One of the most known collections in the Fenimore Art Museum/New York Historical Association’s photographic collections, is that of Smith & Telfer.
Washington G. Smith and Arthur J. Telfer recorded approximately one hundred years of history in Cooperstown, New York – a small rural town in Central New York located along Otsego Lake. They employed primarily the technique of wet and dry glass plate photography. Telfer, the successor to Smith, continued to use glass plates for most of his career, even while working throughout the evolution to film photography. A reluctant Telfer joined Smith upon invitation in 1887 in order to take over as the town’s primary photographer. Telfer became well-known around town and was nicknamed by residents “Putt” Telfer. Why “Putt?” Well, as it was, he purchased a boat and residents say when he was out on Otsego Lake (camera in hand) they would hear his boat going by, and the resounding “putt, putt, putt….” That boat was eventually sold, but the ca. 1915 car Putt drove until he was in his 90’s endured.
Wash Smith started in photography in the early 1850’s partnering with various other Daguerreans in Cooperstown, until he was left of his own accord in 1861 as sole proprietor of the “Photograph Gallery” on Main Street. Smith’s most famous quote, stated to the hesitant Telfer, was that as long as folks continued to have weddings and babies, he would never want for work. And was he ever right!
Putt lived a fulllife with his wife and the residents of Cooperstown until the age of 94. In 1951, at the age of 93, Putt donated approximately 54,000 glass plate and
film negatives to the New York State Historical Association. This gift left a one hundred year legacy of Cooperstown, Otsego County and Central New York history in the capable hands of the organization. At one point, I came across a letter in the files from a historian and academic stating that the Smith-Telfer collection was one of the greatest photographic collections that existed in this country. I think this gentleman’s statement might still ring true.
All images courtesy Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York.
To see more of this photographic collection at the Fenimore Art Museum, go here.