Restored Glass Negatives Capture Daily Life in 19th-Century New England

Boy from the from the mid-19th century riding a tricycle

In 2019, documentary photographer and photo preservationist Terri Cappucci learned about a large collection of glass plate negatives from a co-worker. The current owner of the collection was downsizing and wouldn't be able to keep them. Cappucci, who had been producing her own 19th-century photographs using the wet plate collodion process for many years, was the ideal person to take ownership of the vast collection.

As she began wading through the 4,000 glass negatives that were taken on large and medium format cameras, Cappucci was transported to the 19th century. Taken by different photographers and spanning from the 1860s to the 1930s, the images are a look back in time. Interestingly, the photographs appear to have been taken in the same area of Massachusetts that Cappucci is from, which connected her to the work even more.

From there, Cappucci began to restore and digitize the images, something she is passionate about after flooding in her home studio wiped out 20 years of her work. Her regret at not digitizing and archiving her own negatives has pushed her to give proper care to the collection, which she kicked off with a fundraiser to purchase the appropriate materials. From there, she began lovingly restoring the work, much of which was in dire condition, and started a popular website and Facebook page, titled Somebody Photographed This, to publish the results.

In order to ensure that the collection remains intact and in good care, Cappucci recently donated the glass negatives to the UMass Amherst Libraries. The university is selective with what it acquires, and as an alumni, Cappucci knew that the work would be in good hands. Cappucci's scans will soon be available via the university's Credo database of digitized archival material, and they will continue carrying out the meticulous cataloging, preservation, and digitization that Cappucci started.

For Cappucci, the project's visibility gives her hope that people will see the value of historical imagery. And she also hopes that others who may have such collections realize their importance.

Glass plate negatives should never be sitting in boxes in people’s attics or basements,” she shares. “Find someone who will give them the treatment they need and be sure that they are going to a place where they will be shared with the world.  I am always open to accepting collections, as I have been receiving them from other parts of the world as well.  If you are willing to ship them to me, I am willing to give them what they deserve.”

For those who want to support the project and donate to the continued work on the collection, Cappucci has reopened her GoFundMe.

See some of Terri Cappucci's favorite imagery from the collection of 19th-century glass plate negatives she came upon.

Image of a woman and baby in a carriage from the mid-19th century

Old woman in a rocking chair from the late-19th century

The work shows daily life in New England, though the authors of the photographs remain a mystery.

Young man from the 19th century with either Rugby or football clothing and ball.

Woman from 19th century Massachusetts sitting at a sewing machine

In the future, should she find a sponsor, Cappucci hopes to mount an exhibition of these historical images.

Woman from the mid-19th century holding a baby sheep

Photo of Northfield Massachusetts from the early 19th century

Watch Cappucci share the full story about how she acquired the glass negatives and restored them.

Somebody Photographed This: Website | Facebook
Terri Cappucci: Website | YouTube

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Terri Cappucci.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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