Using the Museum’s Collections to Teach Photography

The Photography Collection at the Museum of the City of New York is an incredible resource for anyone interested in photography, architecture, social history, New York City, and any number of other topics. Over 300,000 prints and negatives make up the collection, and thousands of these images have been digitized and can be seen on our online Collections Portal. The Museum’s collection contextualizes the present within the larger picture of New York City’s past, creating a rich visual database that reflects the vastness of our metropolis and its complicated history. Children as well as adults can use this visual database to explore and interpret the past and draw inspiration in their own lives. The City Museum offers educators classroom guides to the collection, and our new photography classes put cameras into the hands of young people–inviting them to expand their own vision of the city.

Isabelle Abel, Age 11, Faces and Feelings, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Isabelle Abel, Age 11, Faces and Feelings, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Using the collection, students learn that photography is a visual language that can be investigated and discussed to make new connections and discoveries about the world around them. Students begin to see that their daily interactions with photography through cell phone pics, selfies, and social media only scratch the surface of the medium’s potential. Included here are sample images taken by elementary-age City Museum photographers who explored this potential by photographing the City’s built environment and its people alongside some of the images from our collection from which they took inspiration.

 Ratcliffe. Produced by Foto Seal Co., Looking South from Observation Roof of R.C.A. Building, ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2011.33.1151.

Ratcliffe. Produced by Foto Seal Co., Looking South from Observation Roof of R.C.A. Building, ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2011.33.1151.

Caroline Cole, Age 9, My Hometown, Top of the Rock, 2014.

Caroline Cole, Age 9, My Hometown, Top of the Rock, 2014.

Here a student used re-photography to create a new image of the skyline inspired by a 1930s postcard, comparing and contrasting the past and the present. The class discussed how postcards mailed all over the world contribute to the identity of a city. The Postcard Collection includes over 5,500 images dating back from the late 19th century through the present.

Maria Cerini, Tiny Skis, 2014.

Maria Cerini, Age 10, Tiny Skis, 2014.

Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine. Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12302.9A-F.

Stanley Kubrick. Rosemary Williams, Show Girl, 1949. Museum of the City of New York. X2011.4.12302.9A-F.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Students also staged environmental and studio portraits, collaborating with their subject to tell a story and express a range of emotions. Using contact sheets such as this one by Stanley Kubrick for LOOK Magazine, they learned that it takes many shots to get the perfect picture.

Samuel H. Gottscho, New York City views. RCA Building floodlighted, 1933. Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.2.2267.

Samuel H. Gottscho, New York City views. RCA Building floodlighted, 1933. Museum of the City of New York, 88.1.2.2267.

Marin Wells, Age 9, Entering the G.E. Building, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

Marin Wells, Age 9, Entering the G.E. Building, Rockefeller Center, 2014.

By using close-ups, zooming out, and shooting from ‘bird’s-eye’ and ‘worm’s-eye’ views students saw a single subject transformed through a range of perspectives, learning the impact point-of-view can have on a subject. Here the student displays how impressive a landmark can be made by shooting it from below.

I Spy Exhibition

I Spy NY Exhibition, Museum of the City of New York

The City Museum’s Frederick A.O. Schwarz Children’s Center is now hosting an ongoing exhibition of youth photography. Students worked with museum professionals to curate, edit, mat, frame, and label their pieces.

Educators can download guides to the collections portal. Over 165,000 images can be used to inspire stimulating conversations about photography.

Exciting new photography classes (cameras provided) include:
Field Trip- Capturing the City Through the Camera for Grades 5-8
I Spy New York: Capturing the City Through the Camera for Grades 2-3
Portrait of a City: Photographing Landmarks for Grades 9-12

Spring Exhibition Preview: Saving Place

An exhibition like Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks is not only the kind of thought-provoking show the Museum of the City of New York is adept at presenting, but also one that I personally love to organize. That’s because the show takes a topic rooted in the city’s history and gives it contemporary relevance.

