The Pearl is a Gem
Saugerties as it looked in 1875
By Bruce McKinney
In building a collection of Hudson Valley [New York] material I've been buying things for years. Along the way I've acquired important and unimportant, expensive and inexpensive, common and rare pieces. I'm not anywhere near complete but probably have one of the better such collections in private hands. It's not that anyone would want to duplicate it. To me it's simply an interesting and compelling challenge.
Recently I ran across an intriguing item, The Pearl, a magazine complete in twelve issues, published in Saugerties and printed in Rondout during 1875. It is an early local photographic essay and history printed in monthly installments. In my research for AE on 19th century magazines I learned of it while running keyword searches for place names with date ranges. It's not in Mott's A History of American Magazines, a sure-fire indication it's either spell-blindingly rare or very unimportant. It is certainly rare and probably important at least to local history and photography collectors. The images, of which there are three per issue and thirty-six in total, portray local life in the same hard light Thomas Eakins painted his Schuylkill rowing pictures a few years earlier. These photographs, taken only ten years after the end of the Civil War, are stark in a Brady battlefield way.
The American Antiquarian Society has a complete set of the twelve issues which can not be identified online but are referenced in their Union List of Periodicals. The OCLC lists six locations. The Library of Congress has a copy but it is incomplete, having only 9 issues.
A month ago I found on Abe a complete set of twelve and a second, separate listing for 14 random issues. I bought the complete copy for $450, received it and then bought the random monthly segments for $220. This material is precious, a great find and continuing evidence of what I've only recently come to understand: the majority of collectible printed material has yet to be systematically catalogued. Like so much other early printed material it is important, rare and unknown. Every day obscuranta comes up and sells but fails to make it into any permanent record and so falls back into the unknown to be periodically rediscovered and lost again in the future. Much of what we do on AE is to document this dark side of the moon.
Now, let me quote the two men, Leon Barritt and Edward Jernegan listed as proprietors and actually the publishers of this gem The Pearl, explaining their purposes in its first issue,
"The Pearl...comes...monthly, inlaid, as it were, with perfect little pearls of photographic views of our public buildings, private residences, and the choicest of the great natural beauties in the very midst of which Saugerties is situated..."
For each issue "three pages will be devoted to photographs, four to reading matter, and one only will be used as an advertising medium, making, when bound at the end of the year, a volume of ninety-six pages, thirty-six of which will be mounted with photographs. The reading matter will treat principally upon the illustrations, and home topics, and shall be made, to the best of our ability, moral and instructive."
The Pearl is a Gem
Saugerties: its commerce and institutions in 1875
Each issue is eight pages, each page 6.5" x 8.25." The topics are local history. Each issue includes three 3" x 3" photographs pasted onto pages 1, 4 and 5.
The photographic subjects are:
| January|| A view of Saugerties; The old [covered toll] bridge; The new bridge.|
| February|| "Ury;" or, The Barclay Residence; Main Street, north side; Main Street, south side. |
| March|| The old lead mill; Partition Street, east side; Partition Street, west side. |
| April ||Henry Ostrander, D.D.; The old Dutch Church at Kaatsbaan; The old Brick Church.|
| May||Entrance to the Plattekill Clove, Catskill Mountains; "Lower Pearl Falls," Plattekill Clove, Catskill Mountains; "Upper Pearl Falls," Plattekill Clove, Catskill Mountains.
| June|| From the roof of the Phoenix [towards the Hudson]; Residence of Mr. Francis Pidgeon, on the banks of the Hudson; Residence of Mr. Geo. W. Washburn at the Stony Point, on the Esopus.|
| July|| St. Jerome [from a crayon drawing, by Miss Anna A. Hermans]; Ulster Iron Works; Sheffield Paper Mills. |
| August|| Tower on Mt. Airy; The Air Line [a ferry], The Ansonia [a paddlewheel vessel]. |
| September|| Martin's Hotel at Glasco; St. Mary's R. C. Church; Glenerie Falls, from road to Kingston. |
| October|| Congregational Church; Rough and Ready [fire apparatus]; Minnehaha [fire apparatus] |
| November|| Portion of Washington Avenue [Kingston], View on the Esopus, looking east, View on the Esopus, looking south|
| December|| Reformed Church; The Dam; Market Street Square|
In the final issue [in December] the proprietors deliver their valedictory:
"The publication of our little gem has not been without its anxieties and hard work, which will be conceded when we say that it has required nearly 10,000 photographs during the year, and over 250 sheets of legal cap MSS.
On eBay I occasionally see early photographs. They are usually a bit later and mostly stereopticon double images on card stock and fetch from $15 to $60 depending on the subject. The images in this magazine generally are more interesting. They are marginally smaller and intended to capture what was important in the community at that time. In that moment there was across America a sense of loss as the last survivors of the Revolutionary War passed away taking with them their memories of the Revolution, the founding of the nation, the War of 1812 and the early years of development. Hundreds of books were published locally between 1845 and 1875 to capture these fleeting memories. This book, while late for the genre, is special for being a photographic account, a local photographic account at that. In its own way it provides a clearer story of life in small town America than simply words or illustrations could do. Construction was wood and brick. The air was clear, the streets wide and empty, the dress quite formal and the tone proud.
The peculiar nature of the illustrations has subjected us to many delays in consequence of the weather, and then again at the start it was a question whether the idea of illustrating a paper with photographs was feasible or not; our year of experience has proved that it is; but not upon any larger scale do we believe it could successfully be carried on than that used in The Pearl."
The second set of issues included: May, 1; June 1; July 5; August 1; September 1; October 2; November 2; and December 1. All the images are interesting. The July issue, by luck, the best.
Between 1860 and 1885 photographic images are occasionally included in small-run publications. Such material adds depth and complexity to a collection.
In the final issue the publishers say they have printed 250 copies. The second lot of monthly issues appears to have been the publisher's unsold material. How many complete sets exist today? Probably very few.
In October I found many good things but nothing better than this.