Categotry Archives: Art

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Portraits of Black Soldiers from World War I

Categories: Black History, Military, Postcard, World War I

These are post cards, although neither has a stamp so they were never mailed. The first has holes at the top where it was pinned up, presumably by a loved one awaiting the soldier’s return. Based on the uniform, I’m pretty confident it dates to World War I.

Black Soldier WWI Rifle(small)

The second was pretty degraded when I got it, with significant fading and some stains. It was stamped on the back by the photographer, and was taken at Greenfield’s Art Studio, 531 Central Ave, Cincinnati, Ohio. I’m guessing this one is from the same era, although it lacks the distinctive leggings that made me sure about the first one.

Black Soldier WWI Flag(small)

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Three Generations in Photographs

Categories: Ambrotype, Horsham, Langhorne, Lower Moreland, Middletown, Opalotype, Philadelphia, Photography, Portrait, Tintype

Alexander Porter (zoom)

(Click on any portrait to see the extremely detailed hi-res scan)

I purchased this collection of photographs a few months ago. In addition to the fact that they’re interesting photographs covering a wide span of time and including diverse photographic processes, I was primarily motivated to buy them because they came from Bucks County and the subjects were named. With a little research I was able to find out who they were and where they came were from.

The oldest is that of David Kerbaugh, a salted paper print that probably dates to before 1855. Kerbaugh was born in 1817 in Warrington Township, Bucks County. His father Justus later moved the family to Horsham, Montgomery County. He died in 1867 and was probably buried at Horsham Friends Meeting, where is wife and other members of the Kerbaugh family are buried.

David Kerbaugh

When fully zoomed in you can see the rough fibers characteristic of salted paper prints.

The next oldest are the portraits of his brother-in-law, George Palmer, and his daughter, Mary “Minnie” Augusta Kerbaugh. These are both ambrotypes, photographs made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a plate of glass. They’re the earlier style of ambrotype, in the photograph is taken on clear glass and black varnish is then painted on the back in order to make it a positive image. They date to about 1860.

George Palmer

The photographer hand-tinted his lips and cheeks.

The portrait of George Palmer is very small, a 1/16th plate measuring less than 2″, housed in a broken Union case made of hard plastic. The photo of Minnie Kerbaugh has clearly been altered. The metal frame holding the pane of glass is warped from being opened, and it is slightly too large for the leather case. It looks like the glass cover may have broken and been replaced with thicker glass that doesn’t fit correctly in the metal frame.

Mary "Minnie" Augusta Kerbaugh

Notice the red tinting on her cheeks and the green tinting on the shoulder of her dress.

Minnie remained single into her 50s, when she married Alexander Forbes Porter Jr., a widower who had employed her as a housekeeper for over a decade before their marriage. Porter spent most of his life in Philadelphia before moving to Langhorne.

The collection also contains an opalotype, a rare early form a photography created by pouring emulsion over white opaque glass. Unfortunately, it’s the only one that hasn’t been identified. Based on the family resemblance, the man is probably a Porter. It may be Alexander as a young man.

Porter Opalotype - Before

This opalotype was extremely faded before I touched it up. It was difficult to view at most angles. Also known as opalypes or milk glass positives, these photographs are made by pouring collodion emulsion on opaque white glass.

Porter Opalotype - After

After adjusting the levels and hue concentration, the subject is easier to see, as is the hand-tinted bow tie. The pigment on his chin was smudged, demonstrating how fragile the unprotected emulsion is. Zoom in to see the particles of pigment on the surface of the glass.

 

 

 

 

There are two other photos of Alexander, both tintypes, photos made by pouring a liquid emulsion on a piece of metal. The first shows Alexander (right) and his brother Richard (left), taken in Philadelphia on August 30th, 1892. This photo is still in its decorative paper sleeve. While early tintypes were housed in cases like daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, they were more often displayed in paper sleeves or specially designed books. Matting the image behind paper hides the irregular shape of the plate as well as the edge of the photo where the emulsion is uneven.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr (left) & Richard Porter (right) in sleeve

 

Notice the line below Alexander's head where a swatch off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

Notice the line below Alexander’s head where a swath off emulsion is gone, exposing the iron plate below. This sort of damage usually occurs when a tintype is bent, causing the inflexible emulsion to break and fall off.