Astor Place, Iwan Baan

Astor Place, 2014  © Iwan Baan

Co-curated by me and Andrew S. Dolkart, associate professor and director of the historic preservation program at Columbia University, the exhibition will open in April of 2015—the 50th anniversary of the pioneering legislation that established New York’s Landmarks Law. While the show will display a wealth of historic documents, photographs, and building fragments that we’ve researched and gathered from individuals and institutions, it will also explore the city’s historic landmarks in action.

Under commission from the museum, Iwan Baan, one of the world’s leading photographers, traveled the entire breadth of the city over a two-week period last October. He traversed all five boroughs during the day and the night, equipped with a Google map of landmark sites. He even rented a helicopter to capture aerial views that provide his street views with panoramic context.

Aerial view, Manhattan

Aerial view, Manhattan, 2014 © Iwan Baan

Iwan’s photographs, a small selection of which are shown here, will be featured in the exhibition as well as an accompanying book.

All told, they underscore how landmark structures and districts, some of which house remarkably innovative, new buildings, contribute to New York’s dynamic mix of old and new.

Mott Haven, the Bronx, Iwan Baan

Mott Haven, the Bronx, 2014 © Iwan Baan

Iwan’s images also demonstrate how civic and business leaders, grassroots activists, and design professionals have come together over the last 50 years to create a living New York that respects the city’s heritage and advances its future.

–Donald Albrecht, Curator of Architecture and Design, Museum of the City of New York

Beyond Digital: The Photographs of Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

At the turn of the 20th century Kodak famously marketed their easy to-use-cameras with the slogan, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Today, digital cameras have made it easier than ever to capture our world. Yet, as we see in the exhibition, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao’s New York: Assembled Realities, on view at the City Museum through March 15, 2015, when technology is paired with creativity a photograph can become an impressionistic work of art.

Duffy Square, Times Square, Manhattan, 2011 by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

Since 2004, when he began his Habitat 7 project, tracing communities along the No. 7 train line from Flushing, Queens, to Times Square, Manhattan, Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao has created photographs that embody the complexity of New York’s five boroughs. As an immigrant who arrived in 1999 from Taiwan via Canada, Liao has an acute sensitivity to the qualities of the city that make it so distinct: the continually changing built environment and the diversity of the people who live and work in this metropolis.

Every photograph for Liao is a process. He typically spends days in advance of a shoot trying to get a sense of a particular place. He observes the people, traffic patterns, changing light and shadows, and how the weather alters the mood of a neighborhood. When it comes time to photograph, Liao sets up his tripod at a particular site, then, over several hours, produces dozens of exposures he’ll later condense into a single panorama containing all the energy and activity observed. Once a day’s worth of shooting is complete, the photographer heads back to his digital darkroom and stitches together these vignettes. The finished products often depict the architecture of the city combined with the subtle interactions of the people on the streets.

5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004, by Jeff Chien Hsing Liao

5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004, by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

Initially, Liao used large format film to capture his desired subject, but he’s since switched to a digital camera. Though he has always acknowledged that his work compresses time, his images created with film, such as 5 Pointz, Long Island City, Queens, 2004 were fairly subdued and could easily be mistaken for single-shot images.

Since switching to digital, works such as Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013, bring the compression of time into the foreground and provocatively use selective focus, trails of light, and blurring. The illusion of documentary photography has fallen away in service to the photographer’s constructed vision.

Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013

Opening Day, Barclays Center, Brooklyn, 2013 by Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao

For further illumination of Liao’s process, this video provides an approximate recreation of the image Duffy Square, Times Square, Manhattan, 2011 (see first photo above). The image gives an impression of the photographer’s process as he culled through some 207 frames, stitching together more than 80 images to achieve the final realized work. The resulting large-scale print has a visual sweep often associated with cinema, inviting the viewer in, and providing a strong sense of place.

 

Buffalo Bill’s New York

Running up and down Brooklyn’s Seventh Avenue in 1894, little boys snatched their mothers’ clotheslines, fashioning them into lassoes to rope their younger sisters [1]. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was in town, and the young boys were eager to imitate the show’s star performer.

