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Guide to the Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection
1867-1947, undated (bulk 1880s-1940s)
  PR 84

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 January 03, 2012
Description is in English.

Biographical Note

The Pach Brothers photographic firm was in business in New York City for over a century and a quarter. In that time, the location of its main portrait studio, following fashionable New Yorkers, migrated uptown from its start on the Bowery in the mid-1860s to upper Fifth Avenue in the mid-1960s, before closing its doors in the East 50s in the mid-1990s. Patrons included famous and ordinary Americans involved in business, politics, government, medicine, law, education, and the arts, as well as thousands of students, families and children who sat for Pach cameras from 1866 onward. Despite a devastating fire in 1895, which destroyed their New York studio and processing rooms as well as their entire negative archive, the Pach Brothers firm continued photographing for another hundred years with a second generation of Pach men behind the lens.

The original Pach Brothers photographers in New York City were Gustavus (1848-1904), Gotthelf (1852-1925), and Morris (1837-?). Born in Berlin, Germany, they came to New York as babies, and began their photographic career as boys. According to their newspaper obituaries, the brothers became intrigued with the new science of photography in the mid-1860s, and traveled the streets of their New York neighborhood taking pictures of local residents. Gustavus Pach made his first appearance in the 1866-1867 New York City directory where he and Morris were listed individually as photographers working at 260 Bowery, with an additional entry for "Pach Brothers" at the same address. Morris Pach alone remained in the directory the next year with no occupation listed. Gustavus Pach's obituary provides an explanation for his own disappearance from the directory: respiratory problems resulted in his leaving for Toms River, New Jersey.

The summer of 1868 found the Pach brothers in Long Branch, New Jersey, a shore town that was a favorite resort for wealthy Philadelphians such as George W. Childs and Anthony J. Drexel. There the brothers had the opportunity to make portraits of the families of Childs, Drexel and their close friend Ulysses S. Grant, who, in turn, were impressed with the brothers' photographic work and ambition. Grant, Childs, and Drexel pooled funds to underwrite the Pach brothers' first photographic studio there, which was built at Long Branch on the grounds of the United States Hotel, as well as their mobile horse-drawn darkroom.

While Morris Pach stayed in New Jersey working as a cigar maker, Gustavus Pach returned to New York in time to be listed in the 1871-1872 city directory in a studio at 858 Broadway. He changed addresses twice before settling in at 841 Broadway in 1877, where he remained in business through 1890. In the 1881-1882 directory, a listing appears for the first time for G.W. Pach & Brothers; the next year the brothers are also individually listed. A fourth Pach brother, Oscar (1850-1903) was the business manager for the firm; he immigrated to the United States in 1873 and worked with his brothers until his death. A full listing of Pach Brothers studios in New York follows this biographical note. A series of chronologically arranged pictures of the buildings that housed the Pach studios are filed in Series III. In each of those photographs, the Pach business is represented to varying degrees: a 1905 image of the 935 Broadway address is really a fine, dramatic portrait of the iconic Flatiron Building, to the left of which can be seen a relatively tiny Pach Brothers trade sign.

In addition, from the 1870s Pach Brothers operated studios (perhaps just seasonally) in college towns, where they specialized in photographing generations of athletes and student groups at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Vassar, and West Point; all processing and finishing work was done in New York. The firm also did record photography for the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, for many years, documented paintings, sculptures, and other artworks in that collection. Pach Brothers exhibited their photographs at international expositions including the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the 1884 World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans, and the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. They also had work accepted at the annual exhibitions held by the American Institute of the City of New York, and the Photographers Association of America.

The Pach brothers themselves appear to have lived and photographed concurrently in New York City and various towns in New Jersey throughout their lives. The 1880 United States Census described the entire Pach family living together in Ocean, Monmouth County, New Jersey: father J. M. Pach (age 68), mother Johanna (age 66), and their four sons Barney (a baker, age 34), Augustus W. (photographer, 32), Oscar (photographer, 30), and Godfrey (photographer, 28), and one daughter Bertha (at home, 31). Morris Pach (cigar maker, 43) was listed separately living in Shrewsbury, Monmouth County, with his wife and five children.

A dramatic fire on February 16, 1895 completely burned out the Pach studios that were located on the top floor of the buildings at 935 and 937 Broadway. An account in the New York Timess (February 17, 1895, p. 17) stated that there were thirty employees at work in the studio, and twenty patrons sitting for their portraits, when the fire started in the negative retouching room. No lives were lost, though all negatives created in the New York and the college satellite studios from the time of the firm's founding were destroyed. The brothers immediately reconstructed their premises and continued photographing from that same location for more than fifteen years.

A second generation of Pach photographers joined the studio in 1898 when Morris's son Alexander L. Pach (1863-1938) took up the camera. Deaf from childhood, Alexander worked with the firm for most of his life. One of Gotthelf's two sons, Alfred (1884-1965), became involved with the family business in 1903, and was its president at the time of his death. His other son, Walter (1883-1958), was a respected painter, printmaker, and art critic, though, according to city directories, he worked at the Pach studio from 1909 to 1914 as an "artist" (possibly a colorist). Several other non-family members became associated with the firm after 1914. Oscar White was the president of the Pach Brothers corporation when it closed in 1994; he had worked for the company since 1939.

Gustavus Pach retired from the New York studio in 1903 and bought out the New Jersey studios (including Lakewood and Long Branch) of Pach Brothers; he died the next year. Oscar Pach became an invalid in 1902 and died the following spring. Gotthelf Pach retired from the firm in 1919 and died in New York in 1925 after several years of failing health. Studio portraits of the Pach brothers and family members associated with the firm can be found in Box 6, folder 50.

Philip M. Plant, who donated the first group of Pach Brothers photographs to The New-York Historical Society, was described in his New York Times obituary as a "sportsman, gentleman farmer and millionaire playboy." The adopted son of Colonel Morton F. Plant, a Connecticut railroad and steamship magnate who was one of the earliest developers of Florida's west coast, Philip Plant resided in New York and bred pheasants at his Waterford, Connecticut, estate. He was a benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History, and president of the Ornamental Pheasant Society. Married three times, Plant died in New York on June 15, 1941, at the age of 40. A Pach Brothers portrait of Plant ran accompanied his obituary in the  New York Times.

Pach Brothers New York City Studio Addresses (as listed in New York city directories, business directories and telephone books)

  1. 1866-1867 260 Bowery (Gustavus and Morris Pach as "Pach Brothers")
  2. [1868-1871 absent from city directories]
  3. 1871-1877 858 Broadway (Gustavus W. alone)
  4. 1877-1881 841 Broadway (Gustavus W. alone)
  5. 1881-1885 841 Broadway (Gustavus, Gotthelf & Oscar as "G.W. Pach & Brothers")
  6. 1885-1890 841 Broadway (Gustavus, Gotthelf & Oscar as "Pach Brothers")
  7. 1890-1902 935 Broadway ("Pach Brothers" listed hereafter)
  8. 1902-1903 935 Broadway and 571 Fifth Avenue
  9. 1903-1913 935 Broadway
  10. 1913-1914 925 Broadway and 570 Fifth Avenue
  11. 1914-1933 570 Fifth Avenue
  12. 1933-1939 642 Fifth Avenue
  13. 1939-1956 5 East 57th Street
  14. 1956-1967 673 Fifth Avenue
  15. 1967-1994 16 East 53rd Street