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Woodward's Solar Enlarger - A personal story MY FRIEND FRANK
Today almost 100% of all photographs sold are enlargements. When a photograph is too small, it is thought of as a miniature and though it can be taken quite seriously it seems that bigger is better. The great paintings in the art world are large enough to be viewed from an average of ten feet distance and still not lose the details or total impact. All 35mm contact prints or slides are just that, but their enlargements are offered in the great auction houses of the world at premium prices. Some people call it wall power.
This story started at an antique show when I approached a table where the dealer was energetically cutting up pieces of an issue of the Photographic and Fine Arts Journal for August, 1858 because he was told he could get more for the individual ads than the whole issue. My question was how much do you think the individual ads will bring? Needless to say, I bought that cut up issue and the rest of what he had with him. I brought home the wounded trade magazine and using scotch tape reconstructed the pages as best as I could and noticed on the back side of one of the cut up pages an ad for a solar enlarger patented by D. A. Woodward of Baltimore MD in February, 1857. Wow, I didn’t know solar enlargers existed that early. There was a realistic woodcut of the enlarger accompanied by a full description and it was being sold by E. Anthony of New York, the largest photo supply house in the country at that time. It looked like a very large camera with a mirror and some gears on the back with a plano convex condenser forward of the rear circular opening. This was the first American enlarger. Now the only limit to the size of a photo was the dimensions of the photosensitive paper that could be prepared. A portrait could now be life-sized. This patented invention finally gave photography real wall power. Thus, the first American enlarger would be an important link in the history of photography as it developed in the United States.
A few months later I flew to Augusta, GA to visit a collector who was selling the rest of his Leica cameras since he discovered watch collecting was his new love. His name is Frank Christian and he is one of the most generous persons I ever met. I and most of my family stayed at he and his wife Jackie's charming home for almost a week and couldn't pay for anything, except for the two dozen cameras I cheerfully bought from him.
He was the official club photographer for the Augusta National Golf Course and through his connections and kindness; I was able to get a private tour of General Eisenhower's house on the edge of the course as well as a complete tour of the buildings and grounds. He also ran a very successful photo studio in Augusta and was an accomplished pilot who flew his own plane, an exciting and fascinating guy. Though we have not seen each other in over twenty years, we are still phone buddies and we talk often. We have shared our family triumphs and tribulations all these years.
Eventually sometime in the nineties, the owner of the store died and his son and namesake Mike Golosky Jr. took over. Frank tried to restart the negotiation but much like his father before him, the present camera store owner wasn't sure if he was ready to sell it. Again about six years later Frank called me and said it was still on the same shelf, but still not for sale. As time went on, I concentrated heavily on the early period and really felt this first American made enlarger would fit into my collecting story perfectly. Yet, I began to think of it as “the one that got away.”
Flash forward to the first week of March, 2011 and Frank called me to say that the son was seriously ill and was ready to sell some items. I got a call from the third generation of that family, the original owner's granddaughter, Julia Golosky, who now herself a mother, was not even born when this negotiation started. She had done her homework and put a strong but fair price on the enlarger, I only had to flinch a little. Julia told me to send a certified check in her father's name for the amount plus shipping and packing. I accepted and offered to pay for a professional packer to disassemble the entire unit and pack mirror, lens, condenser, gears and body individually. As it later turned out, it was lucky precautions were taken and I spent that extra few hundred dollars. I sent a bank check as directed and then and only then called Frank back to thank him.
The bank check arrived in Augusta on Wednesday the 9th of March before noon and that triggered the shipment of the enlarger. Three days passed and I finally went online to track where the package was. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but the tracking number brought up a message that read “location of shipment unknown”. I could not help but wonder if this just wasn’t meant to be. They relocated the lost item three days later and finally the enlarger was rerouted and arrived at my office four days after that. It was lucky the packing was done by a professional since the package looked like it was stepped on by an elephant, but when unwrapped; due to its being completely disassembled with most delicate parts cradled in a lot of strategically placed bubble wrap and plastic peanuts, nothing was damaged. Its journey was finally over, and all that was left to do was to clean and reassemble the parts, use brake cleaner to loosen up some metal parts that rusted together sitting on the same shelf for four decades and give the entire assembly a good bath with a spray bottle of Windex and a few throw away towels. It now looks like a very old worn large black wooden camera of the 1850s, over 14 inches both in height and width with a long movable mirror in the rear and a brass Voigtländer lens in the front, yet it is the stuff that science museum exhibits are made of.
Four decades passed since the first offer was made, but on March 16th, 2011, almost forty years to the day, I received the only known first model of the world’s first patented solar enlarger and have since gently carried it up to the attic and have reassembled the four foot long item from front lens to the back of the original reflecting mirror where it has taken its place amongst a few other unique items of that time period.
When I think about it, I am reminded of how collecting is more than things, it is people and people become friends, and friends can become dear friends. Through collecting, I learned a lot about history, I also acquired many items that make my heart sing, and oh yes, the wonderful stories to be told and retold, and most of all, the dear friends we all have collected along the way. It took half a lifetime and a never give up attitude on Frank’s part, but to think that it took forty years from first offer to acquisition and the dogged determination of MY FRIEND FRANK.
PS: I sent a check to Frank’s lovely wife and told her to pick up a surprise for Frank’s watch collection while they were in Paris and if it cost a little more, just let me know.