The other photo shows Alexander standing with an unnamed man. Alexander looks a good bit older in this photo, having gained some weight and lost some hair. Based on these features, this photo may date to around 1900-1910.

Alexander Forbes Porter Jr. (left)

The last photo, also a tintype, shows Alexander’s son-in-law Clarence Luther Green. Born in Shippensbury in 1877, Clarence moved to Philadelphia where he married Lillian May Porter, Alexander’s daughter from his first marriage. The couple eventually moved to Langhorne. Clarence is seated on the left, and his friend Linford Logan is on the right. The photo was taken on August 31st, 1902.

Clarence Green & Linford Logan

When I purchased the collection of photographs, it contained the following letter:

Linford Logan Letter

John K. Logan was Linford’s brother. They grew up in Horsham, Montgomery County, before Linfored moved to west. John stayed in the area and lived in Lower Moreland until his death in 1961. He and Eva are buried in William Penn Cemetery.

It’s not clear which Mr. Green the letter is addressed to. Clarence was still alive, but a very old man. It may have been addressed to his son, Emerson P. Green.

It’s likely that this collection of photos was owned by Emerson. The note accompanying one photo of Alexander Porter refers to him as the grandfather of Emerson Green, indicating that they may have been identified for Emerson by an older relative. Emerson had no siblings and no children, so it makes sense that he would have been the last owner.

Emerson Porter Green died just last year on October 23rd, 2012, at the age of 97. His wife, Jean Mitchell Green, died this January. I bought these photos on eBay in March, so perhaps the seller bought the photos at their estate sale. Regardless, after being kept in the family for 150 years, they were sold a stranger. Usually a collection like this would be parted out and sold as individual pieces for more money. When family photographs are transformed into commodities they are stripped of their context and the identities of their subjects are usually lost. According to Emerson’s obituary, “He spent a large amount of his time volunteering at the Langhorne Historical Society where he was involved in archiving historical artifacts for the society.”

Given Emerson’s dedication to preserving local history, I’m glad that I was able to purchase them and save them from that nameless abyss.

Emerson and Jean Green are buried at Middletown Friends Meeting.

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Edward Hicks & The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Categories: Documents, Graves, Newtown, Painting, Quakerism

Newtown Friends Meeting

The Founding of Newtown Friends Meeting

Among the documents that I recently deposited at the Friends Historical Library was this petition to Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings for permission to meet for worship as an indulged meeting, which is simply a group that meets to worship but doesn’t conduct any business on its own. This meeting would eventually become Newtown Friends Meeting. In 1815 they began meeting in the county courthouse, which had been abandoned after the county seat moved to Doylestown in 1812. In 1817, they built their own meetinghouse. Interestingly, some of their funding for the construction came from the sale of liquor. Joseph Jenks contributed $100 that he made by distilling apple whiskey, and others reportedly did as well. 

Edward Hicks

This document appears to have been written by Edward Hicks. Today Hicks is remembered as a famous painter, best known for his work The Peaceable Kingdom. During his lifetime, however, he was better known as a preacher. In fact, he faced criticism from fellow Quakers for creating decorative art. He even gave up artwork and tried to subsist by farming and only utilitarian painting, but couldn’t make a living doing so and eventually returned to his art.

Peaceable Kingdom

Hicks was the last to sign the petition, and the certain characteristics of his handwriting seem to match the text of the petition. The “H” in “All Heads of fammilys” following the signatures is identical, a number of the i’s are not dotted in the letter, as in his signature, and the nearly vertical c’s match as well.

Edward Hicks

Hicks’ authorship also fits with what we know about the early history of the Meeting. Hicks was a prominent member of the meeting, and he was the first preacher to speak at courthouse in 1815 as well as the new meetinghouse in 1817.

According to the meeting’s website:

Edward Hicks’ grave, with the low headstone preferred by Friends, may be found near the sycamore tree across from the front porch of the meeting house that he loved so much.

