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Can We?

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Photograph: Meet Frame

Last August I had the uncommon opportunity to purchase five photographs ca. 1905-1910 that were still in their original picture frames taken by William T. Knox, (1863-1927) then president of the Brooklyn Camera Club.

 

blog-1-working-knox-pleasuresDetail: “Pleasure Under Summer Skies”: William T. Knox, American: (1863-1927) Vintage sepia Platinum print ca. 1905-10; 19.6 x 24.5 | 19.6 x 24.5 cm (flush-mounted on Bristol-board type matrix). Photograph framed in quarter-sawn oak frame with brass title nameplate made by James Engle Underhill, American: (1870-1914) two-piece integrated: 34.5 x 39.5 x 2.0 cm shown with glass removed. “Pleasure Under Summer Skies” dates to 1905, and was initially exhibited in the Second American Photographic Salon, overseen by the American Federation of Photographic Societies under President Curtis Bell. At the time, William Knox was Federation Secretary. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Additionally, three of them were in beautiful wood frames made by his fellow club member James E. Underhill, 1870-1914, who I discovered had made his living as a fine picture framer since around 1900 in New York City at his shop at 33 John Street, at the corner of Nassau Street.

 

blog-2-james-underhill-framerBefore limited conservation, the original James E. Underhill white-paper letterpress label in olive-green (2.9 x 2.0 | 4.3 x 3.2 cm) is seen affixed to the frame backing verso of his oak frame enclosing the William T. Knox photograph “Pleasure Under Summer Skies”. Conservation treatment by this archive carefully left this label in place. James Engle Underhill was a fellow member along with Knox at the Brooklyn Camera Club when this photograph was taken and framed. (ca. 1905-10) Underhill’s picture framing shop: “Jas.E.Underhill, 33 John St., New York City. MAKER PictureFrames.” was in operation at this location (corner Nassau) from around 1900 to his death in 1914. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

In my 20+ years of collecting photography, and with a definite impression the “bloom is off the rose” when it comes to the intersection of internet commerce, it seems to me today more difficult to acquire vintage photographs of artistic note still in their original frames. This is a pity, because framed photographs left undisturbed from 100+ years ago can often reveal the more honest intent photographers wished for their work to be seen and appreciated- for the time they were created no doubt, but also on a higher aesthetic level.

 

blog-4aUpper left: When first received by PhotoSeed after purchase in late August, 2019, the verso of the framed William T. Knox photograph “Pleasure Under Summer Skies” is seen in its’ original James E. Underhill oak frame. As was common in framed works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a thin sheet of pine wood veneer was used as a backing board, secured by small nails. Upper Right: Conservation treatment on the framed work included removal of this wood backing board along with rusted screw-eyes and wiring used for hanging as well as some of the frame backing paper. The original Underhill framing label is carefully left undisturbed at lower right and the Bristol-board type matrix with flush-mounted photograph on recto is revealed, showing the “burning in” of several wood knot holes from the recto of the original sheet of wood veneer. Next steps included the thorough cleaning of the original framing glass and then cutting a piece of acid-free, 4-ply mat board that would be sandwiched between the photographic matrix and new piece of cardboard backing board. Finally, a Fletcher brand framing gun was used to secure glass, mounted photograph and the two separate backing matrixes using new metal framer’s points to the inside perimeter of the frame verso. Lower Left: Tools at right including small pliers and a wire-cutter were used to remove the original verso framing nails from the William T. Knox photograph “Playmates”, along with an X-Acto knife at far right to cut away the delicate and very acidic backing paper. A unique paper label signed and titled by the artist in the middle of the paper was then carefully removed and preserved within a newly encapsulated frame using a piece of acid-free mat board. New flush-mounted hanging hardware (screw-eyes not recommended!) and braided wire were also installed. Lower Right: A selection shows vintage frames with photographs from the PhotoSeed Archive, including the William T. Knox photograph “Pleasure Under Summer Skies”, now re-installed within its’ original James E. Underhill frame at upper right. To the left of it is a separate frame made by Underhill’s contemporary, George F. Of Jr. (1876-1954) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

On a technical note, PhotoSeed does minimum conservation on framed works when they enter the collection. The mantra of “do no harm” as well as the realization of being temporary custodians of an archive is embraced. When in doubt about proceeding with photographic conservation, advice given me many years ago from a George Eastman Museum conservator to basically just leave things alone when unsure of how to proceed is something I’ve always kept in mind. Of course, the financial realities of proper conservation standards will always be at the forefront for collectors, both private and institutional.

