Saturday, February 16, 2008

May 6, 1925 - Brooklyn

[Note: This is the eighth letter Papa wrote to my grandmother while she was vacationing at her cousin's farm in Connecticut. To see full-sized scans of the letter, click the thumbnail images on the right of this page.]


May 6th 1925

My dear Jeanie:

I am writing this at the post office on my way
home, as I a lot to attend to tonight and it will be
impossible to get home before late, so I am using the
firms stationery. 1

I saw your folks Monday night Ben, Rose and
Herold were there, and everybody was glad to hear from
you, As I took a walk with mother she gave me
$10.00 to send you, which I am enclosing herein
She would like to have you stay there another week,

My dearest, my thoughts are always with you,
I will get the pictures out tonight2 and call at your
home to show your folks in graphic how you are
spending in the country.

Please let me know what train you are
taking home and from what Station, and I will
know when you will arrive, and remember I will
wait for you at the entrance to track 20. You will have
to tell the porter who will carry your valise to take
you to track 20.

Will write you more tomorrow.

Regards to all




Matt's Notes

1 - Indeed, as you'll notice from the thumbnail sketch at right or from the full sized scan of this letter, Papa wrote it on stationery from his workplace, The Lion Costume Company. The text of the stationery header reads:


Tel Madison Square 6968 6969

Lion Costume Company
Manufacturers of
Costumes and Dresses
13-15 West 27th Street

David Surdut, Prop.


Here's a closer look at the letterhead:

And here's an even closer look at the lion illustration at the top of the page, which deserves closer inspection:

Mr. Surdut, the proprietor of the Lion Costume Company, should be well known to my legions of readers, since he and and his wife appear several times in Papa's diary. On November 3, 1924, Papa wrote about his arrangement to sell ladies' gowns on the side for Mr. Surdut (as I mentioned in an earlier post, this may have led to a job in the Lion Costume Company's showroom) but the Surduts clearly thought of Papa as more than just an employee. He socialized with them on a major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana (a.k.a. the Jewish New Year) on September 30, 1924, and on October 22, 1924 Papa wrote about Mrs. Surdut's efforts to marry him off: "Mrs. Surdut introduced me to a girl with $10.000, and her family...But the girl does not appeal to me," Papa wrote. "The day I'd promise to marry her, I'd be on easy street because of her wealth, but my heart says no."

2 - Papa may well have taken the pictures he mentions here with his No. 3A Autographic Kodak Camera (Model C), a high-end consumer camera that was quite popular and enjoyed a production run from 1917 to 1934. I still have the camera and the tripod Papa used with it, pictured below:

According to the Internets, it's not hard to find cameras from this line in good condition (they sell for $50 or less wherever you look) but I'm impressed with how well this one's held up because it was one of my favorite childhood playthings. I remember being particularly fascinated with the various speed settings of the "ball bearing shutter" (which still works perfectly) and the mechanics of the adjustable aperture, which seemed to me like the airlock of a spaceship (no doubt because so many of the science-fiction movies I'd watch on Saturday mornings featured spaceship airlocks modeled on camera apertures).

The camera did suffer a bit for the treatment it received at my hands -- the "red celluloid window" (as the camera's instruction manual called it) through which users could see the film's exposure number fell off at some point, as did one of the levers used to extend the bellows, along with the pin that keeps the bellows in position. I seem to remember the moments when I broke off these parts or lost them, which leads me to wonder if this camera made such a strong impression on me because I knew it belonged to Papa. I think I played with it the most when I was between five and ten, when Papa's death (he died when I was four) was still relatively recent and baffling to me. I don't think I ever consciously thought "this is important to me because it reminds me of Papa," but considering how much I thought about him (as I've mentioned before, I used to believe his ghost was watching over me) I'm sure its relationship to Papa kept me from playing with it quite as roughly as I might have.

(I just realized something as I wrote the above paragraph: whenever I look at the camera's case, I always briefly mistake the engraved letters on its latch for Papa's initials, even though I know by know that it's the Eastman Kodak Company's "EKC" logo. I've been making this mistake for years and did it again yesterday when I was setting up the camera to photograph it.)

Anyway, this camera would have been quite a splurge for Papa when he bought it, but, as his enthusiasm for early radio and radio equipment indicates, he liked to treat himself to good equipment. (I need to look into it more, but it seems like this particular camera, with the ball-bearing shutter and "rapid rectilinear" lens, would have cost around $30, or more than $300 in today's terms, if purchased new.) Though ingeniously designed with a swiveling viewfinder and multiple tripod mounts to facilitate both landscape and portrait photos, it's most innovative feature was its "Autographic" capability, which allowed users to open a metal door in the back of the camera body and, if they were using special A-122 film, scratch notes directly onto the reel.

I'm not sure if I have any examples of photos taken with this camera, though I do have a few early pictures of my mother from the 1930's that are the correct 3 1/2 X 5 1/2 print size for A-122 film and also have notes scratched onto them. That said, the precise placement of these notes in the dark areas of the photos leads me to believe that Papa wrote them on the negatives after they were developed rather than through the camera's "autographic" feature. For example, here's a shot of my grandmother and my mother dated June 15, 1935:

Now that I've said all this about Papa's camera, I'm beginning to wonder if it actually was what he used to document his visit to my grandmother in Connecticut, because any photos I have of their early days together are tiny, 2 1/8 X 1 3/8 photos printed on 3 1/2 X 2 1/2 paper that are too small to be the product of a No. 3A Autographic Kodak Camera using A-122 film. For example:

Perhaps Papa did take these photos with the 3A and had smaller prints made so he could carry them around, but he probably took them with whatever camera he owned before the 3A. (Perhaps he got rid of his original camera and in the late 1920's or early 1930's and bought the 3A when it was no longer the hottest camera on the market, which would have made it more affordable.)



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