A Startling Discovery

When we talk in the Woodson about “the glass plate negatives” we all know what that means: a couple of boxes of pictures taken on campus just before and during the formal opening ceremonies in 1912. This is the source of the iconic images of the opening that we’ve all seen many times, This one, for example:

1912 Opening start of procession (Watkin Family Papers)

But today, through a convoluted series of tiny accidents we rediscovered a completely different collection of glass plate negatives (or rather, two collections). They’d been sitting in a back corner of the vault on a bottom shelf, snug and cozy, where no one had paid any attention to them for a very long time. I would guess it’s been almost fifteen years since anyone has looked at them and this morning was the first time I’d ever laid eyes on them myself. There are a lot of images here, more than I could look at in a day, easily more than a hundred. I’m still reeling.

Much of what I saw comes from the late 1920s and early 1930s. There are some stunning photos (including some surprising nudity) and I’ll put more of them up as we go, but I’ll start with one of my favorites so far:

Glass c1929 FreundThat’s Max Freund, who came to Rice to chair the German Department in 1925 and was a presence around campus even after his retirement until his death in 1980 at the age of 101. As I thought about how a picture like this might come to be taken, I wondered if he was sitting for a Campanile photo. In fact, he was. Campanile pictures are fuzzy, but note the tie, which is the same in both images:

Max Freund 1930 campanile

Close examination of the 1930 Campanile turned up quite a few of the images I saw today. This is fortuitous–it allows me to identify people and generally make better sense of what I’m looking at.

What a great day.

Bonus: If you think it’s all quiet and calm in the archives, you are mistaken. That’s a lot of boxes, even for us.

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8 Responses to A Startling Discovery

  1. Grungy says:

    So who was the photographer taking a picture of someone taking a picture?
    Were they both glass plate negatives?

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I don’t think he’s taking a picture here. I think he’s adjusting the lighting.
      My first reaction when I saw the negative was that it looked like a blow dryer.

  2. Chris. Castellani says:

    “surprising nudity” – is it possible you have the earliest known photos of Baker 13?

  3. Matt Noall says:

    It is pretty pearly a light. Look at the “business end” of the blow dryer–it is lit up. No way that could be a camera; the film would be all washed out with the additional light (yes, a day before digital cameras). But, the question remains–who was taking the picture of the photographer? (I will skip the implied recursion, Grungy).

  4. Melissa Kean says:

    That was my assumption also, but I’m really not sure. I need to think about this some more, see the whole collection, check the Thresher and dig out the acquisition records. Right now I will say this: this is the only picture I’ve seen so far of someone sitting for a portrait. All the rest are either sports related or candids. Not sure what that means but it does mean something.

  5. Mark Kapalski says:

    Are there any pictures of the inside of the physical plant at that time ?

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