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Guide to the Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection
[1938]-60, undated
  PR 97

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Sandra Markham

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 10, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

Title: Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection
Dates [inclusive]: [1938]-60, undated
Abstract: Amateur photographs of Manhattan, focusing on street scenes, transportation, and signage.
Quantity: 0.21 Linear feet (133 black and white silver gelatin photographs)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
Call Phrase: PR 97

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Biographical Note

Arthur W. Grumbine was born in Cleona, Pennsylvania in 1901, a fifth-generation descendant of Leonard Krumbein who had immigrated to Philadelphia in 1754. Grumbine had a public school education but left high school after one year to take a job as a telegraph operator with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. He remained in that field, eventually taking a job with Western Union and rising in positions of increasing responsibility through 1943.

Grumbine had an interest in photograph from childhood. He built his first camera from a discarded cigar box at age twelve, and purchased his first commercial camera, a folding Kodak, once he found full-time employment. From his first roll of film, he did all of his own developing and printing. While in his thirties, Grumbine became more serious about making pictures, submitting his work to a number of national and international juried exhibitions in which he won more than two dozen awards and prizes. Grumbine's success as an amateur photographer made his professional transition into that field somewhat a natural progression. When a friend working in research at the Photo Products Department of Dupont suggested he apply for a position there, Grumbine took the opportunity to rethink his twenty-five year career in telegraphy and jumped at the offer. At age 42 he accepted an entry-level assignment in one of the company's research laboratories; twenty-three years and four promotions later, Grumbine retired from Dupont with five United States and twenty international patents to his name. His work was primarily centered in commercially produced film for the pre-computerized printing industry, particularly with the development and refinement of Dupont's Rotofilm and Screen Process Film.

Arthur Grumbine died in 1998 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Five years prior to his death he gave his first gift of photographs to The New-York Historical Society, at which time he also wrote a twelve-page autobiography for the Society's files. He was proud of his accomplishments both in telegraphy and with Dupont, writing of the latter "[m]y career with Dupont was not unlike that of a male version of Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland combined." This allusion would appear to extend to his fondness for the city of New York. "Much of my weekend spare time was spend roaming around every neighborhood in Manhattan searching for interesting picture material. It was like a hiking tour of the world. I miss it."

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Scope and Content Note

The Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection holds 133 black and white gelatin silver photographs of Manhattan taken by Grumbine, and printed by him in either 5 x 7 inch or 8 x 10 inch formats. Throughout the collection, the photographs reveal Grumbine's love of New York and the texture of street life in a large and complex city. The work also reflects a particular interest in documenting signage, from the spectacular to the vernacular: he was as interested in the electric displays in Times Square as he was in the lettering on neighborhood barber shops, restaurants, and flophouses. Humanity, too, was a special interest; in his inscriptions on the backs of his prints Grumbine asks the viewer to pay attention to a nearly hidden sleeping vagrant in a park scene or to note the well-dressed riders on a downtown ferry.


The collection is divided into two series:

  1. Series I. Street Scenes and Buildings
  2. Series II. Subjects

Grumbine labeled all of the photographs with captions on their reverse sides before he sent them to the Society in the 1990s, and assigned dates if he knew them. Two item-level lists of image titles are available in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architecture Collections.

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Access Points

Document Type

  • Aerial photographs
  • Gelatin silver prints
  • Photographic prints

Subject Topics

  • Cable cars (Streetcars)–New York (State)–New York
  • Ferries–New York (State)–New York
  • Horse-drawn vehicles–New York (State)--New York
  • Street life–New York (State)–New York
  • Street vendors--New York (State)--New York

Subject Places

  • Chinatown (New York, N.Y.)
  • Little Italy (New York, N.Y.)
  • Lower East Side (New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.)–Pictorial works
  • Times Square (New York, N.Y.)
  • Washington Square (New York, N.Y.)

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Administrative Information


Gift of Arthur W. Grumbine, February 1993 (seventy-three photographs) and November 1995 (sixty photographs).

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as: Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection, PR 097, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

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Container List

Series I. Street Scenes and Buildings

Scope and Contents note

Series I contains photographs taken in various neighborhoods around the city from the late 1930s through the 1960s. Some of the shots are lively and record activity as he encountered it on the street, such as Chinese-American children reacting to New Years fireworks or Times Square food purveyors handling flaming steaks or airborne pizza dough. Others are quiet static shots of empty streets, construction sites and building interiors. Some of the photographs record establishments or street features which were formerly ubiquitous but have now disappeared from the city, such as a Horn and Hardart automat and a unique three-dimensional trade sign in the shape of a pair of spectacles for an optical shop, both in folder 7. A folder of Little Italy images records the vitality of that neighborhood's commerce, in particular a spirited portrait of the Rev. Frank Compitiello, a Pentecostal preacher who operated a lunch cart at Grand and Mulberry Streets. The Lower East Side folder captures street vendors and commerce there too, as well as neighborhood children playing at an open fire hydrant, and another group mesmerized by a television playing in an appliance store window. Also in that folder is a portrait of a "Sidewalk Fortune Teller near Chatham Square" who holds a highly ornamented piece of equipment.

Folders are arranged in alphabetical order by Manhattan neighborhood.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Bowery
1947-[1950], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Chinatown--Chinese New Year celebrations
1945-1956, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Chinatown--General views
1945-1955, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Little Italy
1940-[1950], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Lower East Side
1947-[1960], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Midtown Manhattan--Aerial and riverfront views
[1948], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Midtown Manhattan--East side views
[1945]-1953, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Midtown Manhattan--West side views
[1938]-1951, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 9 South Street/Fulton Fish Market
[1947]-1950, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Times Square--Day views
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Times Square--Night views
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Washington Square
1950-[1955], n.d.

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Series II. Subjects

Scope and Contents note

Series II holds images filed by topics which were of particular interest to the photographer. Elevated Trains and Streetcar contains pictures taken along the route of the Third Avenue El, and one image of "one of the last streetcars to run operate in Manhattan," otherwise unidentified. Ferries and Riverboat includes a number of photographs taken on the Central New Jersey Railroad Ferry and at South Ferry, as well as one image of the "Hendrick Hudson," a Hudson River Day Line boat moored at Bear Mountain, New York. Five prints of horse-drawn carriages and wagons found around Manhattan from the Lower East Side to Central Park South form another group of street-life images. Miscellaneous and Unidentified holds photographs of unidentified places which were taken primarily to capture unusual signage. Two photographs which fall outside of the neighborhood groupings in Series I: one of the Municipal Building, and another of the loaded display windows of Fred W. Jensen & Son Watchmakers on West Street near Liberty Street. Grumbine was also an accomplished illustrator, and the collection's final folder holds photographs of two ballpoint ink drawings made by him after his photographs. An extensive caption on the reverse of each describe the photographs that he "referred" to as well as the exhibition history of the two original drawings, neither of which are owned by The New-York Historical Society.

Folders are arranged alphabetically by subject.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 13 Elevated trains
1944-1945, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 14 Ferries and riverboat
[1943]-1950, n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 15 Horse-drawn carts
1951-[1955], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 16 Miscellaneous and unidentified
1948], n.d.
Box: 1 Folder : 17 Photographs of Grumbine's ink drawings

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