The Petition

While the document is undated it clearly predates 1815, the year in which Friends began meeting in the former county courthouse. It is addressed to both Middletown and Wrightstown Monthly Meetings because Newtown drew members from both.

Hicks writes:

Dear friends

We have believed it Right to revive the subject respecting a Meeting in Newtown, by calling the attention of friends in a Monthly Meeting capacity once more to that important subject, desiring that a [state?] may be sought after of judging wether [sic] the time has not arived [sic] when an Indulged Meeting might be granted might be granted with advantage and safety.

Interestingly, both men and women were listed as heads of families. However, it appears that the names of each couple were written by the same hand, so perhaps the husband signed both names.

They seem to have gotten a positive response from Wrightstown Meeting, which appointed a committee of six men and six women to look into the matter.

Full text below:

Newtown Meeting Petition_back1

Newtown Meeting Petition_frontNewtown Meeting Petition_back2

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Double Wedding Bands (1914)

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Categories: Photography

August 1914

August 1914

I don’t know what to make of this photograph. I was first drawn to it because I liked the veil worn by the woman on the left. When I was cleaning up the scan, I noticed that the man was wearing two rings that appear to be wedding bands, one on each hand. He’s also posed with his hands in front of him, as if to display the rings. His fully buttoned jacket on what appears to be a summer day is also odd. I purchased in it Quakertown, but I have no idea where it was taken. Click to zoom in.

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Delivering Nitrate to the Library of Congress

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Categories: Archives, Film, Film Preservation

PrincessLadybug_1

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Above: Princess Ladybug (1930) – Now in vaults of the Library of Congress

From the dawn of the film era in 1889 until 1951, the 35mm films projected in movie theaters were printed on highly flammable nitrate film stock. In addition to being hazardous nitrate decomposes, producing caustic gas that builds up between the layers of film. It also shrinks, eventually causing the emulsion to separate from the base, and in the later stages becomes sticky until the layers of meld into one black disc, ultimately crumbling into a rust-colored flammable powder. If stored improperly, nitrate film can even spontaneously combust. All of these properties pose significant problems to the archivists tasked with preserving film.

While preserving nitrate is difficult, it is also extremely important. It has been estimated that 90% of films from the Silent Era and half of all sound films made before before 1952 are lost forever.

Film preservationists have determined that the best way to store nitrate is to place it in a climate-controlled vault that keeps the film cool, dry, and well ventilated. Of course the storage area must also be built with fire safety as a high priority. As a result, there are few facilities that can safely deal with nitrate. The British Film Institute converted a nuclear bunker to store their nitrate. In the US, there are a few facilities. UCLA has a vault in Santa Clarita, and the MoMA has a facility in Hamlin, PA. One of the largest and best run nitrate facilities in the world is run by the Library of Congress (LOC) in Culpeper, VA, in a former Federal Reserve bunker.

I’m friends with a local film preservationist who has donated hundreds of films to the LOC over the last few decades, ranging from the hallowed work of Edison and George Méliès to campy sci-fi and westerns. He has also periodically lent out films for restoration projects, including Disney’s restoration of Fantasia. In 2009 I helped him coordinate the donation of about 200 nitrate items to the LOC, which constituted the vast majority of his remaining nitrate collection. For the next few years I gently encouraged him to give the LOC his few remaining prints, but he wanted to hold onto them.

Bare Knees (1928) - A flappers era comedy donated to the Library of Congress in 2009.

Bare Knees (1928) – A flappers era comedy donated to the Library of Congress in 2009.

I finally found my chance this spring. He read in the Vitaphone Project newsletter that the soundtrack to his print of Princess Ladybug (1930) had been found in Australia. The film was from the early sound era, before soundtracks were printed on the film itself. Instead, the sound was recorded on shellac records that were played in sync with the film using a Vitaphone player. As a result, you need both the records and the film print in order to reproduce the movie in its entirety. Because the image and the sound are so easily separated, many of the Vitaphone movies that still exist survive only partially. A film print may be sitting safely in an archive but the sound has been lost, or vice versa.

The discovery of Princess Ladybug’s soundtrack was the impetus he needed to make another donation. He wanted to send Princess Ladybug to the LOC to have it reunified with its soundtrack for the first time in over 80 years, and was willing to add a number of other prints as well. I put him in touch with the Nitrate Vault Manager, and volunteered to drive the films down to Virginia for him.

