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G. Frank Edgar Pearsall

By Dan Brenner

Posted on November 20, 2019

G. Frank E. Pearsall, [Portrait of child], circa 1870, Cabinet photographs, V1992.17.32; Brooklyn Historical Society.

G. Frank Edgar Pearsall was born in New York City on November 23, 1841. His parents died when he was young leaving Frank, along with his brother Alva, to be raised by their aunt in Saratoga, New York.

In the early 1850s, the Pearsall brothers’ uncle, Townsend Duryea, took them under his wing. A pioneering daguerreotypist, Duryea owned a photography studio and taught the brothers his trade. After only two years, Duryea left the United States for Australia and never returned, ultimately leaving the business in their hands. Cameras in hand, the Pearsall brothers also departed the United States and spent the next eight years exploring the West Indies, Venezuela, and Cuba.

By the end of the 1860s the brothers had returned from their travels. In 1870, Frank and Alva opened a photography studio on the corner of Fulton and Tillary Streets in Downtown Brooklyn. This operation lasted two years until they relocated down the road and reopened at 298 Fulton Street. Local advertisements for the studio boasted that it was the largest in Brooklyn. The Pearsall brothers were also known for hosting extravagant parties in their studio space for their friends and associates.

On April 3, 1883, Frank patented the Pearsall’s Compact Camera, a forerunner to what we know as the modern day folding camera. Although unheard of at the time, by the mid-twentieth century all camera companies were manufacturing variations of Pearsall’s invention. Some photography historians believe Pearsall’s relationship with Henry Chadwick, one of the earliest known sportswriters and baseball statisticians, inspired the development of this camera.  Pearsall was Chadwick’s personal photographer and took portraits of baseball and cricket players to accompany Chadwick’s newspaper articles. Pearsall required something more portable and durable for these assignments, likely a motivation for developing his patented compact camera.

G. Frank Edgar Pearsall died in April of 1927 at the age of eighty-five. He is buried, along with his brother, in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

This image comes from the Secor, Flint, and Cousins families collection (ARC.192). For more information please see our finding aid 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. [email protected].

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