31_130_14_BB in buckskin suit

William F. Cody, Stacy, 5th Ave and 9th St, Brooklyn, ca. 1880. Museum of the City of New York. 31.130.14

By the time William F. Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, reached Brooklyn, he had already achieved prominence as a cultural icon of the American West. He began his show in 1883 and toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe for over 30 consecutive years. While the show took various forms over the years, it generally portrayed the triumph of civilization over savagery in unique acts that simultaneously showcased skills like horseback riding and sharp shooting. In honor of his passing in January 1917, we dedicate this blog post to his show’s success in New York City.

45_271_96_BB with Native American

Sitting Bull and William F. Cody, photographyer unknown, ca. 1885. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.96

In the summer of 1886, Cody brought his show to Erastina, an amusement ground on Staten Island [2]. The festivities began with an elaborate parade through the streets of Manhattan on June 26th [3]. Quickly, the entertainers’ camp became as popular as the scheduled performances. Families from Manhattan and Queens chatted with cowboys and marveled at Native Americans who sat in hammocks and roasted hotdogs for supper [4]. The show closed in September, yet promptly found a new home at Madison Square Garden, where the company premiered Drama of Civilization for the 1886 winter season. A souvenir booklet from the Museum of the City of New York’s collection offers a few detailed glimpses of that season. For instance, the book records the death of sixteen buffalo due to “lung trouble” during the show’s Garden run. Despite this setback, the season was successful. As Louis S. Warren notes in his book, Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show, Cody’s performances at Madison Square Garden signaled “the ascension of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to middle-class entertainment and respected cultural institution” [5].

In 1894, Cody and his managing partner, Nate Salsbury, returned to New York with the hope of capitalizing on the show’s success in Chicago during the previous summer [6]. Collaborating with the Thirty-ninth Street Ferry company, they leased a twenty-four-acre parcel of land in Ambrose Park, Brooklyn. Hordes of Manhattanites and other New Yorkers crossed the Brooklyn Bridge or rode the ferry directly to the show ground. The souvenir booklet indicates that only one show was cancelled due to heavy rains, resulting in a total of 126 performances.

IMG_6189

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

F2014_45_1_BB Book_page 276

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

F2014_45_1_BB Book_page 277

Official Souvenir: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, 1896. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.1

Cody’s rise to fame at Madison Square Garden also coincided with technological innovations aptly suited for the urban environment. For instance, the Statue of Liberty was illuminated in the same year that stage lights electrified Cody’s Drama of Civilization at Madison Square Garden [7]. Similarly, an illustration called “The Little Tented City” from an 1898 program emphasizes the relationship between nature and technology in the Wild West show [8]. It depicts the buffalo pen next to the electric generator needed to power the large camp. Likewise, the chief engineer’s tent sits across from the Indians’ tepees. The large urban population and infrastructure of New York City allowed Cody’s show to grow into an elaborate spectacle.

41_50_714_BB and crew

[Buffalo Bill’s Wild West], photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 41.50.714


 

45_271_156_BB in buckskin suit

[Buffalo Bill on horseback], photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.156

Buffalo Bill’s legacy often blurs the line between fact and fiction; yet he truly did establish himself as a talented marksman and scout on the frontier before he transformed into a charming showman. His Wild West show subsequently relied on his knowledge of the West to gain popularity, but he also depended on urban environments, like New York, which allowed his spectacle to flourish. In the end, he was a man at ease in the saddle or in a suit.

37_298_12_BB on Horse

William F. Cody on Horseback, photographer unknown, ca. 1895. Museum of the City of New York. 37.298.12

45_271_151_BB in suit

William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), Marceau, ca. 1915. Museum of the City of New York. 45.271.151

[1] Warren, Louis S., Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 441.

[2] Ibid., 254

[3] PBS, Wild West in New Yorkhttp://www.nps.gov/thri/theodorerooseveltbio.htm (December 31, 2014)

[4]  Warren, Louis S., Buffalo Bill’s America: William Cody and the Wild West Show (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 255.

[5] Ibid., 256

[6] Ibid., 437

[7] Ibid., 443

[8] Ibid., 439

Martin Wong’s papers: a deeper look at the graffiti art collector

This week, we feature a post from one of our Collections Interns, Houda Lazrak.

