Digitizing Glass Plates for New York City Municipal Archives



Manhattan Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

Over time the history of an institution is often captured through photographs of the people and events that helped shape it over the years. Digital technologies have made it easier to share these images and the stories they tell, but it then becomes necessary to digitize large collections of negatives in order to bring these histories to life.

Stone mason on Manhattan Bridge

Stone mason on Manhattan Bridge. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

In 2011 the New York Municipal Archives embarked on just such an extensive digitization project of glass plate negatives.  The Chicago Albumen Works is proud to have played a pivotal role in the capture of over 20,000 of glass plate negatives documenting the construction of a number of the city’s landmark bridges as well as other public works projects undertaken in New York City during the late 19th and early part of the 20th century.

Given the large number of plates in the the collection and the fragile nature of the glass negatives, we set up work stations on-site at the archive for several months each year over the course of the project. This allowed us to collaborate closely with the Municipal Archives’ staff assessing the condition of individual plates and re-assembling and capturing plates that had been broken or otherwise suffering from the effects of time. Using a combination of flatbed scanners and high resolution multi-shot cameras we created high resolution image files of the plates from which we made positive digital “contact” prints making the images readily accessible to the public when they are added to the archive’s digital repository and presented online.

Manhattan Bridge footing, Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.

Manhattan Bridge footing, Brooklyn Bridge in the distance. Courtesy of the New York Municipal Archives.

To see more photographs of New York City, the Archive has published a large collection of its holdings online at: New York Municipal Archives Gallery.

The Chicago Albumen Works works in both the private and public realms digitizing extensive holdings of negatives and plates for both improved access and for posterity. We have extensive experience working with negative materials from glass plates, sheet film and roll film from all eras.




About albumenworks

Founded in Chicago in 1976 by Doug Munson and Joel Snyder, CAW moved to the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts in 1982. The Chicago Albumen Works puts decades of experience to work for some of the finest collections from around the world. A combination of technical expertise and historical perspective, operating in a controlled, conservation environment, directs our solutions to the diverse challenges presented by photograph collections. At CAW, the synergy of technical understanding, a conservator’s approach, an artist’s eye and a historian’s perspective creates a unique, productive, and collegial environment.
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