How the Collection Crossed the Street

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Those Rose Created Images of Princeton

This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

March 18, 1998. All rights reserved.

Whether you’re looking for author Mark Twain, U.S.

President Woodrow Wilson, or bicycle shop owner Edward Kopp you’ll

find them all under one roof at the Historical Society of Princeton.

These and dozens of other townsfolk, academics, homes, businesses,

children, and pets, are all part of the first major exhibition of

the bounties of the Rose Collection of photography which opens to

the public on Tuesday, March 24, at the Bainbridge House on Nassau


"Practical Photographers: The Rose Family Studio" offers images

of the Princeton community created by three generations of the Rose

family that operated their commercial photographic studio on Nassau

Street for 78 years, from 1873 to 1951.

More than 150 modern prints of representative Rose Studio photographs

will be on display, selected from the collection’s more than 10,000

rare collodion and dry glass plates and film negatives. Vintage prints

of Rose Studio work are also included in the show. And the Historical

Society has also replicated a small photographer’s studio, furnished

with vintage equipment and business memorabilia, as well as a mood-saturated

Victorian parlor.

Although Twain, Wilson, and Kopp are certainly on exhibit, many of

the exhibit’s subjects, distinguished and otherwise, are not so easily

identified. The phenomenally large and rare cache of well-preserved

glass plates and film negatives is missing one important ingredient:

the log books or keys to its 10,000 images. The society’s mission,

in addition to conserving and storing the collection into the 21st

century, is to try to identify just what it has.

Studio founder Royal Hill Rose came to Princeton in the 1870s from

Poughkeepsie where he had worked for his father-in-law, commercial

photographer Samuel Walker. A Civil War veteran, Rose was discharged

in June, 1863, as a lieutenant in the 30th Regiment of New Jersey.

In 1873, he moved his family to Princeton and established them in

a home above the shop at 34 Nassau Street.

Business was brisk and the studio prospered. An article in the Princeton

Press in 1877 reported how "he had constructed a dark chamber

on wheels, so that he can now take pictures of houses, scenery, etc.,

at a distance from his gallery. And he will take your farm house,

or the pot by the brook, or under the spreading elm, where you and

Jenny vowed yourselves away to each other in perpetual fidelity and

love, or any other real or fancy scene."

When Royal Hill Rose died in 1918, he was succeeded

by his son and former partner, Royal Cutting Rose, remembered as an

outstanding member of the business community. "He belonged to

all the right organizations," his granddaughter told society


"He played flute and piccolo in the town band, and was a volunteer

fireman." His own son, Carleton Wallace Rose joined the family

business, succeeding his father in 1938. Carleton is remembered as

a generous, fun-loving man who enjoyed hunting and fishing as much

as photography. His great friend was Swift Tarbell, owner of the Baltimore

Bakery, a popular town gathering spot. He maintained the family business

until 1951 when its three-generations of operations came to an end.

He died in 1960 and is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

When Carleton closed the studio in the early 1950s, the collection

was acquired by Princeton University, but for more than 40 years it

was stored in various parts of Firestone Library, including the tower.

In 1992, ownership was transferred to the Historical Society and by

1994 volunteers began carrying hundreds of cartons and boxes down

from the tower, box by box. Since then the society that has been working

diligently, under executive director Gail Stern, to make sense of

it. Staff and volunteers have cleaned, cataloged, printed, and archivally

stored about half the collection of negatives.

Co-curators of the show are Maureen Smyth, curator of Historical Society,

and Sally K. Davidson, manager of the Rose Collection. Davidson has

been working with a group of devoted volunteers for more than four

years to accession the collection.

With nearly half the 10,000 negatives and plates still uncatalogued,

the society continues to uncover rare images of Princeton’s people

and their activities during the past century.

Davidson and her group have found hundreds of boxes of unidentified

negatives which have surprised and delighted them. Volunteering their

time to the collection have been John Apostolus, Dante Arcamone, Christine

Finkelstein, James Goodman, Henry Isaac, Winifred Okamitsu, Libby

Shanefield, Jessica Stearns, and David Wurtzel.

"We uncovered an original box full of dry plates, marked `crooks,’"

says Davidson with obvious glee. "It contained 14 negatives of

well-dressed men, wearing suits, shirts, ties, and hats. Upon investigation

we found that the Rose family may have done some phrenological work

at a local jail. It was not unusual at the turn of the century to

study physical and facial characteristics of criminals. Although we’re

not actually certain, these may be the images of inmates."

Throughout the exhibition, which continues through December, the public

will be asked to help the society with its puzzle by identifying photographs

of family, friends, and familiar scenes.

Practical Photographers: The Rose Family Studio, Historical

Society of Princeton , Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau, 609-921-6748.

First exhibition day of the Rose Collection. Show continues through

December. Museum hours are Tuesday to Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Free.

Tuesday, March 24.

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How the Collection Crossed the Street

Mention the Rose Collection of 10,000 rare glass and

film negatives, and you’ll immediately hear about — and, in your

mind’s eye, see — how this fragile bounty was left abandoned on

a Nassau Street sidewalk. There are at least three unsubstantiated

versions of how the collection passed safely from the defunct commercial

studio to the vaults of Princeton University.

The Historical Society of Princeton is interested in whatever information

you may have as to how the collection found its way in 1951 from the

family’s three-generations-old studio at 34 Nassau across the street

to the Princeton campus.

"Two of the stories are from people who say they personally found

the collection," says Gail Stern, executive director of the Historical

Society of Princeton. Her quiet manner belies the conflict inherent

here. Tales from men who said they picked up the collection from the

Nassau Street sidewalk have been circulating for so many years, the

story has taken on a truth of its own.

Princeton employee G. Vinton Duffield, in a published account,

told the Historical Society that he located and acquired the Rose

plates from the basement of a Nassau Street storefront, presumably

the location of the Rose studio. Indeed, area art historian Gillett

Griffin remembers receiving a call from the Rose studio after it closed,

asking the university to pick up the glass plates.

The late Donald Drew Egbert, Princeton professor of art history, told

area historian Wanda Gunning that he found a pile of Rose glass plates

while walking on Nassau Street. And yet a third person told Stern

he personally found the fragile collection on the sidewalk in front

of the abandoned studio.

To put the best face of a situation where upstanding citizens are

going head to head with their stories like so many Kenneth Starr witnesses,

the Historical Society staff says that all these versions may be partially

true. Frances Virginia Rose Hinson, great-granddaughter of the studio’s

founder, has said that Princeton University approached the family

about acquiring the collection and had it moved to the tower of the

Firestone Library in the 1950s.

"It could be that in the long process of hand carrying the collection,

some glass plates may have remained undetected in the basement and

others merely forgotten on the sidewalks of Nassau," speculates

Stern. "For the record, we could use a little help. If there is

anyone who can provide additional information, we would be most grateful

to have it."

The Historical Society is also interested in the fate of the studio’s

film negatives, only a small number of which have been located to

date. Many, many more must have existed. And unless they went out

with the Monday trash collection, they may yet be found.

The society will be glad to receive information from anyone —

even those who want to testify that they personally found the Rose

collection on a sidewalk someplace. Call 609-921-6748 or write to

the Historical Society, 158 Bainbrige Street, Princeton 08542.

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