Photographers from Brown Brothers hauled their cameras from Ellis Island to Broadway to Yankee Stadium to snap pictures of street urchins and socialites, hardhats and mobsters, athletes and entertainers, capturing nearly every aspect of New York City life in the first six decades of the 20th century.
Now, the more than 1 million photographs and negatives the company compiled are up for sale.
While the collection includes tens of thousands of images of the Big Apple, the bulk of the photographs capture “every conceivable historical personality and event and place” across the U.S. and beyond from the turn of the previous century through the 1950s, said Eric Caren, a prominent historic documents collector who has been contracted to sell the collection.
“It was like I walked into a time capsule,” said Caren, who noted some photos date to the 1880s because the brothers acquired other photo companies’ stock.
While some photography collections number in the millions, few, if any, approach the Brown Brothers’ in terms of quality and scope, Caren said.
Images of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911 and the sinking of the Titanic the following year are part of the collection. Celebrities and other headliners of the day are well-represented, from Mark Twain to the Wright Brothers and Teddy Roosevelt.
The Brown brothers were photographers who provided pictures to New York newspapers at a time when the technology for publishing photos in daily publications was still new.