Etched in Memory: Historic Glass Negatives

TALIM glass negative

Scanned glass negative from the Tangier American Legation Donald Angus collection

Resolve to keep those shoeboxes full of negatives from your grandmother's attic.  Even if they're not worth a few hundred million dollars, they just might contain some historic treasures, like the glass negative collection at the Tangier American Legation.  The gift of philanthropist Donald Angus, who lived in Tangier for many years, and whose generosity provided our museum of many of its historic maps and prints.

Who today can tell us about the "Club Elixir" of Tangier's old days, pictured above?  "Elixir" – الإكسير – or Al-kisir, the alchemist's stone, perhaps an appropriate name for a late 19th century emporium where you could mix your absinthe with whatever you fancied.  If only they had identified those negatives…

The 2,000 glass negatives tell many stories, and we hope to tell some of them through scans done by Dr. Beatrice St. Laurent of Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts.  Dr. St. Laurent, in 2004, continued under an AIMS grant

a project of the conservation and identification and analysis of the collection of glass negatives dating from the late 19th century to the 1930’s housed in the Tangier American Legation Museum. This collection documents an important period in the region’s history from pre-colonization through to the 1930’s domination by the French and Spanish.

Dr. St. Laurent reported on her work at the 2005 World History Association conference at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco, and presented a display of prints from the Legation glass negatives in 2006 in Massachusetts.

Glass negatives document some of photography's earliest work; the Library of Congress collection, available online, has more than 100,000 images, many of which are painstakingly identified.  George Eastman House – the International Museum of Photography and Film – also has collections that can be accessed online.

Someday, we too would like to make the TALIM glass negative collection available online in a similarly systematic fashion.  In the meantime, we'll post some of these photos randomly, in this blog, and perhaps set up a page on the Legation website.  Some 200 negatives were scanned, meaning more funding will be needed to clean, preserve, catalog and scan the remaining 1,800.  Maybe we can interest Lebanon's Arab Image Foundation, dedicated to preserving the photographic heritage of the entire region.

Finally, thanks to Beatrice St. Laurent, Simona Schneider, and Michael Toler for helping to "repatriate" these valuable scans back home to Tangier.

Gerald Loftus

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