 

blog-4-william-t-knox-playmates“Playmates”: William T. Knox, American: (1863-1927) Vintage sepia Platinum print ca. 1905-10; image: 12.0 x 23.5 mounted on fine art papers: 19.6 x 24.5 | 19.6 x 24.5 cm. This fine children’s genre study by Brooklyn Camera Club president William T. Knox dates to 1905 or slightly before as it was known to have been exhibited in the Second American Photographic Salon that year. It shows a young child attaching a leash from his faithful canine companion to his toy wooden wheelbarrow. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Frame Conservation: A Few Ideas

 

For framed works, conservation on my end typically includes the removal of acidic frame backing materials and replacement with acid-free mounting materials that come into direct contact with the physical print. Embedded dirt and other foreign matter is then carefully removed and or wiped away from the frame itself, with original finishes showing the passing of decades left deliberately intact and never stripped off. Finally, everything is put back together for storage or display: the original glass from the frame is also cleaned on both sides and then carefully put back into place. If cracks are discovered or worse, replacement with a custom cut piece of window glass will typically suffice.

 

Digital Presentation on PhotoSeed

 

For digital presentation on this website, the frame is then photographed separately and the print scanned. I use Photoshop to combine the two-leaving the original framing glass out. Purists may object to this but I’m not changing the physical object in any way-just taking advantage to present you with an optimum web experience. Of course, the joy of collecting is being able to appreciate a vintage photograph in the very best form possible: in person. Never the less, I’ve included a small photo along with three other conservation snaps in this post showing a small display of conserved and “reframed” works from this archive. Other examples can be found here.

 

blog-3-william-t-knox-portrait“Portrait: Brooklyn Camera Club President William T. Knox”: Charles Frederick Clarke, American, born Nova Scotia: (1865-1912) image: 21.7 x 17.8 cm; supports: light-gray art paper 23.7 x 19.4 | 36.4 x 29.5 cm; Vintage platinum print ca. 1905-10. William T. Knox (1863-1927) was an important American amateur photographer and promoter of photography from Brooklyn, New York. From at least 1891-1915, he was a partner of McCormick, Hubbs & Co., importers and commission merchants in West India and Florida Fruits and Produce with offices at 279 Washington Street in New York City. (Manhattan) From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Intriguingly, I have owned a platinum portrait of William T. Knox, showing him to be quite the dapper gentleman- mustachioed, and sporting a bow tie taken about the same time he was club president, for many years prior to my collecting any of his actual photographs. This was  by Charles F. Clarke, 1865-1912, (American, born Nova Scotia) an amateur and business agent for the Forbes Lithograph Company of Springfield, MA.

 

blog-5-william-t-knox-green-carbon“Landscape in Green Carbon”: attributed to William T. Knox, American: (1863-1927) Vintage green Carbon print ca. 1905-10; image: 23.4 x 19.7 cm flush mounted to thick, Bristol-board type matrix: 23.6 x 19.7 cm shown within its’ original oak frame: 32.6 x 28.6 x 2.0 cm (with glass removed) by James E. Underhill (1870-1914) of New York City. Knox and Underhill were members of the Brooklyn Camera Club when this photograph was taken and framed. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

You can see all of Mr. Knox’s framed works in the collection here, which includes a professional chronology for his friend the framer and fellow Brooklyn Camera Club member James E. Underhill.  Happy hunting!   -David Spencer

 

 

The Beautiful Beyond

 

PhotoSeed celebrates the life of one of its profound influences on the recent passing of my father Charles Edward Spencer 1925-2017.

