Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs

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2nd Ave Seattle showing regrade 1906
2nd Ave., Seattle, showing regrade, 1906.

The Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs of 1,677 items provides one of the most valuable photographic records of Seattle, Washington State, Alaska and the Klondike covering a period from the 1850s until 1940. This Photo Company was the last in a series of photo studios associated with Asahel Curtis. The studio did primarily commercial work and specialized in documenting Pacific Northwest activities.

Asahel Curtis was born in Minnesota in 1874; the family moved to the Puget Sound area (Washington State) in 1888. His older brother, Edward S. Curtis, opened a photo studio in Seattle in 1892, and Asahel began working there in 1895. He went to the Klondike in 1897 to take photographs for the studio. Differences over credit for this work later led to a break with his brother. By 1901 Asahel Curtis had joined with scenic photographer William P. Romans to form the Curtis & Romans studio. After a brief period in San Francisco and Tacoma, working sometimes as a photoengraver, Curtis returned to Seattle as a newspaper photographer. From about 1907 to 1911, he worked for Romans Photographic Co., becoming president and manager of the firm. A partnership with Walter Miller as Curtis & Miller lasted for several years before Curtis returned to the Romans Photographic Co. In 1920, this became the Asahel Curtis Photo Co., under which name it operated until his death in 1941.

Curtis was an active outdoorsman and mountaineer, an advocate of roads and highways, and instrumental in the development of Mt. Rainier National Park--interests which are reflected in his photography.

Photographs in this collection were selected by the studio to represent its work in documenting Pacific Northwest activities and scenes. Subjects include fishing, mining, logging, and other industries; building and road construction; maritime activity; railroads and streetcars; agriculture and irrigation; hydroelectric power generation; street scenes, schools, churches, hotels, office buildings, regrading, and harbor development in Seattle; and Washington state scenic views. Most of the photographs were taken by Asahel Curtis or his staff in the period 1901-1940. On occasion, Curtis purchased the work of other photographers, and he also copied historical photographs taken by others. Some of these other photographers are also represented in this collection, with photographs taken as early as 1853 being included.

Makah Indians cutting up whale, 1910
Makah Indians cutting up a whale, 1910

This set of photographs was purchased by the University of Washington Libraries in 1940. The selection was apparently made by Curtis himself and was intended to provide a pictorial, historical overview of the region as documented in the company's work. The original prints are cataloged as Photograph Collection 482 in the Special Collections Division.

About the Database

The descriptive data on the images in Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs comes from information supplied by the company in 1940 and from research undertaken by UW Libraries staff in 1997-98. Writing, research and image scanning were done by Richard Engeman and Kristin Kinsey. The information was entered into a Microsoft Access database and then transferred to the UW CONTENT software, where it was linked to the digital images. Most of the Curtis photographs are approximately 8.0"x10.0" in size, and are printed on heavyweight, cream-colored paper stock, 10.4"x12.0". A brief index accompanied the collection, and a caption appeared on each print and on file cards arranged by number. The photographs were scanned on a Hewlett Packard ScanJet 4p and saved in .jpg format.

The digitized Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs have new titles, supplied by library staff after extensive research. Many of the assumptions inherent in the original captions (e.g., knowledge of geographical features and their locations, terminology related to the lumbering and fishing industries, etc.) proved to no longer be adequate in an environment where researchers may see the collection from anywhere in the world. In some cases, the original caption or a portion of it has been copied in the "Notes" field, where it appears in quotation marks ["like this"]. In other cases, the original caption was a short essay on a historical topic; these have not been transcribed, but they are still available on the original prints and index cards.

Automobiles at 100 Mile House, BC
Automobiles at 100 Mile House, British Columbia

Photographs in Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs that were taken before about 1900 are copies of the work of other photographers; the original photographer is identified where known. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Asahel Curtis Photo Company Collection no. 482.

In 2006 an additional set of images from the Asahel Curtis Klondike-Alaska Collection were digitized and added to the Asahel Curtis Photo Company Photographs database. The images were scanned from b/w photographic prints in grayscale using a Microtek Scanmaker 9600L and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using the Contentdm software suite. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Asahel Curtis Klondike-Alaska Collection PH Coll 519.