Posts Tagged ‘Oldest Photo of a New York Street’

This 1850s Lower Manhattan image might be one of the oldest street photos

May 2, 2022

In the 1850s, New York City’s population reached 590,000. Central Park was mostly an idea, the urban city barely existed beyond 42nd Street, and mass transit meant taking a streetcar pulled by horses.

And at some point in that decade, a dry goods store employee turned daguerreotype studio owner captured this remarkable image of a stretch of Greenwich Street, with more than a dozen men standing with their hands in their pockets beside wood and brick storefronts.

The photographer was Abraham Bogardus. From the 1840s through the 1860s, Bogardus ran his own studio in various locations in Lower Manhattan. Two of those locations were on Greenwich Street: first at 217 Greenwich, and then at 229 Greenwich, according to the International Center for Photography (ICP).

Like the other daguerreotype studio owners congregated around Lower Broadway in those decades, Bogardus mostly did portraits. Considering how popular daguerreotypes were at the time with the public, he likely made a good living.

Yet something must have compelled him to step outside his studio door and capture what he saw, and intentionally or not create one of the oldest surviving street photographs of New York City. It’s not a daguerreotype but an ambrotype, according to Invaluable.com, which posted the image when it was up for auction. (It recently sold.)

Abraham Bogardus in the 1870s

An ambrotype involves a slightly different process than a daguerreotype but is quicker and cheaper to produce, according to the Library of Congress. “Photographers often applied pigments to the surface of the plate to add color,” the LOC stated of ambrotype producers—which could account for the red brick buildings in an otherwise black and white image.

Besides Baker & Sadler at the far left, the store signs are hard to read. Invaluable.com says one sign advertises a bakery and confectionary, others are for a cobbler, a drugstore, a cabinet making firm, and a jeweler.

Could these men be owners and employees of the stores they stand in front of—or are they practicing the time-honored New York City activity of hanging around on the street whiling away the time?

[Top image: invaluable.com, second image: Wikipedia]