As shared in a post from earlier this year, artist and collector Martin Wong donated his graffiti collection to the Museum of the City of New York in 1994. Made up mainly of works on canvas and piece books from the City’s most influential graffiti writers, the collection also included an assortment  of archival material.  When I began processing the Martin Wong Papers, I found publications, correspondence, and photographs that shed light on his work, his relationships, and his everyday life.

Martin Wong, September 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26400, box 2, folder 33.

Martin Wong (1946-1999), a painter and a native of San Francisco, moved to New York City in 1978.  Here, he established his new home and art studio in a tenement building at 141 Ridge Street on the Lower East Side. He rapidly became active as an artist, collector, and curator in the East Village art scene and befriended many teenage graffiti writers while working at a local paint shop.  Wong gained their trust and began buying their personal sketchbooks and art.  In August 1989, Wong opened a graffiti art museum on Bond Street in Soho.  He envisioned his “Museum of American Graffiti” as a space where graffiti could be admired by a larger public and officially join the broader art historical dialogue.  Below is a description of Wong’s intended mission for the institution, typed on the museum’s customized stationery paper.

Museum of American Graffiti announcement, undated, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 22.

Martin Wong’s papers contain several legal agreements for the transfer, lending, and purchase of artworks between various parties, including an official loan form from the Whitney Museum of American Art for some of Wong’s personal paintings to be featured in a 1992 exhibition titled Power of the City/City of Power; and a hand written receipt from Patti Astor from her well-known Fun Gallery in the East Village, a seminal art gallery that promoted aerosol art in the early 1980s.  Wong also drafted deeds of ownership transfers from artists, giving him full custody of the works and allowing him to use them as he pleased, including a hand written form signed by legendary graffiti writer Tracy 168 for the transfer of a piece book.  These documents are superb examples of Wong’s versatility within the art world and re-emphasize his talents as a cultural broker.

Whitney Museum of American Art Loan Agreement,  July 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. folder 29.

Whitney Museum of American Art Loan Agreement, July 1992, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 29.

Fun Gallery Receipt, March 1983, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. folder 29.

Fun Gallery Receipt, March 1983, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 2, folder 29.

The collection also includes 42 handwritten letters from the prolific graffiti artist Angel Ortiz.  The correspondence reveals the personal relationship between the two artists, as well as Ortiz’s dedication to his art and Wong’s support. Ortiz signs each letter with variations of his personal tag, either LAII or LAROCK, which both stand for “Little Angel.” Some letters include colorful hand drawn cartoon characters on the envelopes.

Correspondence from Angel Ortiz, January 1993, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26877, box 3, folder 38.

Wong also donated dozens of graffiti related publications.  They range from European museum catalogs to local mainstream art magazines to underground aerosol zines such as IGTimes or International Get-Hip Times.  IGTimes documented the graffiti culture in New York City from 1983 to 1994 and includes photographs, interviews, profiles, collages, editorials, etc.  Martin Wong may have used them as sources to learn about the latest movements or happenings in local aerosol art culture.  The zines provide insight into the materials Wong  collected but also shed light on the zeitgeist of the graffiti art world during the 1980s and 1990s.

IGTimes or International Get-Hip Times, undated, in the Martin Wong Papers. Museum of the City of New York. Activity 26270, box 1, folder 8.

You can learn more about Martin Wong by visiting the finding aid for the archival material here, or visiting the online Collections Portal.

 

The origins of dining out in New York City

The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it numerous opportunities for eating and visiting restaurants.  As we prepare the City Museum’s ephemera collections for digitization as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, we’ve taken a closer look at New York’s relationship with dining through the restaurant and hotel menus in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.

