Feature of the Week: Cameras for the Masses, Kodak & the snapshot

Taking photographs is like second nature to us now; we can snap a quick shot on our computers, laptops, cell phones, and with increasingly small and inexpensive digital cameras.  It’s cheaper and easier than ever before to preserve special moments and with no film or processing to worry about anymore, every moment can be documented and remembered. How many photos did you take on your last holiday?

An early point and shoot camera from the Historical Camera Collection at Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

It’s difficult for us to imagine a time when most people could only have photos taken at a professional studio. In the 19th century, amateur photography was time consuming, often dangerous, and always very expensive.  Some images were taken directly on metal or glass and only one copy could be had.  Photographic “film” that allowed copies consisted of glass plates or paper soaked in chemicals.

When the Eastman Kodak Company introduced the first personal use camera in 1888, it was the beginning of the amateur snap shot.  The Kodak Camera cost about $25 (that may not sound like much, but that would be about $550 today) and came pre-loaded with 100 shots.  When the film was done, the customer packaged up the camera and sent it back to the Kodak Company in Rochester, NY for developing.  The pictures were mailed back, along with a newly loaded camera for the price of $10 (about $235 now).  Kodak had made photographs easier, but they were still expensive.  To really make money, and make sure the Kodak name was in every home, they had to make it cheaper.

The “Baby Brownie” (1934-1941) from the Historical Camera Collection at Ryerson University Library Archives and Special Collections

A brilliant entrepreneur, George Eastman challenged his designers to come up with the cheapest camera possible; something that was economical to make and easy to use.  The Brownie Camera was born.  First sold in 1900, the Brownie cost $1.00 (less than $25 today) and was a simple box design with few moving parts.  Ads claimed “Any school-boy or girl can make good pictures with one of Eastman Kodak Company’s Brownie Cameras!”  With a product cheap and sturdy enough for a child to use, Kodak aimed it’s marketing campaigns at kids, opening “Brownie Camera Clubs of America” and enticing budding photographers to get snap happy.  Nearly 250,000 of the first Brownies were manufactured.  The Brownie evolved over the years, becoming sturdier, smaller and eventually including flash.

The Brownie Hawkeye camera (c. 1949-1951) from the Historical Camera Collection at the Ryerson Library Archives and Special Collections

Ryerson Library Special Collections holds an extensive Heritage Camera Collection, including many popular models Kodak cameras.  Make an appointment (specialcollections@ryerson.ca) or drop by the fourth floor to have a look!

The Brownie Flash camera (1946-1954) from the Historical Camera Collection at the Ryerson Library Archives and Special Collections

For more information on the history of the camera, check out these Ryeron Library Resources:

Camera : a history of photography from daguerreotype to digital / Todd Gustavson. Publisher New York : Sterling Pub., 2009. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1933405~S0

History of Kodak cameras. Publisher Rochester, N.Y. : Photographic Products Group, Eastman Kodak Co., / 1987. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1812462~S0

The art of the American snapshot, 1888-1978 : from the collection of Robert E. Jackson / Sarah Greenough and Diane Waggoner ; with Sarah Kennel and Matthew S. Witkovsky. Publisher Washington [D.C.] : National Gallery of Art ; Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 2007. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1780308~S0

Sources:

Kodak. “The Brownie @ 100 : A Celebration.” Kodak. N.p., n.d.  http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/brownieCam/ Accessed 16 Feb. 2011.

Kodak. “Building the Foundation, Kodak”Kodak. N.p., n.d. http://www.kodak.com/ek/US/en/Our_Company/History_of_Kodak/Building_the_Foundation.htm Accessed Feb. 16 2011.

Feature of the Week: Map of Ryerson in 1923

Ever wonder what your campus may have looked like 100 years ago? What were the older buildings used for before they were part of the University? What kinds of structures were here before the new facilities appeared?

Charles E. Goad, Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs, 1910, 3rd ed. (revised to 1923), Plate 13

A wonderful historical resource was recently donated to Special Collections from the collection of Edward Koshchuk:  The Atlas of the city of Toronto and suburbs was published in 1910 in 3 volumes, expanded from the original 1890 edition because “the City has increased so rapidly, and the area is now so much more extensive.” The atlas contains maps of the city of Toronto including the land now occupied by the Ryerson University campus, and was revised using small pasted-in bits of paper and handwritten notations, so that the current view is actually more accurate to 1923.

