The Rosenfeld Collection, acquired in 1984 by Mystic Seaport, is one of the largest archives of maritime photographs in the United States. This Collection of nearly one million pieces documents the period from 1881 to 1992. Images are captured in a variety of formats, from glass plate negatives to color transparencies, and from glossy prints to photographic murals. The Collection represents the evolution of photographic technology and developments in the maritime industry over the last century.
The Rosenfeld Collection is built on the inventory of the Morris Rosenfeld & Sons photographic business, which was located in New York City from 1910 until the late 1970s. The firm grew as Morris’ sons David, Stanley, and William joined the business. Although they became famous as yachting photographers, the early work of the Rosenfelds included assignments for such firms as the New York-based entities of the Bell System (currently known as AT&T, Western Electric, and Bell Telephone Laboratories) from the 1910’s through the 1940’s.
Even though the Rosenfelds maintained a busy schedule, they always made time for yachting photography. As a result, the America’s Cup Races are fully represented from 1885 to 1992. The early America’s Cup images, from 1885 to 1910, are from separate collections acquired by Morris Rosenfeld. These collections of remarkable glass plate images are the work of Arthur F. Aldridge, Charles Edwin Bolles, James Burton and Edwin J. Carpenter. It should be noted that these collections also contain images of subjects as varied as socialites participating in leisure activities, steam yachts, battleships, and riverboats on the Ohio River.
The America’s Cup races, starting in 1920, were exhaustively covered by the Rosenfelds themselves. As a family of photographers, they quickly became a part of the America’s Cup tradition. The respect they received from some of the greatest yachtsmen of the day gave them unusually close access to races, and the result is a remarkably dynamic and often intimate view of the sport.
A broad spectrum of competitive sailing is also reflected in the Rosenfeld Collection. Images of children participating in sailing lessons are housed next to views of maxi-boats competing on the international circuit.
The world of powerboating, both competitive and recreational, received equal attention from the Rosenfelds. The development of powerboat racing in America is chronicled in the Collection. Of particular interest to powerboat historians is the Collection’s extensive coverage of early Gold Cup and Harmsworth Trophy Races.
Due to the chronological arrangement of the negatives in the Collection, the evolution of sail, hull and engine design across the span of more than a century can be observed by the researcher.
Today, the Rosenfeld Collection is stored in a climate-controlled vault in the Mystic Seaport Collections Research Center. Image content as well as photographers’ notes from the prints and the negative sleeves are currently being catalogued and entered into the museum’s computer data base. Approximately ninety-seven thousand images have been catalogued by Rosenfeld Collection staff, assisted by volunteers. Sixty-seven thousand images, captured from both prints and negatives, are available in video disc form for research purposes.
Currently the Rosenfeld Collection staff is involved in the preservation of negatives and prints. The goal is to transfer all of the historic images, many of which are presently in acidic storage housing, into archival storage containers. This task will help to retard the deterioration common to all photographic materials.