New Yorkers and visitors to the city today are able to enjoy nearly every type of cuisine, from dim sum to Swedish meat balls.  However, this hasn’t always been possible – “restaurant” was not in a New Yorker’s vocabulary until the mid-nineteenth century.  An 1825 visitors’ guide to New York, “The Picture of New York, or the Stranger’s Guide to the Commercial Metropolis of the United States,” contains information about eight New York City markets from which to procure fresh meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables, but no mention of dining establishments.  Those who wanted to eat out could visit a chophouse or tavern at a set dinner time for standard meat and potatoes fare.  Two Swiss brothers revolutionized dining in New York City when they opened Delmonico’s at the intersection of Beaver, William, and South William Streets in 1837.  Their restaurant was one of the first to allow diners to order from a menu at any time of day.  The 1838 menu from the Restaurant Français des Frères Delmonico is eleven pages long and features delicacies such as “Chicken pie with truffles” and “jumble of vegetables”.

Restaurant Français des Frères Delmonico, 1838, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 34.295.2.

Restaurant Français des Frères Delmonico, 1838, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 34.295.2.

Pirates Den, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality, Museum of the City of New York. 39.255.4.

Pirates Den, ca. 1928, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality, Museum of the City of New York. 39.255.4.

Delmonico’s earned a reputation as one of New York City’s finest dining establishments, and the concept of dining out in New York took off – until Prohibition.  Sure, you could still enjoy a multi-course meal without wine or cocktails, but it wasn’t nearly as fun.  New Yorkers and tourists instead found fun in the city’s speakeasies, like the Pirates’ Den on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.  The establishment served a deathly-sounding Black Skull Punch, and its Pirate Band played dance music seven nights a week until 1am.

Visiting a restaurant to catch a glimpse of its celebrity proprietor is nothing new.  Jack Dempsey, a boxer and World Heavyweight Champion from 1919 to 1926, ranked second only to Babe Ruth among American sports icons in the 1920s.  He opened Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant in 1935 after retiring from boxing, and was known to frequent the restaurant’s corner booth.  A visitor could enjoy a plate of Boston baked beans, sliced Virginia ham, and Boston brown bread, and hope to have his menu signed by the professional boxer also known as the “Manassa Mauler.”

Jack Dempsey's Restaurant, 1956, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 85.55.1.

Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant, 1956, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 85.55.1.

Many of the menus in the collection offer a snapshot of food trends, some more appealing than others. Perhaps if you are feeling full from holiday over-indulgence, you can take a look at the “Cold Platter and Diet Delights” section of the Lenox Hill Grille menu for some New Year’s resolution meal inspiration.  A “Health Salad” consisting of fruit salad, cottage cheese, and Jello on a bed of lettuce served with Melba rounds sounds like a great way to kick off 2015.

Excerpt from Lenox Hill Grille, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 97.146.194A-E.

Excerpt from Lenox Hill Grille, ca. 1975, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 97.146.194A-E.

Images of ephemera from the Collection on Dining and Hospitality will soon be available on the Museum’s online Collections Portal, but in the meantime, you can check out images of New York City’s restaurants here.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Adolph Green: The boy from the Bronx makes good

Some things

Bob Golby. [Adolph Green performing in A Party with Comden & Green.] 1959. Museum of the City of New York. F2013.41.5440.

Last Tuesday, December 2, 2014, marked the 100th birthday of Adolph Green, writer and lyricist. With his creative partner Betty Comden, Green composed lyrics for over 200 songs, wrote ten Broadway musicals, and penned nine screenplays including Singin’ in the Rain and big screen adaptations of Broadway hits On the Town and Bells Are Ringing.  Whether you saw NBC’s broadcast of Peter Pan Live! last week, or watched the romantic comedy Sleepless in Seattle, or are a fan of the television show Glee, you’ve enjoyed the lyrical stylings of Adolph Green.

Sheet music for "New York, New York" from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Sheet music for “New York, New York” from On the Town, 1944. Museum of the City of New York, 70.22.141B.

Born in the Bronx (“New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down”), Green attended DeWitt Clinton High School. After graduating, he spent time working various odd jobs while trying to make it as an actor. During one summer job as a camp counselor, Green befriended the young Leonard Bernstein, who was working as the camp’s music counselor. The most important meeting of Green’s career, however, would happen in 1938, when he was introduced to Betty Comden. A drama student at New York University, Betty Comden began a creative partnership with Green that would last over 60 years. Together with friends John Frank, Alvin Hammer, and Judy Tuvim (later known as Judy Holliday), Comden and Green formed a cabaret act called The Revuers.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Unknown. [The Revuers: Adolph Green, Betty Comden, John Frank, Judith Tuvim, Alvin Hammer.] ca. 1943. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.45.4.

