Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection
Language of Materials
Amateur photographs of Manhattan, focusing on street scenes, transportation, and signage.
Arthur W. Grumbine was born in Cleona, Pennsylvania in 1901, a fifth-generation descendant of Leonard Krumbein who had immigrated to Philadelphia in 1754. Grumbine had a public school education but left high school after one year to take a job as a telegraph operator with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. He remained in that field, eventually taking a job with Western Union and rising in positions of increasing responsibility through 1943.
Grumbine had an interest in photograph from childhood. He built his first camera from a discarded cigar box at age twelve, and purchased his first commercial camera, a folding Kodak, once he found full-time employment. From his first roll of film, he did all of his own developing and printing. While in his thirties, Grumbine became more serious about making pictures, submitting his work to a number of national and international juried exhibitions in which he won more than two dozen awards and prizes. Grumbine's success as an amateur photographer made his professional transition into that field somewhat a natural progression. When a friend working in research at the Photo Products Department of Dupont suggested he apply for a position there, Grumbine took the opportunity to rethink his twenty-five year career in telegraphy and jumped at the offer. At age 42 he accepted an entry-level assignment in one of the company's research laboratories; twenty-three years and four promotions later, Grumbine retired from Dupont with five United States and twenty international patents to his name. His work was primarily centered in commercially produced film for the pre-computerized printing industry, particularly with the development and refinement of Dupont's Rotofilm and Screen Process Film.
Arthur Grumbine died in 1998 in Reading, Pennsylvania. Five years prior to his death he gave his first gift of photographs to The New-York Historical Society, at which time he also wrote a twelve-page autobiography for the Society's files. He was proud of his accomplishments both in telegraphy and with Dupont, writing of the latter "[m]y career with Dupont was not unlike that of a male version of Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland combined." This allusion would appear to extend to his fondness for the city of New York. "Much of my weekend spare time was spend roaming around every neighborhood in Manhattan searching for interesting picture material. It was like a hiking tour of the world. I miss it."
The collection is divided into two series:
- Series I. Street Scenes and Buildings
- Series II. Subjects
Grumbine labeled all of the photographs with captions on their reverse sides before he sent them to the Society in the 1990s, and assigned dates if he knew them. Two item-level lists of image titles are available in the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architecture Collections.
Scope and Content Note
The Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection holds 133 black and white gelatin silver photographs of Manhattan taken by Grumbine, and printed by him in either 5 x 7 inch or 8 x 10 inch formats. Throughout the collection, the photographs reveal Grumbine's love of New York and the texture of street life in a large and complex city. The work also reflects a particular interest in documenting signage, from the spectacular to the vernacular: he was as interested in the electric displays in Times Square as he was in the lettering on neighborhood barber shops, restaurants, and flophouses. Humanity, too, was a special interest; in his inscriptions on the backs of his prints Grumbine asks the viewer to pay attention to a nearly hidden sleeping vagrant in a park scene or to note the well-dressed riders on a downtown ferry.
Open to qualified researchers.
Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.
Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from
Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794
The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.
This collection should be cited as: Arthur W. Grumbine Photograph Collection, PR 097, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.
Gift of Arthur W. Grumbine, February 1993 (seventy-three photographs) and November 1995 (sixty photographs).