Below are the pictures of my trip:

Packed to the gills with nitrocellulose. Highlights include Charlie Chaplin's Work (1915), a mint fox newsreel showing Mussolini being hanged, the color segment from the first film to feature the three-strip Technicolor, Princess Ladybug (1930), a Vitaphone short whose audio was recently discovered, shot in the extremely rare Photocolor process, and the only existing print of Popeye Meets Sinbad, also Technicolor.

Packed to the gills with nitrocellulose. Highlights include Charlie Chaplin’s Work (1915), a mint fox newsreel showing Mussolini being hanged, the color segment from the first film to feature the three-strip Technicolor, Princess Ladybug (1930), a Vitaphone short whose audio was recently discovered, shot in the extremely rare Photocolor process, and the only existing print of Popeye Meets Sinbad, also Technicolor.

Formerly used as a Federal Reserve building, they got rid of the machine gun nest and traded the gold for silver halides. George the Nitrate Vault Manager wheels the film in through the front door.

Formerly used as a Federal Reserve building, they got rid of the machine gun nest and traded the gold for silver halides. George the Nitrate Vault Manager wheels the film in through the front door.

Authorized personnel only.

Authorized personnel… but a little ragged after the 5 hour drive.

This is where nitrate is brought for preliminary examination. It's also where researchers are allowed to examine nitrate prints. The vacuum cleaner (back center) is explosion proof. The blue barrel is where they dump nitrate that is beyond repair. They pour water over it and reseal the container. He cracked the lid to show me... nasty chemical slurry.

The lab just outside the nitrate vault. The reel being examined is a from Cinerama film. The Cinerama process created a super wide image by projecting three side-by-side images at once.

The lab just outside the nitrate vault. The reel being examined is a from Cinerama film. The Cinerama process created a super wide image by projecting three side-by-side images at once.

This is where nitrate is brought for preliminary examination. It’s also where researchers are allowed to examine nitrate prints. The vacuum cleaner (back center) is explosion proof. The blue barrel is where they dump nitrate that is beyond repair. They pour water over it and reseal the container. He cracked the lid to show me… nasty chemical slurry.

Inside the vault!

Inside the vault!

The major studio's prints are stored in banks of consecutive storage rooms.

The major studio’s prints are stored in banks of consecutive storage rooms.

George explains how sheets of water pour down to contain a fire.

George explains how sheets of water pour down to contain a fire.

The shelving is designed so that if one reel ignites the fire is contained on that shelf, and the only other reel in danger is the single other reel on that shelf. The film cans are waterproof but air permeable, allowing the nitrate to off-gas. The room is ventilated so that the atmosphere in each room is completely replaced every half hour or so. It's also cold. The nitrate is stored at 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 55 degree acclimatization room. Any time a reel enters or leaves the vault, it's brought to the acclimatization room for one day. By changing the temperature in stages, they avoid letting condensation form on the film.

The shelving is designed so that if one reel ignites the fire is contained on that shelf, and the only other reel in danger is the single other reel on that shelf. The film cans are waterproof but air permeable, allowing the nitrate to off-gas. The room is ventilated so that the atmosphere in each room is completely replaced every half hour or so. It’s also cold. The nitrate is stored at 35 degrees Fahrenheit, with a 55 degree acclimatization room. Any time a reel enters or leaves the vault, it’s brought to the acclimatization room for one day. By changing the temperature in stages, they avoid letting condensation form on the film.

Waterlines hang above the shelves, and the lights are completely sealed to prevent an electric shock from igniting the film.

Waterlines hang above the shelves, and the lights are completely sealed to prevent an electric shock from igniting the film.

Devil's Playground taunts us with the potential hell fire of a nitrate fire.

Devil’s Playground taunts us with the potential hellfire of a nitrate eruption.

Unknown Circa 1904 Romance

Unknown Circa 1904 Romance

"Here's the one that started it all!" -- The original camera negative for The Great Train Robbery (1903).

“Here’s the one that started it all!” — The original camera negative for The Great Train Robbery (1903).