Performing songs and sketches at the legendary Village Vanguard, the troupe often featured the young Bernstein as a somewhat impromptu accompanist. Below is an excerpt from a Revuers skit poking fun of the Tin Pan Alley song writing machine.  In the sketch, the great composer Cole Porter becomes Cole Warter.

Page from "Tin Pan Alley" sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Page from “Tin Pan Alley” sketch performed by The Revuers, ca. 1939. Museum of the City of New York, Comden and Green papers.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Window card for A Party with Comden & Green, 1958-1959. Museum of the City of New York, 68.100.241.

Comden and Green worked with their good pal Bernstein to write the musical On the Town about three sailors on leave in New York City.  The musical opened on Broadway December 28, 1944 and was an immediate hit, putting the names of Comden, Green, and Bernstein on the musical map of New York. Comden and Green went on to write the book and/or lyrics for such shows as Applause, Bells Are Ringing, Do Re Mi, Subways are for Sleeping, On the Twentieth Century, and Wonderful Town. Their collaborators included Jerome Robbins, Tommy Tune, Hal Prince, and composer Jule Styne.  In 1958, Comden and Green performed their own material in the two-person musical revue A Party with Comden & Green. The show was such a hit that they revived it in 1977. Adolph Green passed away on October 23, 2002 in New York, New York (it’s a helluva town). Betty Comden died exactly four years and one month later. But with On the Town currently in revival at the Lyric Theatre and On the Twentieth Century set to open at the American Airlines in March, the party with Comden and Green goes on.

[Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

Friedman-Abeles. [Adolph Green and Betty Comden.] ca. 1955. Museum of the City of New York, F2013.41.5438.

Announcing the digitization of the City Museum’s silver collection

In the City Museum’s Silver Collection you’ll find objects made, owned, or sold in the city of New York, such as domestic and presentation hollowware, flatware, and costume accessories. The oldest objects are two standing salt vessels made in 1623 and the most recent is a Tiffany & Co. Pavoda baby spoon designed by Elsa Peretti in 1997. Presentation pieces given as gifts for a variety of occasions, including events related to religious ceremony, education, sports, rites of passage such as marriage, politics, and military action, represent one of the strongest areas of the collection. While the presentation of objects made of precious metals is not unique to this city, New York’s city government, civic organizations, and volunteer groups all offered prolific occasions on which to give these impressive gifts.

An example of one of these presentation pieces relates to the Interborough Rapid Transit Subway: a tray depicting subway station interiors, subway tunnel construction, a map of the subway line, and the proposed extensions into Bronx and Brooklyn. (You can see images of the completed City Hall station on our collections portal here.)

68_109_A

Subway Presentation Tray, Marked by Tiffany & Co., New York, ca.1895, Silver. Museum of the City of New York, 68.109A

 

68_109_A_detail

Detail of the map on the Subway Presentation Tray. Museum of the City of New York, 68.109A

 

In the same vein is a tankard presented to New York City volunteer fireman Jameson Cox for completion of his service as first foreman to Engine Company No. 26 in 1823. What makes this tankard unique is its reuse as a presentation piece. The tankard was originally made in 1757 by silversmith William Grundy of London, active 1738 to 1779, and possibly received later by a craftsman as partial payment for newly made silver. This craftsman then held the tankard in stock rather than melting it down, adding the spout and handle at a later date. At the time of the presentation, the tankard form was no longer fashionable. Silversmiths in New York City produced tankards into the second decade of the nineteenth century, replacing this form of fermented beverage container with open cans and mugs. Despite its lack of popularity and stunted production, the tankard continued to be used as a presentation piece. This characteristic is seen again in a tankard made ca.1745-1755 and later presented in 1864.

