Posted by Eric Amundson on May 09, 2016
Do you wonder what it's like to cull through boxes of history? To sort through stacks of glass negatives and piles of old photos? Read on and join me as I go treasure hunting today for rare photographs from master photographers.
Let's start with a random box from our storage area. Box #106 looks promising. I never know what I'm going to find in a box so there's always an anticipation and excitement opening the lid for the first time. The box was packed at the source of the original archive by someone other than us, in this case Culver Pictures in New York, and I've found there boxes typically have little organization to their contents.
This box appears to have four groups of materials and judging by the size and weight I'm guessing they are mostly but not all glass. The fact that they are in bundles gives me some hope that there might be some organization to the groups. This box also appears to be packed well which is a nice surprise.
Starting to unwrap the first group. It's like Christmas, never knowing what it contains. This is always the most exciting part. Carefully unwrapping to get to the surprise. What will I find today?
Packages within packages. It appears to be a mixture of 8x10 glass and acetate and nitrate negatives, some of which are separated and wrapped in a plastic bag. Now comes the process of exploring.
First it's time to put on gloves so I handle the items without damaging them any further than they might already be.
It's a little disheartening when the first item you pull out is disintegrating. The emulsion of this acetate negative is literally coming off the acetate base like little cheese curls. I'll carefully sleeve it and set it aside to try and salvage some part of it at a latter time. Most damaged items are cataloged and group separately for later review.
Next I come across some fun old 8x10 glass negatives of a parade. The subject and photographer isn't identified but hopefully there may be some clue on other pieces in the bundle. This job is part explorer, part detective and part preservationist.
The next glass negative featuring dancers on stage is signed by Miller. In fact there are a couple of plates signed by Miller and I suspect several of the non-signed items to be Miller's as well.
These negatives were packed loose in a stack with no protection. While going through them each negative is put into a protective polypropylene sleeve.
A few more unsigned glass negatives. This one is interesting. Not the photo boards all over the room perimeter and the lamp cord running to the ceiling.
Next we have some 8x10 glass negs in the brown paper sleeves. This is nice because the sleeves often provide some subject identification, if you can read the handwriting. Of course in this case the sleeve simply says "Furnace".
Sure enough it's a glass plate of a furnace. Maybe the basement of the previous home?
More general subjects, "Crowd with band" and "Truck Load of Cabbage". The key to these appears to be the other word which I need to decipher - "yp..." Many of these sleeves are marked "YP". Is this a place or photographer? Until it's decoded they'll be sleeved and grouped together.
There's a batch of acetate copy negs of copperplate engravings that appeared in an 1809 book called "Deaf and Dumb".
Moving on here's a cool 8x10 film negative of traffic in Forrest Park, St Louis, Mo. No date or photographer noted. This will probably be cataloged with old automobiles.
I seem to have come upon a series of old automobile and vintage car scenes, both in glass and acetate. This looks a lot like the car in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (one of my favorite movies).
Sadly some of these acetate negatives, like this one of a woman pumping up a flat tire, are not in good shape.
And then you come across a fun negative like this of two stuntmen playing tennis on the wing of a biplane in the 1920's. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time!
And another random fun glass plate of old Times Square in New York
A change of gloves and on to the next package of surprises.
Once again a variety of stuff. 4x5 and 5x7 glass negatives, B&W Prints, and other eclectic items.
What do we have here?! Glass negatives from George Grantham Bain, Bain News Service, of Baseball Players from 1912. Bill Carrigan and Steve Yerkes from the Boston Red Sox, Jake Daubert and Zack Wheat - Brooklyn Dodgers, and Red Sox center fielder and member of the Golden Outfield - Tris Specker. You can typically spot Bain's work because he shot in smaller formats and scratched or wrote the subject in the emulsion at the top or bottom of the negative. He also used a dashed numbering system (2459-14). The George Grantham Bain glass negative collection at the Library of Congress originally came from this archive.
A nice collection of acetate negatives by George Bain of Irving Berlin and his wife on what appears to be the Boardwalk. Again note the writing at the top of the negative and the numbering system.
Here's a beautiful Herman Mishkin negative that was randomly in the mix. I thought you might like to see what it looks like in positive too. His work is stunning. You can read more about Herman Mishkin (1870-1948) and his work from our dear friend and author David Shields.
Sadly I just came upon a group of negatives too far gone to make out what they were. Sometimes these are so brittle they shatter when you go to pick them up.
And so it continues until everything is looked at, put in plastic, and separated into groups. All in all, after 5 pairs of gloves and an afternoon of work, I would classify this as a good box filled with lots of little gems of history. Can't wait to start scanning some of these.
I hope you enjoyed the treasure hunt. See something you like? Let us know. Find more amazing vintage photographs and historic ephemera in our webstore at MMGvintage.com
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