Photo of the Week: Coffee in Brooklyn

More Coffee Drinking When National Prohibition Comes, circa 1920;  V1973.5.914, Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202, Brooklyn Historical Society.

More Coffee Drinking When National Prohibition Comes, circa 1920; V1973.5.914, Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection, ARC.202, Brooklyn Historical Society.

Artisanal coffee roasters in Brooklyn have been popping up everywhere in recent years, but it might come as a surprise that Brooklyn has a long history of coffee roasting that spans long before it was considered hip. The photo of the week was taken around 1920 in a warehouse at Bush Terminal (now Industry City) and features two men lifting a large bag of coffee. To me, the most interesting part of this photograph is actually the verso ( i.e. the text written on the back of the photograph). It speaks to the sentiment towards prohibition at the time and the opportunity for growth in the coffee industry. It reads,

“MORE COFFEE DRINKING WHEN NATIONAL PROHIBITION COMES — A STORY OF PRODUCTION. Stacking coffee in a big warehouse at the Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, N. Y.  Coffee from Central America. Scientists say that every adult takes some kind of a stimulant, and coffee is the most widely used of all the stimulants. When all traffic in intoxicants is stopped, millions of people will drink more coffee.  The consumption of coffee will increase greatly through the lunch room trade. Hundreds of thousands of people will go into lunch rooms and eat pastry and drink strong coffee instead of going to saloons for drinks, when prohibition puts an end to all saloons in this country.”

While it’s not entirely true that prohibition led to increased coffee consumption, it’s true that the popularity of coffee was on the rise.  In the early 20th century, Brooklyn was roasting more coffee than any other place in America. John Arbuckle (1839-1912) is credited as pioneering the way we purchase coffee today—roasting and grinding beans onsite, packaging coffee in one pound bags, and marketing it to different consumers around the country. By 1909, Arbuckle was roasting about 25 million pounds of coffee a month. Arbuckle Brothers continued to roast and store coffee at the Brooklyn waterfront factory until 1930 when it was sold to General Foods. You can learn so much more about the history of coffee in Brooklyn, as well as other interesting historical facts about the waterfront at the Brooklyn Waterfront History website produced by BHS in partnership with Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Glass Plate Negatives

[Little girl with doll and doll carriage in yard], circa 1909;  V1985.4.54, William Koch glass plate negatives, V1985.004, Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Little girl with doll and doll carriage in yard], circa 1909; V1985.4.54, William Koch glass plate negatives, V1985.004, Brooklyn Historical Society.

The photo of the week is a dry plate glass negative from the William Koch glass negatives collection. This collection includes 66 photographs from about 1890 to right around 1925. William “Billy” Koch was an amateur photographer in Brooklyn and owned a tavern named Billy Cook’s Saloon in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn. His photographs display houses, farms, and street scenes, as well as informal portraits of groups and individuals outdoors. I find this photograph particularly charming because it feels very candid, like a peek into the life of a young girl in the early 20th century. To see more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.

Brooklyn Historical Society has approximately 50,000 photographs in its collection, spanning from the 1850s to the present. This includes a variety of photographic processes, including glass plate negatives, like the photograph pictured above. The years when photography was highly experimental, one of the mediums on which photography was particularly successful was glass, perhaps for its sharpness as you can see in this example.

“Glass plate” refers to two separate photographic processes—dry plate and wet plate. Both processes include a light-sensitive emulsion that is fixed to the glass plate. The difference is the wet plate requires the photographer to apply the emulsion, while the dry plate comes prepared with the emulsion. You can often tell a dry plate from a wet plate in that the edges of the photo are straight and lacking brush strokes or even a thumb print!  You can imagine how challenging it might be to be outside setting up the shot, prepping your slide before placing it in the holder in the camera, then firing your shutter. To learn more about this history of glass plate negatives, including how to properly store these negatives for preservation, check out this site.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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Unlocking A Civil War-era Surgeon’s Kit

In April 2015, Brooklyn Historical Society opened a new exhibition, “Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn”. The exhibition uses BHS’s evocative 19th century photography and correspondence collections to reveal the personal, funny, moving, and tragic stories of wartime Brooklynites at home and on the battlefield. As a research assistant on the exhibition, I was charged with researching many of the artifacts featured in the exhibition.  The objects – from sewing kits to cannonballs to broadside posters – allowed me to experience the dramatic changes in Brooklynites’ everyday life during wartime.