32_83_2

Tankard, Marked by William Grundy, London, 1757-1758, Silver. Museum of the City of New York, 32.83.2

 

The tankard form was a staple of silversmith Jacob Hurd’s workshop in the 1730s and 1740s and the one below is another example of repurposing objects for presentation. The original owner’s initials have been removed from the handle and possibly a monogram within the reserve as well. In April 1864, Lester Wallack was presented with this tankard by his friends on the Dramatic Committee in thanks for his service during the Metropolitan Fair, organized to benefit the United States Sanitary Commission.

34_297_1

Tankard, Marked by Jacob Hurd, Boston, 1745-1755, Silver. Museum of the City of New York, 34.297.1

 

Alterations to existing silver objects were a standard part of the trade, but the repurposing of objects as presentation pieces was not as common. In some instances the original inscription was left intact. A cup presented first to Benjamin Drake, M.D. in 1842, later presented to Edward Skidmore in 1881, is one example of this rare attribute. Both inscriptions from the separate gifts remain, but there is no other known connection between the two men.

40_84

Loving Cup, Marked by William Thomson, New York, 1842, Silver. Museum of the City of New York, 40.84

 

The presentation of objects related to municipal purposes is just one small category in the larger genre of presentation pieces, but one that was particularly popular in New York City. The Silver Collection of the Museum of the City of New York contains many more pieces similar to the ones mentioned above as well as objects vastly different in style, scale, and significance.

This important work is taking place thanks to generous grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Louis & Virginia Clemente Foundation, and Henry Luce Foundation. These grants allow the Museum to conserve, digitize, and update the cataloging for the entirety of the Silver Collection, eventually making approximately 2,600 objects accessible to the public via the Museum’s online Collections Portal. These objects are now being professionally photographed in the Museum’s state of the art onsite digital lab. As the digitization project progresses, I continue to discover treasures within the collection, so stay tuned for the next post on the City Museum’s vast Silver Collection!

What’s in an Artifact: Crown Glass

Archaeologists love “unearthing” the mysteries of history. In this post, we explore the fragmented past of crown window glass, a common artifact type connected with the production of glass windows in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

Small, flat fragments of glass are often found in archaeological sites in New York City – these fragments could be from bottles, from late 19th century plate-glass windows, or from crown glass windows, which are hand-made and date to an earlier period in the City’s past. But how can we tell one type from another?

An assortment of glass fragments unearthed in City Hall Park. Are they bottle glass? 19th Century  plate glass? Or earlier, hand spun, crown glass? Read on to find out more!

An assortment of glass fragments unearthed in City Hall Park. Are they bottle glass? 19th Century plate-glass? Or earlier, hand spun, crown glass? Read on to find out more! Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

The key to identifying crown glass is in the way it was produced. Crown windows are made by hand blowing glass into a globe known as a “crown”. It would then be flattened by spinning the globe glass into a disk. After several days of cooling, squares would be cut from the disk and made into window panes. These panes would have either been cut by glass-makers themselves or purchased in disks and then cut to fit windows as buildings were being constructed.

Crown Glass being spun flat by glass makers.

Crown Glass being spun flat by glass makers. Image from “Glass in Architecture and Decoration” by Raymond McGrath & A.C. Frost, 2nd Edition, London, 1961 [1937], p. 75 via : http://michaelhockham.com/wp/history-glass-production/ (accessed November 25, 2014.)

When it comes to window glass production, it’s all about trees, trees, trees! Furnaces required a lot of wood to process sand, ash, and lead into molten glass. While colonial New Amsterdam was burgeoning into a major port for trade and production, much of Manhattan island remained heavily forested – creating an ideal environment for businesses that needed to use glass furnaces.

Most early glasshouses were found outside of the city limits, where trees grew in abundance. By the 1640’s, “Glass Maker’s Street” (now South Williams Street) became the first production center for a new method known as crown window glass – located just outside the colonial city wall at present day Wall Street. This method of making window pane glass would continue until the 1850s when other techniques, such as plate-glass making, became easier and more cost-effective to produce the large quantity of glass required to keep pace with a growing city.

But how can you identify fragments of crown glass in an archaeological context? Crown glass varies in thickness because window panes were cut out from different areas of the spun disk. Glass disks were thickest in the center and thinnest near the edge, and had a circular pool in the center. Similarly, the edges may be rounded from having been spun by glass makers. Like snowflakes, no two pieces of crown glass are alike.

