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Alfred P. Smith glass plate negatives


Held at: Philadelphia History Museum [Contact Us]15 South 7th Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19106

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Philadelphia History Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Alfred Percival Smith was born to Cornelia Stanley Allen (1839-1893) and Alfred Smith in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 11, 1863. His parents both descended from families who had been in America prior to the Revolutionary War. Smith graduated from Haverford College in 1884, and also received degrees from Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. He became a lawyer, practicing largely in Philadelphia, but occasionally taking cases from nearby areas. Smith's interests included the history of Pennsylvania, especially the history of the Pennsylvania law courts, the history of the Presbyterian Church, colonial and revolutionary history, and Pennsylvania-German history. His hobbies included numismatics and the preservation of old records and documents; he was known to collect books, pictures, plans, and portraits. Smith was a member of many clubs and organizations in Philadelphia including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, German Society of Pennsylvania, Presbyterian Historical Society, and the Pennsylvania German Society. In 1890, Smith married Elizabeth Wandell David. They did not have children. Smith passed away in 1944.

Robert Newell (1822-1897) opened a portrait studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1855. In 1872, shortly after Newell moved his studio from 633 Arch Street to 626 Arch Street, his son Henry (1848-1897) joined the business and it was renamed R. Newell & Son. The firm specialized in photographing building interiors, with projects including photographing the construction of the buildings for the Centennial Exhibition and Eastern State Penitentiary interiors for its 1872 annual report. Several of the images in this collection appear to have been taken by R. Newell & Son.


Free Library of Philadelphia. "Photographers." 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014.

"Alfred Percival Smith." In University of Pennsylvania: Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics; With Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni, Vol. 2, edited by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, 340-341. Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1902. Accessed on October 23, 2014.

This collection consists of about 200 glass plate negatives primarily depicting government buildings, residences, and other structures in Philadelphia. The images contain interior views of court rooms, offices, and residences, as well as exteriors of buildings and street scenes. Many of the photographs show images of and related to the Court of Common Pleas in "Old City Hall," now known as Independence Hall. Other buildings photographed include the American Philosophical Society. In addition, there are images of people, some of whom are identified as members of Alfred Smith's family; images of documents such as maps, bank checks, pages of books, genealogy materials, and other items probably belonging to Smith; and other subjects.

A few contemporary (1895) prints and numerous modern prints (late 20th century) have been made from these negatives and are also available in the collection. The collection also includes the original wooden crates that were probably owned by Smith and used for storing the negatives as well as the paper boxes that held the glass plates before they were used. Most images specify that copyright is held by A. P. Smith, although nearly all of the images appear to have been taken be R. Newell & Son. An item level inventory is available on-site.

Estate of Thomas V. Paul, Esq., 1949 (accession 49.20)

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2012-2014 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact Philadelphia History Museum directly for more information.

Philadelphia History Museum
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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