Librarians get the opportunity to work on all sorts of interesting projects, but perhaps one of the most exciting parts of our job is the chance to discover the story behind an item in our collection. At the Rakow Research Library, we have all sorts of unique materials related to glass – from a 12th century manuscript with recipes for making colored glass to the design drawings and papers of modern pioneers in glass art and technology. Each book, film, document, and illustration in our collection has its own story, and contributes to the body of knowledge on glass.
Last year the Library acquired two cabinet cards for its collection. Cabinet cards are an early style of photograph that reached their peak popularity in the last quarter of the 19th century. These cards consist of a photograph mounted on a piece of card, often with the photographer’s logo and services printed on the bottom or back of the card. Friends and relatives would send these cards to each other and display them in their parlors. The two cabinet cards now in the Library’s collection have a rather strong tie to local history and the history of the Museum: they picture Corning Glass Works founder Amory Houghton, Sr. and his wife, Sophronia.
Amory Houghton, Sr. was born in Bolton, MA in 1812 – one of 13 children born to Rufus and Abigail (Barnard) Houghton. As a young man, Amory Sr. invested in several business ventures, including real estate, contracting, and trading materials such as wood and coal. In 1851, his investment in Bay State Glass Works started a career in the glass industry that would last for several decades and established a legacy his descendants have carried out for more than a century and a half.
In 1854, Amory Sr. established Union Glass Co., and then sold the company in 1864 in order to purchase Brooklyn Flint Glass Works in Brooklyn, NY. After four years in Brooklyn, labor troubles prompted Amory and his son Amory Jr. to move the company to Corning, NY. This 1868 move changed Corning from a sleepy New York town into a center of the glass industry, and is the reason The Corning Museum of Glass exists here today. It seems appropriate, then, that the photographs of Amory Sr. and his wife, Sophronia Mann Oakes (1814-1880), have returned to Corning and the Museum.
While we do not know the exact path these cabinet cards traveled, we do know they were originally owned by members of the Houghton family. The back of each photograph is labeled “Grandfather Houghton” and “Grandmother Houghton,” so perhaps these were gifts to their grandchildren. The Library purchased the cabinet cards earlier this year from Donald Carapella, who collects, sells, and researches 19th century photographs. He represents the third generation of his family living in Corning. Due to his interest in local history, he is also a member of the Corning Painted Post and Steuben County Historical Societies. Carapella states he is happy to see the cards come home to Corning.
We are pleased to make these cabinet cards accessible to researchers interested in local history, Houghton family history, and Corning Inc. history.
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9:00am-5:00pm Monday-Friday. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, use our Ask a Librarian service.