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Central Texas glass plate negative collection

Identifier: 2016-001

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of 46 glass plate negatives, measuring 4x5 inches, were received in three original G. Cramer Dry Plate Company boxes. The photographer is unknown.

Researchers subsequently identified the bulk of images as scenes in Central Texas, as well as one in Rockville, Indiana, and dating approximately 1882-1911. Images that have been positively identified as being in San Marcos include the Hays County Courthouse designed by F.E. Ruffini, the San Marcos River, a landscape that includes the First United Methodist Church, the Belgar-Cahill Lime Kiln, the Powerhouse on the Mill Site on Spring Lake, and a downtown street view. Images that have been identified as San Antonio include scenes from the Battle of Flowers parade, and Fort Sam Houston with Lambermot House and St. Paul's Episcopal Church in the background.

Still unidentified images include portraits of individuals and groups. Notable images include a series of three images showing group of four white people, a Black man and a Black child outdoors next to a steam powered water pump, a group of picknickers, people in horse-drawn carriages, armed white men next to a campfire, and a group of four Black women on the steps of a wood building.


  • circa 1882-1911

Conditions Governing Access

All images are digitized. Access to original glass plate negatives is restricted due to their fragile nature. Researchers are encouraged to use the digital images available at the online exhibit. Please contact the University Archives for more information at

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by Texas State University. Educational reproduction is allowed without permission. Authorization to publish must be obtained from the Special Collections and Archives.

Archives and Records Request Form

Historical note

The glass plate negatives in this collection are of the “dry” type, which was a significant innovation. Before their invention in 1871, photographers had to prepare the glass plates and apply emulsions, expose, and develop them while still “wet.” To process, or develop, the images, photographers needed a place that was free from light, a “darkroom.” Thus, wet plate photographers needed either to remain close to their darkrooms or recreate them in the field.

Dry plate emulsions did not have the same time limitations as wet plate. Their stability allowed for greater mobility and convenience. Photographers could wait to expose their plates and then store them back in the box until they could be developed. Nevertheless, glass plates remained fragile and surprisingly heavy.

While dry glass plates allowed the practice of photography to spread to a larger number of people, it was the invention of roll film (1887) and Kodak’s Brownie box camera (1900) which made photography widely accessible to the general public. Roll film was stable, lightweight, and a roll could be mailed to Kodak for developing and printing.

The photographer for this collection was using dry plates, we know they carried these heavy and fragile plates to locations to expose them, then carried them back to the darkroom to process them. The photographer likely needed considerable chemical and technical knowlege, specialized darkroom materials and equipment, and a dedicated work space to develop their plates and print photographs.

The glass plates arrived in Cramer's Lightning Dry Plate negative boxes. Mr. Cramer was a national supplier of dry plates beginning 1883.


3.04 Linear Feet (3 glass plate negative boxes, 1 legal sized document case, 1 flat box)

46 items

Language of Materials



A collection of 46 4x5 glass plate negatives showing scenes around Central Texas, including San Antonio and San Marcos, as well as one image of the Parke County Courthouse in Rockville, Indiana. Based on research into the scenes that could be identified, images were likely between 1882 and 1911.

Physical Location

Materials may be stored off-site. Advance notice may be required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These three boxes of glass plate negatives were purchased at Goodwill in San Marcos, Texas by Helen Van Wieren. She felt they were historically important and should remain in San Marcos, so she and her husband, Mike Hughes, donated them to the University Archives on August 22, 2016.

Related Materials

See also: Battle of Flowers Parade photos, University of Texas at San Antonio. As well as the San Marcos Daily Record photographic negative collection (100.SMDR).

Processing Information

Original inventory and exhibit created by Roberto Gutierrez Jr., a Graduate Student in the Public History Program at the Texas State University, in the spring of 2018. Additional image identification by Alison Tudor and Dan Utley in 2020. Finding aid for ArchivesSpace created by Nicole Critchley in 2021. Additional image idnetification provided by Mark Cowan in 2022.

Central Texas glass plate negative collection
Original inventory by Roberto Gutierrez Jr., ArchivesSpace finding aid by Nicole Critchley
2021 July
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Repository

Alkek Library Room 580
601 University Drive
San Marcos Texas 78666 USA