Fig 1. Civil War Surgeon's Kit, M1985.385,  Brooklyn Historical Society.

Fig 1. Civil War Surgeon’s Kit, M1985.385, Brooklyn Historical Society.

One haunting object in the exhibition is a surgeon’s kit, which evokes the gruesome medical experiences many soldiers faced during the war. The kit is a rectangular wooden case covered with textured black leather. Its interior is contoured to fit the shape of a series of instruments: one tourniquet, a saw with a curved wooden handle, a pair of forceps which have curved blades, a bow saw, three different sized knives, a tortoise-shell handled scalpel, a cautery (used to cauterize a wound), and a serrated-edged blade. It is scary to think that such a simple medical kit could be used to perform complex surgeries directly on people’s bodies in unsanitary and crowded military camps. On the other hand, it is also amazing to imagine that a surgeon or a physician could have carried it to the battlefields and saved numerous lives.

One of the questions I sought to answer about this surgeon’s kit was whether it might have been used by military surgeons during the Civil War. During the Civil War, surgeons for the Union troops were either regular Army Medical staff or certified volunteer militia surgeons.  The former carried Army-issued surgical sets, but volunteer militia surgeons often brought their own sets to the war.

Scholars identify Army-issued surgical sets based on the design of the case. Military-issue cases were wooden and included a brass plate, plaque, or cartouche on top of the case, usually engraved with “U.S.A Hosp’l Dept.” or “U.S.A. Medical Department.” Unfortunately, our case did not fit this description.

Fig.2. A 1860’s Civil War Amputation Set, Issued U.S.A Hospital Department. Source: http://www.medicalantiques.com/civilwar/Surgical_ Set_ Displays/ Surgical_amputation_set_photos7.htm

But after reading Elisabeth Bennion’s book Antique Medical Instruments, it became clear that while this case might not have been issued by the Army, it might well have been used in the war – or at least, during the 1860s. The cross-legged forceps in the BHS case were not introduced until the 1840s, and were used throughout the Civil War. Also, many of the tools in the kit have smooth handles. Older tools often had a criss-cross pattern on the handles, but sterilization techniques developed in the mid-19th century deemed smooth handles to be healthier. And the provenance records related to this artifact indicated that it was a Civil War-era case. Thus our team concluded that it might have been used during the war, possibly by a volunteer surgeon using his own tools.

How were these tools used during the Civil War – and how were the people wielding them trained? The Army offered formal and informal surgical training programs, and special courses on treating gunshot wounds were given. But wartime surgery was difficult and complex; amputation involved much more than whacking off an arm or leg. Basic amputation sets like this one did not include all the tools that would have been necessary for delicate surgery by a trained surgeon during the war years. Civil War surgeons constantly reevaluated their amputation policies and procedures. Both Union and Confederate armies formed army medical societies, and their meetings focused primarily on amputation.

Surgery during the Civil War was a dangerous and unpleasant experience – but doctors and scientists were working hard to make it less so. Anesthesia like ether, developed in the 1840s, came into wider use during the war. In fact, much of the ether used in the Civil War came from factories like that of E.W. Squibb on the Brooklyn waterfront.

The Civil -War Surgeon’s Kit (M1985.385) is shown in the current exhibition “Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War", Brooklyn, on view now at Brooklyn Historical Society.

Fig.3. The Civil -War Surgeon’s Kit (M1985.385) is shown in the current exhibition “Personal Correspondents: Photography and Letter Writing in Civil War Brooklyn”, on view now at Brooklyn Historical Society

When they had it, Civil War surgeons used ether when treating painful wounds. Once the patient lost consciousness, an amputation was carried out quickly. Even though the patient had no awareness of what was happening and felt no pain, he might be agitated, moaning or crying out, even thrashing about during the operation. He sometimes had to be held by assistants so the surgeon could continue.

During the Civil Wwar, nurses, surgeons, and physicians were challenged to mobilize the nation, and they advanced medicine into the modern age. Modern hospital practices methods today owe much to the legacy of Civil War medical treatments, as does  anesthesia and medicine. Combating disease as well as treating wounded soldiers pushed the nation to rethink theories on health and to develop professional practices to care for the sick and wounded.

I used the below sources to piece together the history of this surgeon’s kit.

