Scope and Contents
Approximately 86,000 photographic negatives (Series 1) and twenty-three drawers of file cards (Series 2) comprise the collection. Most of the pictures are studio portraits.
Series 1: Photonegatives
The majority of the negatives are glass plates, 5 x 7 inches. Approximately 10% of the total number of images are on film, also 5 x 7 inches, and all the film material which has been inspected thus far is on safety base: rapid deterioration of some of the film indicates that it is unstable cellulose acetate or diacetate. Nearly all of the negatives are portraits. Many of the female subjects ear furs or expensive gowns and dresses, and most of the men seem well-dressed. The majority of the portraits inspected have been heavily retouched with pencil, as apparently was Hill's custom, and the standard procedure followed by most commercial portrait studios. There are some large portraits, especially wedding photographs, which are in extremely poor condition due to the acetate deformation and deterioration.
Several hundred 8"x 10" glass negatives are not studio portraits. Many are informal outdoor portraits, landscapes and scenic views. Some seem to depict vacation outings and camping trips.
These photographs (approximately 86,000, according to the inventory conducted in the early 1980s) are currently stored off-site (building 18, Silver Hill Facility), and are not yet accessible due to the fact that parts of the collection are contaminated with asbestos insulation fibers; after preliminary cleaning, asbestos levels remaining were still considered hazardous. The collection must be included within the over-all Silver Hill asbestos abatement program. However, a small representative sample of glass and film negatives (1 box) has been cleaned and shelved in the Archives Center.
Series 2: Card Files
The collection is accompanied by twenty-three drawers of cards which form a partial working catalog. These cards are business records, recording the names of subjects and dates of sittings, along with prices charged, and the photographer or studio's catalog number. These numbers are on the negative jackets and match the card numbers. The cataloguing system incorporates at least in part a chronological arrangement which parallels the numerical sequence.
Celebrity subjects in the collection include Eleanor Roosevelt, Hedda Hopper, Fred Astaire, Ziegfield girls such as Billie Burke, and other public and entertainment figures. However, the celebrity portraits represent only a small percentage of the photographs. Indeed, an extensive list of prominent subjects supposedly to be found in the collection was supplied by Ray Martin before the acquisition, but most of these names have not appeared in either the card files or the collection itself, to the limited extent that the material could be inspected during inventory. Of course, there are chronological gaps in the cards.