Monday, June 21, 2021

From the Archives: New York City in 1938

Envelopes containing negatives and contact prints, pre-1940
Dear Readers, you may remember that I recently experimented with film packs, in my case GAF Versapan in 4×5" size. I had little experience with this format, but early in the 20th century, various size film packs were common. Before 1939 or 1940, my dad used film packs for all his photography. He bought his first roll film camera, a 35mm Perfex, in 1941 or 1942.
Envelope containing processed negatives from Block-Jones Co., Boston, Massachusetts
He stored his negatives in the envelopes that came back from the processing laboratory or drugstore and neatly filed them in an office box. I recently decided to recheck the negatives. Looking through the envelopes, I saw one labeled "New York Nov. 1938." These negatives were 2¼×3¼ inch size (close to the 6×9 that is common today). I think these were from a Certosport or Certotrop camera. I recall using it a few times around 1970, but cannot remember what lens was on it. My photographic results were quite unsatisfactory, and the unit suffered from light leaks. Back then, you could still buy the small pack film. These 1928 sheets are all nitrate film stock.
Queen Mary SS Normandie with Ellis Island in distance, New York Harbor (scan of a toned contact print) 
Queen Mary SS Normandie and unknown dredge, New York Harbor (scan of portion of 2¼×3¼" negative)
The Battery, Manhattan (scan of contact print)

The Battery, Manhattan, New York (scan of of 2¼×3¼" negative)
My dad and his friends took a boat trip, possibly one of the circle-Manhattan excursions that are still popular. He was lucky to see the Queen Mary Normandie heading out to sea. At that time, the Normandie was the peak of luxury, sophistication, and glamour for those with the funds to travel abroad. Only a year later, the start of the Second World War ended most Europe-bound tourism.
View towards Central Park from Rockefeller Center
View towards East River (?) from Rockefeller Center
View SW towards Empire State Building from Rockefeller center
This group of night photographs may be from The Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. According to Wikipedia
30 Rockefeller Plaza is an American Art Deco skyscraper that forms the centerpiece of Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Completed in 1933, it was designed by Raymond Hood, Rockefeller Center's lead architect. 30 Rockefeller Center was formerly called the RCA Building from its opening to 1988, and later the GE Building from 1988 to 2015. It was renamed the Comcast Building in 2015, following the transfer of ownership to new corporate owner Comcast, though its name is often shortened to 30 Rock. 
In 1938, this was a glamorous example of American architectural and engineering excellence.
Prometheus Statue (1934)
This is the famous Prometheus statue, by sculpture Paul Manship, located in the lower plaza at Rockefeller Center.  "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty ends."

This ends our short 1938 tour. I will slowly look for more New York negatives as I go through the box.


The Model A shown in the catalog from Burleigh Brooks may be my dad's  Certo camera, but I just cannot remember.

Update: A reader alerted me that the ocean liner in the photographs above was the Normandie. He was right. I compared there profiles of the Queen Mary and the Normandie, and the vessel in the photographs is the latter. 


Mike said...

That's a real treasure chest of negatives. I believe the BB was marketed in Europe under the name "Certotrop". I have looked for one of Certo's plate cameras for a while without success. I do have several Certo Supersports with excellent Tessar and Trioplan lenses. Your dad did some good work with his.

Jim Grey said...

These are terrific! What a find.

Pechorin said...

Great takes! By its characteristic lines - especially the funnels - the ocean liner off New York identifies as "le grand paquebot NORMANDIE"

Suzassippi said...

Love these beautiful photographs!

Kodachromeguy said...

Thank you all (y'awl) for your encouragement and comments.