30 Boxes of Glass Plates from Belgium: Marie-Noëlle’s Collection, Intro & 2 Boxes

Amongst the treasure trove pictured in my last post, by far the heaviest item was a large wooden box containing 30 smaller boxes – each an old box of European-style 45×107 glass positive plates, of the sort that I collect many Great War slides on. Olivier, an associate of mine from Belgium, had sent them to me, and I had spent a month eagerly awaiting their arrival. They had been found in an attic, and had belonged to a relative of his wife, Marie-Noëlle. He didn’t know what all was pictured, but I was determined to find out. 500 slides is a big undertaking. I expect that this will not be concluded for a good long while – but keep reading.

Knowing nothing whatsoever about the plates, excepting for the fact that there were quite a lot of them, I picked two boxes at random. First was a Vitra box with a pair of numbered stickers on it, which I suspected were indicative of slide numbers contained within – I was partially correct. I’ll go ahead and spoil one thing now – there seems to be a chronological sequence amongst the boxes I’ve dug through, denoted by numerals in the caption space on the slides. The second box was chosen because it just had a cool label, from a brand that I had never seen before. I’m going to save the commentary on what was contained within until after you audience types have had a chance to view the slides – but first let’s take look at the first box:

A Vitra box with three stickers on it. Two feature the numbers 401 and 420 (possibly indicating that this range of slides is contained within); the former of these bears the likely location of the slide in pencil: Yport (a beach community in France). The final sticker – or the first one placed, as they overlapped, indicates that that the slides originally contained within were processed at a Parisian photo lab called Photo Opera, located at 21 Rue des Pyramides. The lab is no longer there.

As of today, I’m trying out a new format available to me – I’m going to put the slides in a gallery, and I’ll put the translations for any non-English slides (or relevant notes) in the captions. Just click on the first slide (or any one that strikes your fancy) and you’ll have the option to explore the gallery with the arrow keys, leave comments on individual images, zoom in to full size, and more. Of course, you can just free-view the slides from here if you so choose. In any case:

Let’s look at what we can glean from these stereophotos: it would appear that my appraisal of the box’s contents was partially correct – the only named location is Yport, and the slides corresponding to the numbers between 401 and 420 were likely all taken there. It would seem as though a young girl, Christiane, who went by the nickname Cricri, is the primary focus of the box. It’s also clear that these slides got mixed up quite a bit at some point in time – and that, in lower-numbered slides, the girl is younger.

Remaining unclear as of yet is the matter of where Christiane grew up. Yport is a beach town in France. The slides came from Belgium. The photo lab which printed these plates was in Paris. The captions are written in French – spoken in both countries. Not enough information – not by a long shot. What is fairly clear, however, is that the stereophotographer responsible had something of a trained eye; these are fairly good amateur stereoviews. This makes sense in the context of the fact that, with numbers in the 400s, they’ve had some practice.

The numerous prints of 416 – as well as the fact that it has an outtake – merit some consideration. Clearly the photographer liked the concept and backdrop. It takes a bit of time to reload glass negatives, unless using a magazine, typical of higher-end, professional gear – and usually in the 6×13 format. As to the multiple prints of the titled image, I first noticed that there was a bluish plate, a greenish plate, and a reddish plate. Was some attempt made to create a proper color image? But this would require six lenses, adjustment for parallax error, and so forth – this seems unlikely for family photography. Did the photographer consider their subject to be so photogenic that she could be shopped around as a model? Were they just experimenting with different available tints? It seems unlikely that we’ll ever know – but it’s interesting to ponder. But enough of that – on to the second box:

The label from the front of the second box. Photo Verdeau, another photo lab in Paris, still exists!

Okay! A passel of new facts here: first and foremost, it seems like the majority of these slides will feature Cricri and her family. The series likely starts some time around her birth or very early days – being that slide 19 pictures her a 4 months old. Her birthday was sometime in between 5 December 1924 and 31 December 19 1924, given her age on other specific dates. The slides are almost certainly temporally sequential, as suggested above in the examination of the first box. A lot more stereoviews were probably created in the first year of her life than in later years; in her first year of life, Christiane has had her photo taken in 3D at least 163 times, and we have not yet seen numbers above 420 – by which point she is around three-and-a-half. A quick chronology:

  • Slide 19, 4 months old
  • Slide 58, 6 months old
  • Slide 163, ~10 months old
  • Slide 341, ~33 months old
  • Slide 420, ~42 months old

Presuming that this family was Parisian seems increasingly reasonable; Parc Monceau and both of the photo labs which printed these slides are located in Paris. Thus the family was likely located within Paris or within spitting distance. And it seems likely that both Christiane’s mother and father took turns at snapping the shutter here – as they’re each pictured in turn in the second box. Beyond that, details are obscure as of yet.

But we are two boxes deep in a crate of 30. It is certain that more details will come out, and if it becomes apparent that the majority of this collection is definitely of the same provenance, I will create a gallery of all of the numbered images in chronological order. I can scan these quickly; I already have the Puthon Collection to work on in-depth, and it seems much more likely that I’ll be able to track down some real information on that series than on this one. But there are already some pretty great images in here, and I’m sure there are many more to come, so keep your peepers peeled.

Thanks once again to Olivier and Marie-Noëlle for parting with these, providing me with some more interesting (and personal) material for the blog! And now:


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