicates.
Rama Vol. II: Portraits of Lord Rama, Rama-&-Sita, and Hanuman
Lord Rama solo (22), Rama-&-Sita (10), Hanuman (117). Plus duplicates.
Krishna Vol. I: Early Career - Balakrishna, Gopalakrishna
Balakrishna (72), Gopalakrishna (139). Plus duplicates.
Krishna Vol. II: Subsequent Events (incl. epic), Regional Manifestations
subsequent events (incl. Gitacarya) (61), Dvarakanath & Srinathji (11), Guruvayurappan (9), Parthasarathi (1), Jaganatha (8). Plus duplicates.
Manifestations of Siva, Vol. I
Linga-forms (23), Ardhanarisvara (11), Siva's deeds (25), Siva-sakti (16), Busts of Sankara (32), misc embodiments (16, incl. 8 Nataraja). Plus duplicates.
Manifestations of Siva, Vol. II
Siva-mahayogi (34) Siva-vivaha, Siva en famille, Siva-&-Parvati, Siva Darbar (64). Plus duplicates.
Ganesha and Karttikeya/Murukan
Ganesha (74), Karttikeya/Murukan (79). Plus duplicates.
Lakshmi / Divali-puja / Lakshmi with other figures
Dhanalakshmi, Gajalakshmi (73), Divali-puja and Lakshmi with other figures (72). Plus duplicates.
Devi: Figures, Vol. I
Ambika/Bhavani/Durga (67), Mahishasuramardini (27), Kali (55), Navasakti (3), Grouped goddesses (6), Miscellaneous (1). Plus duplicates.
Devi: Figures, Vol. II
Kamakshi/Mariyamman/Minakshi/Santoshi Ma/Sarasvati/et. al. (168). Plus duplicates.
Saintly personalities, A-R
Andal...Balaknath...Caitanya...Swami al. (178). Plus duplicates.
Saintly personalityies, S-Y
Sankaracharya...Satya Sai Baba...Shirdi Sai al (62) Misc. murti-forms (Ayyappan/Dattatreya/Trimurti/Visvaksena, et al) (117). Plus duplicates.
"Maps" / Sins and Punishments
Maps (32). Plus duplicates.
Early Specimens / Oversize Ravi Yarma, Phani Bagchi, Sital...
Ravi Varma (20), Phani Bagchi (9), Sital (9), others (Narin, Satesh, Ganesh, et al) (50). Plus duplicates.
Oversize Specimens (up to 20" x 16")
Intact calendars (5), Poster specimens (55). No duplicates.
Miscellaneous oversize "God-poster" specimens
Oversize posters (incl. antique specimens), various subjects (25); intact calendars (2); designs by S. M. Pandit (posters and calendar illustrations) (20); "poster precursors" (4); coronation Litho Works calendar samplebook, 1988 (27); seven pen-and-ink line drawings by A. Manivelu; illustrations for Smith article.
Bombay Publishers' Stock May 1983
Sharma Picture Publications, 14"x10" stock on hand, courtesy G. Forbes, 157 designs; S.S. Brijbasi & Sons, 14"x10" stock on hand, courtesy G. Forbes, 203 designs; Samples of reprints from Tamil-language magazine KALKI, 27 designs by Silpi, 7 photoprints of Kanchi Acharya
Samplebooks from Calcutta merchants 1940s, 1988
Hindustan Engraving Co., 1940s (77); Print and Block Co., 1988 (91); Radiant Calendar Co., 1988 (82); Regent, 1988 (123)
Samplebooks from north and west India
Associated Calendars samplebook - recent, all subjects (418); Calendar India - recent (60); Ganga Series Album, courtesy Georgana Foster (60); 2 unidentified broken samplebooks, courtesy Georgana Foster (20 + 52)
Postcard-size specimens plus billfold-size cards
Postcard size (45), billfold-size (260+). Plus duplicates.
Box 1 "Indian posters" (later donation)
Card files
Card file inventory - detailed information on 2200+ broadsides, including title, artist, publisher, publication date, etc.
Color slides
Vishnu: Various, minor aspects (142 from Smith Collection + 14 from others)
Ramayana episodes, Rama portraits, Hanuman depictions (321 from Smith Collection + 41 from others)
Krishna's birth, childhood exploits, late career, and regional manifestations (320 from Smith Collection + 52 from others)
Siva, various manifestations, Karttikeya, Ganesha (Siva: 228 from Smith Collection + 27 from others; Karttikeya: 81 from Smith Collection + 7 from others; Ganesha: 86 from Smith Collection + 7 from others)
Lakshmi, Diwali motif (Lakshmi: 82 from Smith Collection + 20 from others; Diwali motif: 72 from Smith Collection + 13 from others)
Goddesses (except Lakshmi, Sita and Radha) (340 from Smith Collection + 43 from others)
Saintly personalities (including epic figures) (263 from Smith Collection + 36 from others)
Miscellaneous Murti-forms of the Divine; "Maps" (117 from Smith Collection + 20 from others)
Antique poster specimens / recent "winners" (127 from Smith Collection + 26 from others)
Books and articles (shelved with the collection)
Box 2 Articles, photocopies, other miscellanea
Framed prints (5 prints)
Box 4-C-1 "Study resources" - field notes, other material generated by Smith; includes Smith's original inventory with indexes
Box 4-C-2 Field photos, interviews with artists and publishers
Norvin Hein's press prints from 1930s and 1940s India (3 boxes)

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