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Guide to the Victor Prevost Photograph Collection
1853-ca. 1943
  PR 56

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

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Emily Wolff, Sandra Markham, and Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on September 10, 2019
Description is in English.

Scope and Content Note

Victor Prevost's calotype negatives survive as rare examples of early paper photographs of New York City. The New-York Historical Society's Prevost Collection includes forty-four original negatives as well as prints made from these negatives, mostly during the twentieth century. The collection has been arranged in three series: Series I. Calotype Negatives; Series II. Contact Prints from Calotype Negatives; and Series III. Prints of Prevost Images in Other Collections.

Series I. Calotype Negatives consists of the original waxed paper negatives made by Victor Prevost. The negatives were found in the attic of a house of one of Prevost's students in 1898. They were given to a local photographer who in turn passed them on to William I. Scandlin (ca. 1855-1927). Scandlin, an editor for photographic journals who was also a photographer, realized the significance of the images. He wrote and lectured on Prevost at the turn of the twentieth century, including one lantern slide talk he gave at the New-York Historical Society in June 1903.. Scandlin's research provides us with much of what we know about Prevost as well as the identification and dates of many of the individual images. Scandlin's captions for the images, in alphabetical order (roughly by proper noun), serve as the basis for the numbering of the negatives (now known as Prevost #1 through #44). Sometime between 1901 and 1906, Samuel V. Hoffmann (1866-1942) bought some of Prevost's negatives (and perhaps Scandlin's prints of those) from Scandlin. In 1906, Hoffman donated the negatives to the New-York Historical Society.

The waxed paper negatives were made using a variation of the calotype process developed by Gustave Le Gray. Several of the negatives were titled, signed and dated by Prevost. The images document significant buildings and scenes in New York City and its environs. Twenty-three views of sites in downtown Manhattan record the area around Battery Place and many of the commercial buildings on Lower Broadway. These images provide a glimpse of the period's architecture and include many legible signs and bills identifying local businesses and other activities. Prevost also photographed the area near his home on East 28th Street, including several views taken from the windows of his house. Scattered buildings in upper Manhattan are documented, including the house of Dr. Valentine Mott on 94th Street and Bloomingdale Road. The collection also contains photographs of the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition (1853-54), primarily of sculpture and machinery on display.

Series II. Contact Prints from Calotype Negatives contains photographs made from Prevost's original negatives. This series is comprised of prints that were once in four separate sets that came from different sources. None of the four sets were complete in having images from every one of the negatives in the collection. In addition, there were duplicates of certain images within each set. The prints are now combined in one set, which is arranged by Prevost image number as assigned by Series I. However, the provenance for any single print can be readily identified based on an accession date or other markings on its verso. The prints are undated, but those given by Samuel Hoffman's family were made prior to his 1906 donation of the negatives to N-YHS; prints made by N-YHS were obviously made after this date.

The first set of sixty archival photographs was donated to the Society on February 2, 1943, by Eugene Hoffman, the son of Samuel V. Hoffman; it is comprised of gelatin silver contact prints probably made around the turn of the twentieth century. It remains unclear whether Hoffmann purchased these prints from Scandlin along with the negatives, or if he had them made after the Prevost negatives were in his possession.

Another set of twelve prints came to the Society on April 21, 1943, as the bequest of Samuel V. Hoffman. These are also gelatin silver prints but are printed on a lightweight paper and are generally of poorer quality than the prints donated by Eugene Hoffman two months earlier.

A third set is thirty-one gelatin silver contact prints that appear to have been made by the New-York Historical Society from the Prevost negatives sometime between their arrival in 1906 and 1917. They were possibly made for the purposes of publication as several of the images were reproduced in the Society's 1917 and 1918 annual reports. Many of these photographs have printed text captions, cut from the pages of the annual reports, pasted on their versos.

The final set of forty-one gelatin silver prints are all identified with numbers on small brown labels affixed to the top left corner of each the prints' versos. These contact prints were made by the Society around 1943, and a set of 8 x 10-inch copy negatives was made from these prints.

Two prints, mounted on board, have been filed separately in an oversized flat file folder. The photographs, Prevost image numbers 25 & 26, are both of Madison Square.

Series III. Prints of Prevost Images in Other Collections consists of prints made from Victor Prevost negatives that are not in the N-YHS collection. These are identified as prints from an original negative in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and are images of Root's Daguerrean Gallery on Broadway in New York; they appear to be made from the same negative with a slight variation in cropping. These prints may have been part of the original 1906 donation from Samuel Hoffman, as accession records refer to "three photographs" that were donated at the same time as the negatives.

This series also contains an exterior shot of the New York Crystal Palace and Latting Observatory, attributed to Victor Prevost or his partner P.C. Duchochois. It is not clear whether a negative of this image is extant. This print was the gift of Charles Scwartz, 2003.


The negatives and prints are arranged in alphabetical order (roughly by proper noun) by their titles.