Author Archives: carljohnson

Yeah, I’m just gonna wait until they invent foam

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Mattresses of Curled Hair.png

No doubt that H.R. Watson used the finest curled hair, husk &c. (and if you have already covered hair and husk, just what could that “&c.” be?) in their mattresses, and no doubt that “spring under” was a major innovation, even though today it seems logical that you wouldn’t want the springs on top of the mattress. (Unless of course you really wanted to be separated from the curled hair.) And honestly, I don’t know how “live” I want my geese feathers to be. But maybe it’s best that Watson had some French lace curtains on hand to fancy up the place.

Plain Street, which once ran west from South Pearl between Hudson and Hamilton, is no more, destroyed by the South Mall Arterial.

Finally, drugs and art supplies in one place!

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John J St John drugs.png

In 1870, John Humphrey, perhaps feeling he had an insufficient number of J’s in his name for the changing times, sold out his entire stock of drugs, medicines, paints, oils, glass, druggists’ sundries and fancy goods to one John J. St. John. The establishment continued at 39 Washington Avenue, which I presume was across the street from the new Capitol.

Where to get your tassels

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McEntee Dunham window treatments.png

McEntee, Dunham & Co. imported both French and American paper hangings, and manufactured and dealt in window shades, shade fixtures, and picture cords and tassels. If you know anything about Victorian decorating, you know that someone who could corner the tassel market would live like a king. in 1870, McEntee’s shop was on Green Street, just four doors in from State Street. You’d need to count the doors because you couldn’t see in through the windows, what with the window shades and all.

Misunderstanding how to use quotes since 1870

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Pages from Wallaces Street and City Guide of Albany 1870_Page_16.png

Well, at least “Haines” didn’t put “photographer” in quotes, so you
could have some assurance as to what he did, even if you were led to
doubt whether he was using his real name. There were a number of photographers operating down on Broadway in the years following the Civil War, and while others may have offered portraits, views and interiors, they may have offered finishing in oil, water color, or India ink, and they may even have had photographs of the new Capitol on hand, it is unlikely that any of the other photographic establishments could lay claim to being publishers of “stereoscopes of morbid specimens for the medical profession.” That sideline could be why “Haines” was perhaps using an assumed name.


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Pinkster definition Albany guidebook.pngAlbany’s current Tulip Festival has its origins in Pinkster, which was celebrated by slaves and servant. There is an excellent description of Pinkster at the Knickerbocker Ledger. This definition from an Albany guide book explains Pinkster as:
 “A negro festival which used to be celebrated on Capitol hill when slavery existed in the State. It began on the Monday following Whitsunday or Day of Pentecost, and lasted a week. The ground was laid out in the form of an oblong square, enclosed on three sides by rude booths, and here the dancing and merry-making took place. ‘Charley of the Pinkster hill,’ an old African negro, was king of the revels. After his death the festival was not so much observed, and fell into disrepute. In 1811 the common council forbade the erection of stalls on account of the scenes of disorder which prevailed, and so the custom died out.”

Pinksteren is a Dutch word for Pentecost.

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Typographical show-off

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1862 Schenectady Directory Van DeBogert lumber coal.png

Van Debogert Bros. sold lumber and coal and cement and flour and grain and yada yada yada. In the mind of some printer in 1862, that was secondary to the excellent opportunity this ad afforded to show off how many very fancy fonts were available. Again for you kids, there was a time when a font meant something and was something, and that something was expensive. Every character was cast in lead. A font was a very precise thing: a particular typeface in a single size. If you wanted more than one size, you had to buy it, not press Ctrl-F.

This Schenectady city directory was probably printed by Joel Munsell’s large printing house in Albany. If you were a big, successful printing house with dozens or perhaps hundreds of fonts available, you wanted to let people know that, even if you had to do it on the back of an innocent merchant.

The disincentive to this kind of typographical splattering is one I’d love to see returned to use today, to put an end to people who think they can design in Word and that “text art” is ever a good idea. (N.B.: It is not.) When the printing was done, the ink wiped away and the forms were broken up, somebody in the composing room had to put every single character on this page away, in its proper slot, in the right drawer, in the right size. It would have taken a lot of time, and would have made you think twice before you’d try the shotgun-font effect again. If only we could get that disincentive back.

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Mimeographing 1940.png

Kids, prepare for a shock. It used to be that when you needed a copy of something, you couldn’t just pop it in a Xerox machine. Before the advent of xerography in the 1960s, there actually was no way (short of full-scale printing methods or photographic duplication) to make a copy of an existing document.

However, if you were creating a document with the intention of making multiple copies of it, you had a few options other than letterpress. Mimeograph made high-quality, black-ink documents created by typing on a stencil; ditto machines, which anyone my age remembers well from school quizzes, had both distinctive purple ink and a delightful smell from the duplicating fluid.

In Albany in 1940, there were a number of full-service mimeographing firms. They also provided addressing services, which required that every address be typed onto an individual stencil, which was framed in cardboard and then run through a machine called an Addressograph. There were also mimeos and dittos in thousands of offices.

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Hartshorn’s Shade Rollers

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Hartshorn's Shade Rollers New Capitol.png

Okay, so Hartshorn’s shade rollers weren’t made in the Capital District, but how often do you see ads for interior decorating, or window treatments, or anything, that tout that they are in use at many public buildings, including (shouting now) THE NEW CAPITOL AT ALBANY? Not often. Not often enough.

Apparently there’s still quite a market for Hartshorn shade rollers, and their ads only got better.

Cash Buys Paste.

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City Bill Poster Troy 1895.png
What did Troy’s garage bands do in the days before staple guns and telephone poles? They called on Mrs. Dundon, City Bill Poster, who  pasted billsheets to the bricks of the Collar City. When this ad was published in 1895, the brush had been a power in the land for 26 years. Cash buys paste!