Crown window glass fragments of varying thickness

Crown window glass fragments of varying thickness, viewed from the side. Image courtesy of Museum of the City of New York

While it is possible to identify crown glass by its production inconsistencies, this same thing makes dating crown glass difficult. In some cases, we can only assign a date within the time period when crown glass was being produced prior to the 1850s. Do you have a trick for dating crown glass? Let us know in the comments!

These artifacts, and many more, are being cataloged and digitized at the Museum of the City of New York as preparation for public access and long-term care at the Landmarks Preservation Commission Archaeological Repository. Research inquiries can be directed to archaeology@mcny.org. More information on the project can be found here.

Visiting New York City’s Hotels

Excerpt from "Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,"ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York.

Excerpt from “Members of Hotel Association of New York City, Rates per Day,”ca 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York.

The holidays are prime tourist season in New York City – we’re coming up on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade next week, department stores are mounting their holiday window displays, and the ice skating rink is open at Rockefeller Center.  As we have continued to prepare the Museum’s ephemera collections for digitization as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, we’ve been able to take a closer look at some the hotels that have housed the throngs of tourists that flock to New York City, not just at the holidays but year round.  The following selections from the Collection on Dining and Hospitality are just a small sampling of what will be available in the coming months via the Museum’s online Collections Portal as part of this project.

One hotel that immediately caught our eye was the Hotel Shelburne, or rather, the yet to be realized Hotel Shelburne II.  The Hotel Shelburne is still in operation at Lexington Avenue at 37th Street, but in the early 1960s they had a much grander vision of their future.  The Shelburne II was scheduled to open on the moon by 1971.

Hotel Shelburne, ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

Hotel Shelburne (recto and verso views), ca. 1961, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 94.41.2.

If you read the guarantee on the verso of the promotional card above (right side of image), you’ll see that anyone bearing this card is entitled to a free weekend stay at the hotel, since the moon outpost wasn’t completed by 1971. Anyone want to give it a try?

As is to be expected, the collection holds several pieces of ephemera for the city’s more well known hotels, such as the Waldorf-Astoria.  The Waldorf-Astoria produced an entire promotional booklet titled “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” featuring profiles of staff and a look inside the kitchens, housekeeping, the”furniture hospital,”  and the domain of the “key man.” The booklet was donated to the Museum by Victor R. Ruiz, in honor of his mother, who worked in the hotel’s beauty salon for several years.

Excerpt from "Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria," ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Excerpt from “Behind the Scenes at the Waldorf-Astoria,” ca. 1940, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. F2014.18.37.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

Waldorf-Astoria menu, 1907, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 42.250.62.

The Colonades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

The Colonnades, Essex House, ca 1937, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 2003.50.2.

One of the most common objects in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality is the menu.  These vary from day-to-day dinner menus, such as the one pictured to the right for the Waldorf- Astoria, to those for special events such as the one for the Essex House, pictured below.  The Essex House opened in 1931 on 59th Street; its iconic roof sign is still visible today. I wonder if New Year’s Eve of 2015 will compare with the the festivities pictured on the cover of this menu from the 1930s.

One of the oldest pieces of hotel ephemera in the Museum’s collection is this piece of private scrip, or money, from Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, dating to 1852. The Hotel was located at 80 Chatham Street, now Park Row.

Crook's Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality.  Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

Crook’s Hotel and Saloon, 1852, in the Collection on Dining and Hospitality. Museum of the City of New York. 39.526.2.

This name of  the establishment, “Crook’s Hotel and Saloon,” immediately brings to mind an image of a “wild west” period of New York City’s early history.  Though actually named for it’s proprietor Samuel H. Crook, the hotel did in fact gain an element of notoriety when Crook committed suicide in his rooms at the hotel in 1890.

Stay tuned for more selections from this and other ephemera collections here at the Museum.  Next time we visit this collection, will take a look at where all of these people – tourists and New Yorkers alike – ate when they were in town.

neh_logo_horizontal_rgbAny views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this post do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.