Hidden for a Century, a Susan B. Anthony Portrait Is Found



In December, David Whitcomb and a pal have been on the third flooring of a industrial constructing he had simply purchased in Geneva, N.Y., once they observed a water-stained drop ceiling.

Mr. Whitcomb, a lawyer who had purchased the constructing to increase his observe, pushed an entry panel out of the best way and poked his head inside. He noticed an attic with a vaulted ceiling and crawled in, considering he may discover a number of objects to promote at a flea market. What he found transported him again greater than a century to an period when suffragists have been campaigning for ladies’s rights and images portrait studios had began to crop up in American cities.

“Two or three ft away from my face have been these picture frames,” Mr. Whitcomb, 43, recalled. “They’re gold they usually’re shining within the darkness.”

He regarded down at his pal and stated, “I believe we simply discovered the ‘Goonies’ treasure.”

Mr. Whitcomb, who purchased the constructing in Geneva’s historic downtown for $100,000, discovered a whole bunch of images within the attic courting to the early 20th century. Amongst them was a big gilded-framed {photograph} of Susan B. Anthony in profile, her head lowered over a e-book, and a damaged plate-glass destructive of one other picture of her.

“That’s my favourite,” he stated of the framed {photograph}.

There have been additionally drop cloths with backgrounds of castles and forests, packing containers of Kodak paper that had by no means been used, portrait stools and a dusty bottle of sodium sulfite, a creating agent. Mr. Whitcomb stated he believed he could have discovered a photograph of Frances Folsom Cleveland, the spouse of President Grover Cleveland, however he has not confirmed that but. All the images and the gear appeared to belong to James Ellery Hale, a profitable portrait photographer who within the 1880s moved to Seneca Falls, N.Y., the place the primary ladies’s rights conference was held in 1848.

The invention, which was reported by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, has drawn curiosity from the Nationwide Girls’s Corridor of Fame in Seneca Falls, a photographer on the Assortment of the Supreme Courtroom of the US, and a number of other different photographers and expertise followers questioning if Mr. Whitcomb had discovered previous lenses and different gear.

“It’s simply great that he discovered this treasure,” stated Betsy Fantone, a co-president of the Nationwide Girls’s Corridor of Fame. “I can’t wait to see it. It’s simply so thrilling. I’m so excited for the remainder of the world that we’re going to have these photos.”

Their financial worth, nonetheless, stays unclear.

Mr. Whitcomb stated that he was working with an area antiques seller and that the images had not been appraised but.

“Apart from portraits of significantly well-known folks like, say, Susan B. Anthony, portraits of kind of unknown folks from the flip of the century aren’t terribly priceless,” stated Robin Starr, who leads the American and European artworks division at Skinner, an public sale home in Boston.

On the time, picture studios have been turning into fashionable with middle-class folks and households who have been lastly capable of get reasonably priced portraits, Ms. Starr stated.

“It’s not honest to say that there was a portrait studio on each nook, however there sort of was,” she stated.

Credit score…David Whitcomb

A high-quality, unique {photograph} of Anthony or one other well-known suffragist might fetch sums wherever from the low a whole bunch to a number of thousand {dollars} at public sale, Ms. Starr stated.

However it’s tough to offer a exact determine with out seeing the images in particular person, she stated.

“I believe what makes this actually fascinating is the truth that it was hidden away, like a time capsule,” Ms. Starr stated of the studio. “For higher or for worse, historic significance and excessive market worth are two very various things.”

Mr. Whitcomb stated he was attempting to determine why Mr. Ellery’s gear and images had been stashed there for thus lengthy. The constructing’s earlier house owners have been legal professionals, in keeping with metropolis information. Mr. Whitcomb stated the condominium on the third flooring had not been used for many years.

Different elements of the constructing, which was inbuilt 1895, had been rented by companies, together with a gown store, a hat store, a tobacconist and a stationery retailer.

The photographer, who was generally known as J.E. Hale, moved into the constructing someday across the flip of the 20th century, Mr. Whitcomb stated.

“Hale was a fairly good promoter of himself,” stated Dr. Daniel Weinstock, 71, an area historian and retired doctor who researched Hale on the College of Rochester and thru previous newspaper clippings. “He noticed the alternatives for being profitable in his enterprise.”

Hale photographed Anthony round November 1905 when she and her sister Mary got here from Rochester to see two different well-known suffragists, Elizabeth Smith Miller and her daughter Anne Fitzhugh Miller, at their house in Geneva, in keeping with Dr. Weinstock’s analysis.

Hale took a number of images of the Anthonys and the Millers. The picture of Susan B. Anthony in profile, which was how she usually posed to cover a lazy eye, grew to become the “official” suffragist picture of her, Dr. Weinstock wrote in an article about Hale.

In 1920, Hale bought his studio to a different photographer, Frank Gilmore, and left Geneva. He died 4 years later at 71.

Dr. Weinstock, who has considered Mr. Whitcomb’s discovery, stated he would really like the objects to be stored collectively.

“I’m a bit unhappy at seeing that they might be dispersed at public sale,” he stated, “quite than recreate the photographer’s studio.”

Mr. Whitcomb, who has posted photos of his discovery on-line, stated he anticipated to promote a few of the objects and donate others. He stated he would really like the pictures to assist inform the story of the ladies’s rights motion.

He stated he would additionally like to prepare the images on-line to assist individuals who imagine portraits of their ancestors is likely to be within the assortment. He has already heard from folks within the Northwest who’ve made such requests.

“There was a Sally from Idaho,” he stated, “who needs to know if I’ve a photograph of her great-uncle Horace who lived in Geneva for 2 years.”


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