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#SouthofUnionSquare: More Photographic History In Our Midst — 60-62 East 11th Street

We are constantly making new discoveries about the architecturally and culturally rich area south of Union Square, where Greenwich Village meets the East Village. While further researching one building in the area, 60-62 East 11th Street (already identified on our South of Union Square map for its incredible architecture and part of the architectural tour), we found that it was also home to the Scovill & Adams Company and its publication, The Photographic Times. Scovill and The Photographic Times are credited with being “largely responsible for the birth and progress of photographic commerce in 19th century America,” with The Photographic Times also called “one of America’s earliest and most important photographic journals.” By 1880, its publisher claimed The Photographic Times was the highest circulating photographic magazine in the United States.

60-62 East 11th Street

This stunning and intact seven-story Renaissance Revival style loft building was constructed in 1895 and designed by Louis Korn. Korn was responsible for other similarly striking buildings in the area South of Union Square, including 84 University Place (1894), 29 East 10th Street (1899), and 64-66 East 11th Street (1896) located next door to No. 60-62.

Buildings designed by Louis Korn in #southofunionsquare. (from L to R, 84 University Pl., 29 E. 10th St., 64-66 E. 11th St.

In the late 1830s, methods were first being developed to capture light and shadows on film — the earliest version of photography. In September of 1839, the written accounts of France’s Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s new photographic process arrived in New York aboard the steam packet the British Queen. The process of daguerreotypy required a polished sheet of silver-plated copper which would be sensitized to light over iodine and bromine in a light-proof box. The plate would then be transferred into a camera, where it would be exposed to light. Then it would be developed over hot mercury until the image appeared.

Early experiments with the new process were conducted close by to the area south of Union Square at NYU by professors John William Draper and Samuel F.B. Morse as early as 1839-40. Perhaps it is for this reason that businesses associated with the new technology made their homes in the area south of Union Square. Some of those sites which are documented on our Virtual Village map within the photography tour include 8 East 12th Street, studio of the noted photographer, Charles Gatewood; 10 East 14th Street, studio of Cranmer C. Langill; 24-26 East 13th Street, home to Gennert Brothers Photo Supply; 30 East 13th Street, home to G. Gennert Photography Suppliers; 4 East 12th Street, home of film producers and directors David Berger and Holly Maxson; 80 University Place, home to The Village Voice, which employed renowned photographer Fred W. McDarrah; the Hotel Albert, home to photographer Keith Carter and meeting place for the Photo League; and 60-62 East 11th Street, home to Scovill & Adams Company and its publication, The Photographic Times from 1896 to 1900.

The Scovill Manufacturing Company was founded originally in 1802 in Waterbury, Connecticut (known today as MoritoScovill) as a button and sewing hardware factory, supplying uniform buttons in the early 19th century to the United States Army and Navy. In 1850, it incorporated as the Scovill Manufacturing Company, reflecting its expansion into the manufacturing of other products, including some of the earliest cameras and plates. In 1842, Scovill was the first company in the United States to make the silver-plated sheets of copper used for daguerreotypes, and in 1846 it opened its first New York City branch office at 57 Maiden Lane. By 1889 the company was known as the Scovill and Adams Company.

The Philadelphia Photographer, 1871

In January of 1871, the Scovill and Adams Company issued what would become The Photographic Times as a free supplement to The Philadelphia Photographer, a monthly independent journal started in 1864 which set the standard for photographic journals at the time. Later that year, The Photographic Times came under its own imprint.

Beginning in 1883, with modern dry gelatin photographic plates replacing the cumbersome wet plate process around 1881, the Scovill company through their publications like The Photographic Times began marketing complete and affordable amateur outfits to the masses. As seen in Scovill’s catalogs, for $10.00, a photographer could obtain “Favorite Outfit A”: an adjustable 4 x 5 Scovill plate camera, “Waterbury” achromatic nickel plated lens, a Taylor folding tripod, a double dry plate holder for the camera and carrying case. The company would go on to develop other popular mass-market cameras, including the Henry Clay and Solograph models, among many others.  

1889 engraving from Scovill catalog courtesy of Larry Pierce.
Rendering of 60-62 East 11th Street published in the Photographic Times, January 1896 issue

As reported in its January, 1896 issue: “About the 1st of January next, the Scovill & Adams Company of New York will remove to their new home at 60 and 62 East 11th Street, a magnificent seven-story and basement building, a few doors from Broadway.” In the late 19th century, the area south of Union Square, particularly along Broadway, had become a center of the photomaking industry in New York and the world. The article went on to explain that Scovill’s editorial rooms (complete with a photographic and reference library) and offices would be on the main floor of 60-62 East 11th Street, and that the lofts would house cases and goods. Additionally there would be a specially-constructed dark room for patrons and friends and a skylight at the roof facing north for experimental and testing purposes. The fire-proof vault under the sidewalk would house all chemicals “of an explosive nature.”

Walter Woodbury

During the years that the magazine was at this location, its editor was Walter E. Woodbury. Under Woodbury’s leadership the magazine would promote itself as a “high-class art magazine” and transform from a 16-page weekly to a 64-page monthly with quadruple the number of pictures. The Veritas cover, shown below, was used by the publication between 1895 and 1901, and showcased the magazine’s approach.

Printed in bold red, the medallions at the bottom show Science in the form of a bearded man and Art in the form of a beautiful woman wearing a laurel crown. Woodbury also made a significant push for the magazine to feature cutting-edge artistic photography, cited as perhaps the most important legacy of the magazine. Management of the magazine committed to featuring as the front piece of each issue reproductions of hand-pulled photogravures, the quality of which improved under Woodbury. Also included in the magazine were gravure-printed plates of photographs in the Pictorial style, a turn-of-the-last-century movement that emphasized aesthetics over documenting reality. Some of these photographers included Alfred Stieglitz, Rudolf Eickemeyer, Jr., Frances Benjamin Johnston, Charles Berg, Alfred Clements, William Fraser, John Dumont, Robert Demachy, James Breese, Joseph Keiley and Zaida Ben-Yusuf.

Woodbury left the magazine in 1899, although he would return in 1901. By that time, both Scovill and The Photographic Times had moved to their new home at 142 Fifth Avenue/3-5 West 19th Street.

#SouthOfUnionSquare is an irreplaceable piece of New York, American and world history, and an unprotected but essential slice of Greenwich Village and the East Village. To explore more of this area’s history, click on the link below and to support our effort to advocate for this area, click on the link below that.

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