Saturday, June 6, 2015

Hagelstein Bros., “Photographers of the Fine Arts and Manufacturers”

After coming across what I thought was the one and only extant catalogue Hagelstein Brothers ever issued, another one materialized thanks to a bookseller in Vancouver, WA., the very knowledgeable Kol Shaver of Zephyr Used & Rare Books. 

This one is an earlier catalogue --issued circa 1925.   No doubt it was assembled by my grandfather and amazing that ninety years later it wound up in his grandson's possession.  I was acutely aware of family hands across time while unwrapping the package after I had ordered the catalogue.  Could he have imagined something like the Internet which makes these connections possible? 

Clearly, the firm had left its portrait photography behind, soon after departing its original studio at 142 Bowery and moved to 100 Fifth Avenue in approximately 1915, where it was to remain until the early 1980s at which time its penthouse location became prohibitively expensive.  It was then my father and uncle moved the entire operation to Long Island City and to oversee the company’s demise only a few years later.

Would my father, grandfather, or great-grandfather recognize those buildings today, with 142 Bowery and 100 Fifth Avenue becoming gentrified?  At least the 20 story 100 Fifth Avenue, built in 1906, is still recognizable, although repurposed for high end businesses with “new, modern lobbies that create an edgy, innovative look designed to appeal to a new generation of corporate entrepreneurs.”  The building’s French Gothic façade remains.

Alas, 142 Bowery, the birthplace of the photography studio, was recently sold with its sister building 140 Bowery, for $22 million!!!  The plan is to tear them down, probably to create high-end condos.  These are among the few remaining Federal period buildings in the area. 

I fondly remember working at 100 Fifth Avenue as a teenager during the summers, the office, the shipping room, the studio, the black and white and color darkrooms, and the printing facilities for producing mostly glossies used for salesmen’s samples. After its success as a portrait photography studio, it reinvented itself as a “Fine Arts” photography studio.  This came on the heels of the success in being the official photographer of the 1913 Armory Show which brought Modern Art to America.

I think Kol was delighted to find the information I had posted and naturally a potential buyer for this 1925 catalogue.  He also suspected I would be the kind of buyer who would treat it with the proper reverence.   As he said, “bravo for being able to purchase and preserve it, as far too many of these catalogues are being taken apart and pieced about by eBay sellers, and other photographic purveyors.”  Spoken as a true antiquarian, he later added: “I feel like I’m in a constant race with those breaking up these wonderful artifacts, and archives.”

My ultimate intention is to donate them to a museum photographic collection, so they can no longer be pulled apart and are available to researchers for years to come.  They are both in excellent condition.  The catalogue which I previously wrote about might be the more interesting one because of its diversity, although this catalogue, which specifically covers only fine furniture, might be more revealing of the times, the roaring twenties, perhaps the furniture of the Great Gatsby (the novel was written at about the same time as the catalogue).  Zephyr’s description of the furniture pictured here is impeccable, so I quote it in its entirety:
[JAZZ AGE FURNITURE -- PHOTO CATALOGUE]. [HAGELSTEIN, Harry P.] [Excellent salesman sample photo catalogue with over 100 original silver gelatin photos of quality furnishings for 1920s New York homes, most of them with measurements and product number in lower fore-edge].  [New York: Hagelstein Brothers Photographers, ca. 1925].  Oblong 4to. 11.5 x 8.25 in. 117 original silver gelatin photos, mounted on linen hinges, most w/ product number and negative number in upper, or lower margins, many with pencil annotations on versos. Contemporary simulated black leather post-binder, screw posts at gutter margin, rounded corners, gilt stamping of Photographers studio on front pastedown (slight shelfwear), NF copy.

First edition of this lavishly illustrated Jazz Age furniture catalogue, filled with original photographs of styles inspired by designs from Sheraton, Heppelwhite, Chippendale, Renaissance Revival, Jacobean Style, and many others. Although unidentified, the broad product line, the quality of the furniture, the available styles, and even some of the product numbers are identical to the furniture produced by Berkey & Gay who during the Roaring 20s were one of the largest manufacturers of fine furniture in the world. Berkey & Gay concentrated on Elizabethan, Renaissance, some American Revival Federalist Styles, and even English Regency, during this era, incorporating a wide variety of woods, and especially dark mahoganies and walnuts.

This is a large catalogue with more than 100 prints, so I include representative samples of them here, in the order in which they appear.  Perhaps another catalogue will turn up; I doubt it.  All in all, it’s a remarkable history of a studio which was established the year after the end of the civil war by my great grandfather and his brother and ended 120 years later when my father died and my Uncle Philip could no longer carry the business forward.  It evolved from portrait photography, to photography of fine arts and furniture, to what it later billed itself as “commercial and illustrative photography.” 

In photographing the contents of this 1925 catalogue I did not unfasten the pages in an effort to avoid any damage, so some of the photos might seem slightly distorted.  I’m hoping the New York Public Library Photographic Collection or a similar repository will accept this and the other Hagelstein Brothers materials I have in my possession once I have them organized so they may be viewed there for generations to come.