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Windows to another time – Ralph Snowball’s Glass Negatives

Gionni DiGravio is the University Archivist at the University of Newcastle

Top Men Raspberry Gully NSW 24 June 1898

Top Men Raspberry Gully NSW 24 June 1898

There are a number of collections of Ralph Snowball’s images throughout the region in private collections as well as public, most notable is the collection in Local Studies in Newcastle Public Library and available through Hunter Photobank.

This particular Collection of around 990 extraordinary glass slides forms part of Norm Barney’s Photographic Collection that was deposited with the University’s Cultural Collections in June 2008.

To view our progress to date and see the larger images please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab).

These are the largest images of this kind available online anywhere, we are proud to present these photographic masterpieces to the wider community. They are so big you can pick the the breadcrumbs out of the beards!

Wallsend Number 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Wallsend No 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Originally more than 8,000 glass negatives were stored in the cellar of Ralph Snowball’s Clarence Rd house. Most had not seen the light of day since Snowball’s death in 1925 right up until the beginning of 1989 when around the 800 or so boxes were rediscovered by Norm Barney and Bert Lovett.

Most were of two sizes: whole plate, approximately 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in (21.6 x 16.5cm) and half plate, approximately 6 1/2mx 4 1/2 in (16.5 x 12.7 cm).

All were examined and around 2000 were subsequently dumped due to being destroyed by a combination of age and dampness. We estimate that around 5000 were donated to Newcastle City Council’s local history library.

A total of around 990 glass plates remained with Norm Barney in 44 boxes, the ‘cream of the crop’ that was kept with the family to prepare Norm Barney’s publications. Included are also some archival registers and notebooks belonging to Ralph Snowball.

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street Newcastle, NSW (n.d.)

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street Newcastle, NSW (n.d.)

Over the years these were cleaned, listed, wrapped in acid-free paper, reboxed and placed in metal cupboards and eventually deposited with the University in June 2008 by the widow of the late Norm Barney, Mrs Daphne Barney.

Norm Barney and Bert Lovett were able to identify most of the names, dates and places with the help of the surviving notebooks, details on some of the old boxes, and Ralph Snowball’s habit of writing on some of the negatives.

In addition to the Snowball Glass Negatives (990 images), inscribed box lids (3 boxes) and notebooks (1 box) the collection also includes negatives from the private collections of Norm Barney and Bert Lovett (approx 7000 items).

John Scholey's house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

John Scholey's house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

We currently have employed a qualified conservator to document the condition of the glass negatives, clean and re-house them. A digitiser to scan the glass negatives at a minimum of 300-600 dpi and import the jpgs (or optimised image files) in to our online Flickr site, and a cataloguer to create library catalogue entries for them in the University Library’s Newcat catalogue. After this process the glass negatives will be retired into the safety and preservation of archive boxes for long term storage.

To view more of these amazing images of Newcastle and the Hunter Region please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab).

This post and images reproduced courtesy of University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

  • Anthea Brown says:

    Just to let everyone know that Rhonda uploaded a new series of images to Photo Investigator: Photographs of Coal Mines, 1885-1895. Some of the images have the initials RS for Ralph Snowball.

    Part of the description states: “Some of these also contain the initials RS. The initials are those of Ralph Snowball a commercial photographer. These photographs were either bought or commissioned by the Department of Mines or the Department of Mines and Agriculture.”

    November 3, 2010 at 11:47 am

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