 

charles-spencer-photographs"Charlie Spencer and WWII Classmates" : unknown English photographer: gelatin silver K(odak) Ltd postcard ca. 1940: 13.8 x 8.7 cm : The author's father, about 15, is seen at far left striking a pose in Workington, on the west coast of Cumbria England (Cumberland county) during the early part of World War II. Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1925 to English parents who sought their fortune in the United States, the American Depression forced the family back to their native Newcastle upon Tyne by 1933. A favored German aerial target during the war because of its important shipbuilding industry, Charlie was evacuated along with over 800,000 English school age children from Newcastle and other large English cities beginning in late 1939 as part of the British government's Operation Pied Piper, which eventually displaced 3.5 million people in the UK. Late in the war, he returned to Newcastle, (Benwell) reuniting with his parents Charles and Jane (Garland) Spencer and graduating there from Atkinson Road Technical School. An American by birth, he soon found himself serving in the U.S. Army of Occupation in Germany, where he was a reporter for the Stars and Stripes newspaper among other duties. His first eight years in America had certainly made an impression however, and he returned to the states for good in early 1949 aboard the troop ship USNS General Maurice Rose. Settling in the greater Bridgeport, CT area, he went on to become an advertising and sales promotion specialist for the General Electric Company in their small appliance division for fifteen years and later in the same capacity with other business ventures in CT. Married 61 years to Ann, he passed away in September, 2017. Note: girl in photograph is daughter from Workington family with whom Charlie stayed with during his billet. After Workington, he was billeted with another family in Siddick England. From: Authors personal family archive.

 

 

The call would come, I had convinced myself, for years. But it waited patiently. I reassured myself I was prepared, but for naught. When it did, from my brother Will, it was from his childhood voice over 50 years gone: punctuating his cries through the distance, he gasped for breath: “Dad did not wake up” he somehow forced through his cracking voice, cries and tears. My own response immediate: a shuddering to my core equal to his-helpless feelings not revisited since my toddler days-cries my father was now unable to comfort as he did throughout my entire life ⎯the finality of it all.

 

But goodness had shined its light, in this most profound form of sudden loss: my dad was now truly free of any miseries real for him in the physical present, and ones our family perceived in him during his long and noticeable decline. Vanquished. He was now free, and on his journey to the beautiful beyond.

David Spencer-

 

 

Support our Vision, Validate our Passion

 

Like what you see on PhotoSeed? Have you ever thought of collecting vintage photographs? It might seem strange for some in our modern age of digital connoisseurship, where family photo albums now reside, along with everything else, on your smartphones. But actual physical photographs, unlike their digital brothers and sisters, do actually stand the test of time. You can even hang them on your wall!

 

screengrabScreengrab of the homepage for the PhotoSeed Gallery website hosted by Shopify e-commerce online platform: March, 2017

 

 

If you’ve arrived here by chance, or are a long-time visitor, you might have thought that some of these digital photographs are quite beautiful. Wouldn’t it be nice to…perhaps, acquire an original for yourself, a friend or loved one?  Well today is your lucky day.  After nearly two decades of collecting, I’m going in a new direction and launching PhotoSeed Gallery. The new venture is designed to give anyone in the world (we ship internationally) the opportunity to purchase vintage photographic works of art (never reproductions) created from roughly 1885-1920. Heck, you don’t even need to leave home to do it. A desktop computer will give you the best feel and display for the site, but if you insist, that aforementioned smartphone will also do the trick nicely from anywhere.

 

 

playing-at-shops-edgar-leeDetail: Playing at Shops: Edgar G. Lee, English: (1860-1915) vintage exhibition lantern slide ca. 1895-1905: 8.2 x 8.2 cm. A portrait photographer by trade, Englishman Edgar Lee was an active exhibitor in the Royal Photographic Society Salons from 1890-1903. The body of work he is best remembered for however is documentary, with 300 of his lantern slides held in the Woodhorn Museum and Northumberland Archives chronicling the residents, mostly poor, of the Quayside area of Newcastle upon Tyne. PhotoSeed owns several examples of Lee's work, including this street view showing a group of little girls- with two clad in white aprons at front and left- pretending to sell what appears to be an assortment of rocks or broken tiles arranged on a table made from slate and rocks. Interestingly, a postcard of this image: "Playing at Shops: The Slums, Sandgate" was later published by his Newcastle firm Thompson and Lee, the work possibly part of his earlier documentary involvement with investigations conducted by the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress in England held from 1905-09. From: PhotoSeed Archive