  1. Bennion, Elisabeth. 1979. Antique medical instruments. London: Sotheby Parke Bernet.
  2. Edmonson, James M. 1997. American surgical instruments: the history of their manufacture and a directory of instrument makers to 1900. San Francisco: Norman Pub.
  3. http://www.medicalantiques.com/civilwar/
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Photo of the Week: Grand Army Plaza

[Traffic at Grand Army Plaza], circa 1892; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191, V1974.7.60 ; Brooklyn Historical Society

[Traffic at Grand Army Plaza], circa 1892; Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection, ARC.191, V1974.7.60 ; Brooklyn Historical Society.

New York City Department of Health estimates that over a half million New Yorkers ride bikes. Just this past week, I dusted off my old bike to join the other two-wheeled commuters. Brooklyn Historical Society employees participate in the Transportation Authority’s annual Bike to Work Month which is more motivation to take in some fresh air on my commute to work. Check out other bicycle photographs highlighted in our collection from previous blog posts here.

The photo of the week features a few bicyclists (and men on horses) around 1892, cycling past Grand Army Plaza, part of my morning route. Grand Army Plaza was initially designed by park designer Calvert Vaux as a grand entry point to the park. The plaza marks the beginning of Eastern Parkway, the world’s first parkway, and was intended to be free of commercial traffic. That changed by the 1950s when over 40 traffic signals were added and the roads repaved.

The original construction of the plaza was built between 1869 and 1873, however only the elliptical shape and hillocks remain from Vaux’s design. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Arch was designed by architect John Hemenway Duncan and was installed in 1892. On top of the arch is a quadriga (a sculpture depicting four horses carrying a chariot) that was created by Frederick MacMonnies, a young, gifted sculptor from Bedford-Stuyvesant. It was installed in 1898. The arch commemorated the Union Army and Navy of the Civil War. It was designated an official city landmark in 1973, and is considered among the great achievements in American sculpture. To learn more about the history of Grand Army Plaza, be sure to check out the Park Slope Neighborhood & Architectural History Guide available in our book store.

This photograph comes from the Adrian Vanderveer Martense collection. The collection contains lantern slides and photographs taken by Martense documenting Brooklyn during the last quarter of the 19th century, in particular Flatbush, Brooklyn and the Blizzard of 1888, as well as other images of Brooklyn. Martense was an amateur photographer who was a descendent of early Dutch settlers in Brooklyn. The Martense family were longtime residents of Flatbush, which became the primary subject of his photography. I think the Martense collection is particularly fascinating because of the unique view it provides of the late 19th century in Brooklyn. To see more of Martense’s photographs, check out this gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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Photo of the Week: Cherry Blossoms

[Blossoms], 1975 ca; Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection, ARC.120, v1990.2.214; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Blossoms], 1975 ca; Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection, ARC.120, v1990.2.214; Brooklyn Historical Society.

After a long winter, it is a welcome sight to see blooms popping up all over Brooklyn. On one particularly warm day last week, I walked to Prospect Park and sat under a blooming tree and felt so grateful for the beauty that is Brooklyn in the springtime.

With that in mind, the photo of the week is a view of the Cherry Esplanade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, taken by photographer and Brooklynite Donald L. Nowlan in 1975. When the cherry blossoms bloom every spring, it is a hopeful reminder of warmer, longer days ahead. In celebration of this season, Brooklyn Botanical Garden hosts their annual cherry blossom festival Sakura Matsuri. BBG has over 200 cherry blossom trees, which can be found along the Cherry Espanade, the Cherry Walk and many other locations throughout the garden. The first cherry trees were planted after World War I, as a gift from the Japanese government. Landscape architect and master gardener Brian Funk of BBG reports that the trees are blooming earlier every year, mostly due to climate change. You can view them through mid-May, so don’t miss this special experience.  You can map the blooms here.

The Donald L. Nowlan Brooklyn collection consists of materials pertaining to Nowlan’s high school and college years in Brooklyn, N.Y. and to Nowlan’s effort to document various Brooklyn sites. This series contains 122 color photographic prints, 165 color slides, and three black-and-white photographic prints, taken by Nowlan, that document locations in Brooklyn in the 1960s and 1970s. Subjects include Coney Island, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Prospect Park, and a Reenactment of the Battle of Brooklyn in Prospect Park (circa 1979). Check out more of Nowlan’s photographs here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. photos@brooklynhistory.org

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