Scientific American & the Harlem River… 1890…

February 11, 2022 by · Leave a Comment 

Growing up less than 50 miles from NYC, it was a regular occurrence for “us kids” to reach as far forward in the car as we could to be the first of the family to pass the paint mark on the Lincoln Tunnel walls delineating the New York/New Jersey boundary.  Along with the iconic skyline and the Statue of Liberty, tunnels and bridges defined the vista of any excursion to Manhattan.

Today’s jaunt into the Scientific American reminded me of those childhood outings and had me scouring old maps to discern the changes wrought in the waterway systems for the development of metropolitan New York.  This publication, filled with inventions and botanical discoveries, also chronicles the many arenas of civil engineering foresight and ingenuity.  Those examples of “aging infrastructure” so hotly debated in the political arena of today, were the marvels of yesterday.  Without computer models, before construction vehicles, absent the communication methods of today, great changes were made to the natural landscape in order to accommodate the iconic center of commerce.

An article in the March 22, 1890, Supplement to Scientific American describes “The Harlem River Improvement and Ship Canal” — a project that lasted thirteen years and cost over $200,000.  Many political, geological, and legal difficulties are described, along with evaluation of decisions made, as well as alternate proposed solutions.  The detail is fascinating, even to someone who has no understanding of the impact rivers and railroads have on commerce and industry.  In fact, it never occurred to me that rivers are moved, straightened or even deepened in order to make them more useful.  And I wonder what today’s civil engineers think of the building strictures from over one hundred years ago.

The laws of May 20, 1879, provides that all bridges hereafter to be constructed over this channel shall be at right angles to its courses, and that the bridges at the draws shall not be less than 24 feet above high water of spring tide, and that no tunnel shall be constructed under it which will not permit the excavation of a 20-foot channel.


One collector’s passion…

January 16, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Old newspapers are not only great “stand alone” collectibles, but many collect them to be used as companion pieces to a separate primary interest.  A fellow collector recently obtained what would normally have been considered a rather nondescript issue of Harper’s Weekly.  However, after reading his note, I was reminded of the breadth of our favorite pass-time… rare & early newspapers.  Please enjoy his story:

Hello, Guy…

I received the above order this past Saturday [a Harper’s Weekly, November 12, 1904, from New York, with “A Bird’s-Eye View of New York’s Rapid Transit Plans for the Future” by H. M. Pettit].  Ordinarily, I would not go to this length to confirm receipt of your fine products, but this is about a unique affair…something very different for me, and one – quite honestly – I never imagined would “come true”.

As you know, I’ve been studying the history of New York’s original Pennsylvania Station for many years now, and these studies have taken me on some incredible “journeys” through the land of (original) archival documents that have, some how, survived the “test of time”.  I purchased one of your portfolios because what I recently acquired is so exceptional, it deserves a special place to reside in my archive.

Earlier this month, I inadvertently came upon an issued/cancelled stock certificate that is directly related to the construction of Pennsylvania Station…undeniably the most distinctive “find” I’ve made since I first pursued this subject years ago.  What I actually found was a PDF link to the pages of a Spink Smythe auction catalog (pictured below, as Lot #516), the event having taken place in February 2010…Spink, with offices worldwide, specializes in rare stocks, bonds, and paper currency.

The significance of this document is that the Pennsylvania, New York & Long Island Rail Road was one of two “pioneering” ventures (the other being the Pennsylvania, New Jersey & New York Railroad) created in 1902 by the Pennsylvania Railroad to basically enact the provisions of its franchise agreement with the City of New York to build Penn Station and its sub-river tunnels, uniting Manhattan (by rail) with mainland America.  These two small railroads – with a combined length of less than 20 miles – were consolidated in 1907 to form one operating authority, the Pennsylvania Tunnel & Terminal Railroad.  Given the short “lifespan” and relatively low profile of these two railroads during the years of Penn Station’s construction, any documents pertaining to their existence (that have survived to this day) are very scarce.

I’ve had previous – though limited – experience with the Spink auction house, so I immediately “launched” an investigation into this document, and learned it did not sell at this February 2010 auction!  Within a week or so, I made contact with a Spink official (in London, their corporate location) who not only confirmed the status of this item at that auction, but referred me to its consignee, to whom Spink returned the unsold certificate.

Not knowing what I was “in for” from this point onward, I telephoned the consignee, only to discover he is a reputable vendor of stock certificates and bank notes in New Hampshire…extremely knowledgeable, and an absolute pleasure to do business with.  I’m sure – privately – he couldn’t believe somebody was calling him (from California, no less!) about a certificate that didn’t sell at auction so long ago, but we, nonetheless, had a wonderful conversation.  Lo and behold, after briefly searching his inventory (of Spink returns), he called me back to say he found the certificate I was interested in.  He offered it to me at a good price, and I now have this most incredible document (previously, a “distant”, digitized image from a nearly two-year-old catalog) in my possession.

While the “railroad-related” signatures and seals on the certificate are “chock-full” of history (and worth everything to me), an unexpected “bonus” surfaced when the vendor made note of the individual to whom this stock was issued…Clement A. Griscom.  He suggested this person might be worth researching, so – while I awaited the certificate’s arrival – I did just that!  Born 1841 in Philadelphia (died in 1912), Clement Griscom – pictured in his

1899 portrait above – was not your “everyday” stockholder, but, rather, a prominent shipping magnate…President of the International Navigation (steamship) Company.  In 1902, he engaged Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan to finance the merger of International Navigation with five additional steamship lines, including a portion of Holland America, and the White Star Line (of Titanic fame).  The Pennsylvania Railroad also retained Mr. Griscom as a director in their Northeast region for many years.

To set this monumental document before you is nothing short of dazzling…printed on watermarked (almost parchment-like) paper, the graphics are precise and impeccably executed.  Handwritten inscriptions, such as Clement Griscom’s name and a date (July 1, 1902) – presumably entered by a secretary – and two signatures along the bottom, are all in black (fountain pen) ink, and very legible.  The legendary Vice President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Samuel Rea, signed the certificate to the right, and a very curious Treasurer’s signature – that of eminent 50-year PRR veteran “T {Taber} Ashton – pictured below, graces the left hand corner.

Adjacent to Mr. Ashton’s signature is the “wonder of it all”…a perfectly-embossed seal of the Pennsylvania, New York & Long Island Rail Road, whose name encircles the words, “New York 1902”.  On the reverse side of this certificate [IMG 0095] is another set (“trio”) of beautiful graphics that were intended to be “showcased” when the document was folded in “thirds”.  Fortunately, it was never folded, which certainly enhances its value and charm.  The certificate looks wonderful in the portfolio…a perfect place to keep it for future reference, and to ensure its posterity.

As always…many thanks…