Copyright submission for a film reproduction of an 1899 boxing match.

Copyright submission for a film reproduction of an 1899 boxing match.

September 9th, 1899.

September 9th, 1899.

Copyright law didn't specify rules for moving images, so filmmakers sent in four frames from each scene to copyright them as still images.

Copyright law didn’t specify rules for moving images, so filmmakers sent in four frames from each scene to copyright them as still images.

They made it to the 25th round. Looking pretty good for 114 years old.

They made it to the 25th round. Looking pretty good for 114 years old.

A nitrocellulose film base was used to a lesser extent for still photography. The nitrate negatives for a lot of the iconic photographs from the Great Depression are stored in this room.

A nitrocellulose film base was used to a lesser extent for still photography. The nitrate negatives for a lot of the iconic photographs from the Great Depression are stored in this room.

"This one almost killed me!" - When George picked up this can, the decomposing nitrate was off-gassing so badly that he had to open all the windows of his car because the fumes were so bad.

“This one almost killed me!” – When George picked up this can, the decomposing nitrate was off-gassing so badly that he had to open all the windows of his car because the fumes were so noxious.

Best office decorations ever.

Best office decorations ever.

They have the best toys.

They have the best toys.

Edison's Home Kinetoscope (1912), the first home projection system. The lamp housing has been removed to show the carbon arc. Each 22mm reel contained three sets of exposures. It was equipped with two lenses and three side-by-side apertures. You would crank the reel forward, backward, and forward again to play through all the images.

Edison’s Home Kinetoscope (1912), the first home projection system. The lamp housing has been removed to show the carbon arc. Each 22mm reel contained three sets of exposures. It was equipped with two lenses and three side-by-side apertures. You would crank the reel forward, backward, and forward again to play through all the images.

A 9.5mm Pathescope projector. The perforations are between each frame instead of running along the side.

A 9.5mm Pathescope projector. The perforations are between each frame instead of running along the side.

A newsreel camera with a telephoto lens.

A newsreel camera with a telephoto lens.

The tall unit is an amplifier for Vitaphone, the first commercially viable sound process for film. Look at the size of those tubes!

The tall unit is an amplifier for Vitaphone, the first commercially viable sound process for film. Look at the size of those tubes!

Their projection booth was built by Cardinal Sound & Motion Picture Systems to safely project nitrate film. Safety features include enclosed magazines and fire rollers designed to snuff out a flame before it enters the magazines. Unfortunately, the still don't have any projectionists trained to run nitrate.

Their projection booth was built by Cardinal Sound & Motion Picture Systems, Inc. to safely project nitrate film. Safety features include enclosed magazines and fire rollers designed to snuff out a flame before it enters the magazines. Unfortunately, the still don’t have any projectionists trained to run nitrate.

A fire activated linkage that closes off the booth in case of a fire. The linkage is made of a metal with a low melting point, so if a fire breaks out it will melt and the chain will drop, lowering a shield between the booth and the theater. Probably one of the only one of these still functioning in the world.

A fire activated linkage that closes off the booth in case of a fire. The linkage is made of a metal with a low melting point, so if a fire breaks out it will melt and the chain will drop, lowering a shield between the booth and the theater. Probably one of the only one of these still functioning in the world.

To give you an idea of how dangerous nitrate is, here’s a video of a single reel (about 20 minutes worth) going up in flames. You can jump to 3:45 to go straight to the fireworks:

Of course, this is film that has been purposefully set of fire. Nitrate was the standard for film presentation for more than half a century, and while projectionists had to be far more careful, accidental fires weren’t that common.

To see more beautiful nitrate, check out the Nitrate Interest Group on Flickr.

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Doylestown Man c.1870

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Categories: Doylestown, Photography

Check out this handsome gent. No name is recorded, but the photographer’s logo on the back of the card shows that the portrait was taken by B. Billian in Doylestown. Someone more familiar with historic fashion trends might be able to come up with a tighter age range based on his apparel, but based on the photographic process (a carte de visite) I’d offer a date of around 1870.

Doylestown Man CDV (front)

The photographer’s logo on the back:

Doylestown Man CDV (back)

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