The area identified as St. James Square in the detail below is now bordered on all four sides by the endless tunnel known as Kerr Hall, and all that remains of the Upper Canada Normal School, founded by Egerton Ryerson as a Teacher’s College in 1852, is the thin façade marking the entrance to our underground gym (the RAC). These buildings survived to the 1950s, just hitting the 100 year mark before they were removed for the construction of Kerr Hall. The Archives has a diorama of the Square and the buildings shown on this map in their reading room, and more information about Ryerson campus history is also available on this website.

Of note are the many different religious houses in the area, including a Catholic Church where Lake Devo is now, a Synagogue, Lutheran Church and a Congregational Church at Bond and Dundas. The Synagogue is now a Greek Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church is still standing, hidden behind the construction for the new Image Arts building.

Other landmarks that have changed include a former public school where the Victoria Building stands, and the O’Keefe Brewery occupying the space now filled by the Bookstore, a parking garage and a Tim Hortons. Sadly, we have to count the Empress Hotel (more recently known as “the building that Salad King was in”) as a former landmark.

If you would like to take a look at the atlas yourself (Vols. 1 & 2 only), or one of the earlier atlases of the area such as The Illustrated historical atlas of the county of York and the township of West Gwillimbury & town of Bradford in the county of Simcoe, Ont, 1878 and The Topographical and historical atlas of the county of Oxford, Ontario, 1876, please make an appointment by sending an email to specialcollections@ryerson.ca or phone 416-979-5000 x4996.

Ryerson Catalogue Entry: http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b2025645~S0

Feature of the Week: The Oakham House Dogs

Remember the film “The Incredible Journey”? Much like the fabled animals in that movie, our featured archive items have been on quite the voyage.

Designed by architect William Thomas to hitch horses in front of his residence, which he named Oakham House, these two handsome canines guarded the home until Thomas’ death in 1860.  In 1899, the house, along with the dogs, was sold to the Society for Working Boys; a home for disadvantaged youth in Toronto.  When Ryerson University purchased the building in 1958, the dogs, originally located at the building’s Church Street entrance, were no longer there.  They had been removed to the new location of the Boys Home.  When Ryerson retrieved the dogs in 1982, the Toronto Historical Board wanted the pair to be mounted in their historical place in the front of the house.  In the interest of protecting them from vandalism, however, they were placed inside the house.  Since 2010, the Ryerson Library Archives has had the pleasure of their company.  Drop by and pay them a visit if you’re on the third floor of the library!

Feature of the week : American Burlesque


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Welcome to the first in a series of blogs highlighting interesting and unique objects we come across in the Ryerson University Archives & Special Collections. There’s a lot of amazing objects in our stacks, and here are just a few….

AMERICAN BURLESQUE PHOTOGRAPHS IN SPECIAL COLLECTIONS.

Special Collections number : 2008.001.1637

The Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection was donated to Special Collections in 2007 and includes many albums, professional portraits and amateur snaps as well as an interesting series of Cigarette Cards and Cabinet Cards featuring popular American Burlesque performers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Not the famous Gypsy Rose Lee, but just as sassy! Special Collections number : 2008.001.1650

In America, Burlesque began as a bawdy form of theatrical entertainment, popular from the 1870s to the 1920s, that borrowed from the British Music Hall format of combining comic skits and musical performances, but evolved into a risqué variety show focusing on dirty jokes and (most familiar) sexy women.  As it was considered unseemly at the time for “decent” women to perform in the theatre, even the most serious of female thespians could find a home performing in the suggestive, and often ill-reputed Burlesque shows where the performers were mainly female and the audience was mainly working class.

These actresses could gain quite a following from the general public however, and their comings and goings (and divorces and affairs) were often reported in the daily papers.  Seeing the potential gain, Cigarette cards and collectible photographs featuring the women in seductive poses (is that an exposed ankle? Gasp!) were produced by enterprising photographers.

Special Collections number: 2008.001.1634

Following are some of the stars of the bygone days of Burlesque found in the Lorne Shields Historical Photograph Collection. To see more, check out the Special Collections Flickr account (see right) or visit us on the Library’s 4th floor.

For more information on Burlesque and the American theatre, check out these book resources in the Library:

“No legs, no jokes, no chance” : a history of the American musical theater / Sheldon Patinkin. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1817103~S0

A chronology of American musical theater / Richard C. Norton. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1695595~S0

The American musical : history and development / Peter H. Riddle. http://catalogue.library.ryerson.ca/record=b1672071~S0