 

Many websites solicit funding via one of those “donate here” buttons for their upkeep and survival. I can appreciate that, but somehow, in my humble estimation, it is so much better to support your love of photography by receiving something in return: in this case, tangible and real photographs. Going forward, gallery sales will be vital and necessary for maintaining PhotoSeed’s core mission of bringing attention to the often obscure and forgotten practitioners from photography’s past, as well as the critical and time-consuming scholarship their work demands in giving it the proper due it deserves for the larger historical record. And no worries, I’m a collector myself at heart, so our intent will always be the continual addition of rare and surprising examples to this record in the coming years.

 

Thanks for stopping by, and please consider a purchase to support our vision and validate our passion.

 

 -David Spencer          PhotoSeed Archive & Gallery  owner and curator  March, 2017

 

 

In with the New

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A Merry Christmas to All

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phoebus-1890-december-3vfDetail: "Phoebus": by George Wharton Edwards: American 1859-1950: multiple-color woodcut used as part of cover illustration for periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: December, 1890: whole #28: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 32.1 x 25.3 cm | 35.3 x 28.0 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

 

christmas-eve-sir-john-ever"Christmas Eve": by Sir John Everett Millais: English 1829-1896: photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: December, 1890: whole #28: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 19.2 x 15.7 cm | 34.9 x 27.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

a-merry-christmas-emily-claDetail: "A Merry Christmas": Emilie V. Clarkson: American 1863-1946: photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: December, 1890: whole #28: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 20.1 x 14.5 cm | 34.9 x 27.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

we-praise-thee-o-lord-emilyDetail: "We Praise Thee O Lord" ("Sang with many a change Christmas carols until morn.": Emilie V. Clarkson: American 1863-1946: photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: December, 1890: whole #28: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 20.0 x 15.5 cm | 34.9 x 27.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

christmas-morning-by-the-seDetail: "Christmas Morning by the Sea" (alt: Winter's Touch on Land And Sea": Mrs. J.M. Appleton: American: photogravure published in periodical "Sun & Shade": New York: December, 1890: whole #28: N.Y. Photo-Gravure Co.: 10.5 x 16.1 cm | 34.9 x 27.2 cm: from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

 

New Year Salute

 

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New Year Greetings

 

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New Year Greetings from PhotoSeed

 

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Jump for Joy

 

 Yesterday officially marked one year since I launched PhotoSeed.com as a public site and I wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to visit or who has inadvertently stumbled upon us. To date, this site has had tremendous world-wide reach in its short life, with hundreds of thousands of page views perused by visitors hailing from a total of 163 countries & territories. In addition, PhotoSeed received a Webby, the highest industry award for a website in the Art category during a ceremony in New York City this past May.  And who knew we could count a very loyal following from those residing in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City?  I’m not a micro-focused person by any means, but the wonders of Google Analytics never cease to amaze.

 

chester-whitney-jumping-dogC.M. Whitney, (Chester Moulton) American, b. 1873: "Peter" or "A High Jumper": 1907: vintage gelatin-silver photograph: image: 19.1 x 14.7 cm | primary support: 20.4 x 15.4 cm | secondary support: 30.5 x 25.4 cm : from: PhotoSeed Archive

 

My plans and goals for the next year are many. Ultimately, I would like to devote my time to the site full-time, with the means of supporting this dream through a combination of an online sales gallery selling vintage material, licensing agreements, and, perhaps, select archival reproductions for purchase. As always, your suggestions are welcome as I approach this fork in the road, and I sincerely welcome your input and ideas going forward. As my own time allows, it is my intent to continue building on my own evolving scholarship as I assess and then post material from the vintage work making up the PhotoSeed Archive.  As I’ve said before, there is every reason to “get it right” the first time, and I don’t see it as a race.

 

And so it is my honor, delight, and satisfaction to be able to shine light and—hold for this metaphor—let the creative flowers from my photographic brothers and sisters bloom after hiding in the dark far too long. I hope you enjoy the discoveries and continue the journey with us.

 

-David Spencer