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By Thomas Waldsmith
World, Vol. 5, No. 4, September - October 1978, pp. 4-11, 13.
Copyright © 1978 by the National Stereoscopic Association, Inc.
COVER: We feature a view published by Charles Weitfle No. 205 "Webster Station"
taken along the line of the Denver, South Park & Pacific R. R.
[See below] for Thomas Waldsmith's article about Charles Weitfle. (John Waldsmith Collection).
The beautiful and majestic wonderland of Colorado has always been a haven for artistic interpretation, and photography with all of its various applications is no exception.
During the hey day of stereoscopic photography (1870s-1880s), there were over twenty major producers of stereo views in Colorado. Attracted by the monetary potential that the tourist trade induced, stereoscopic views were sold by the thousands, and nearly every major landmark was photographed. Colorado's unique scenery was the focal point of most of the camera images. Historians and collectors today, however, place predominant interest on photographs depicting the people and events which shaped the early history and growth of the Centennial State.
One of the most prolific publishers and a favorite of collectors today was Charles Weitfle of Central City, Colorado. Weitfle was born on February 15, 1836 in Germany. He immigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen to become an apprentice in the harness trade in Newark, New Jersey. By 1854, Weitfle became interested in photography and two years later travelled to Rio de Janiero, Brazil, in South America. Interestingly, he is reported to have been the first artist to introduce the ambrotype in that country.
By 1860 Weitfle returned to the United States and opened a studio in Washington, D.C. and until the close of the Civil War operated a branch gallery with the 6th Army Corps. We have found only one piece of photographic evidence of work done by Weitfle during the Civil War, a CDV portrait of a Union officer. Following the war, Weitfle returned to Newark and later to Dover, New Jersey, practicing his trade. In 1878, Colorado's opportunities brought Weitfle to settle in Central City.
At the height of his artistic capabilities, Weitfle arrived in Central City with the plan to operate a portrait studio but soon realizing the view of the mountains better suited the needs of his customers, began an extensive documentation of the scenery with his stereo camera. For the next five years he travelled the state taking a considerable number of photographs and enjoyed great success. His subjects included not only the major scenic attractions of the state but almost all of the major mining camps, tourist resorts, and booming towns like Leadville, Georgetown and Denver. Within a short time, Weitfle purchased the business of Joseph Collier, with that prominent photographer moving to Denver. According to the Daily Register of February 7, 1878, a notice stated that J. Collier had sold his photographic business to Charles Weitfle of Denver. In early photographs of Central City both names were over the doors to their studio. Weitfle's stereographs for this period also state they were published in Denver. It seems logical to presume that Weitfle carried on his business between both towns. Weitfle also had a branch studio in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Collier was not the only artist whose business Weitfle acquired. Within his first few years in Colorado, Weitfle also acquired glass plates of pioneer photographer William Chamberlain, as well as the collection of Charles Thurlow's widow of Manitou Springs. Weitfle also purchased negatives taken by Ben Hawkins.
In Baskin's History of Clear Creek and Boulder Valleys a short paragraph seems to prove out Weitfle's intentions for buying up other photographic businesses. It states "that it was not Weitfle's intention to practice in view taking but finding a large demand and excellent scenery, he began to build up a large collection of negatives."
Sometime in 1880 or 1881, Weitfle moved his main studio from Central City to Denver, acquiring the Duhem Brothers' Gallery at 448 Latimer St. By this time Weitfle was at the top of his profession. With branch offices and ownership of some of the best photographic negatives ever compiled, Weitfle was publishing stereo views and cabinet cards by the thousands. He was close to dominating the stereo view trade when on Halloween night 1883, all of Weitfle's dreams and business were destroyed by fire. According to the Rocky Mountain News for November 1, 1883, the following item appeared under the banner "PHOTOGRAPHS ON FIRE/A DISASTROUS FIRE BLAZE IN THE GALLERY OF CHARLES WEITFLE AND CO." "The alarm of fire at 7 o'clock last evening was caused by the explosion of a kerosene lamp, which had been left burning in the chemical room of the photograph gallery of Charles Weitfle, No. 448 Latimer Street. The flames burned furiously destroying many negatives, many of which cannot be replaced. The Stock of 1,000 or more negatives included those of Mr. Thurlow's collection of scenes of Manitou, for which Weitfle had paid Mrs. Thurlow $1,250. There were also about $200 worth of negatives made by W.G. Chamberlain and the Indian and scenic negatives made by Ben E. Hawkins. Almost all of Weitfle's life work was destroyed."
"Running Gulch", No. 22 by Charles Weitfle. (All views, John Waldsmith Collection.)
Weitfle did not feet, and rightfully so, that the $3,000 compensation given to him in the way of insurance was adequate for what he had lost. An interesting side note about the newspaper account was that there was no mention of Collier's negatives. Maybe these were stored at Weitfle's branch office in Central City. The news clipping however does help to sort out the eventual destiny of some of the early negatives. Chamberlain sold out to F.D. Storm in 1881. Ben Hawkins died in 1882. It seems that Charles Weitfle probably bought out both the Storm and the Hawkins estates. Chamberlain though was a very prolific artist and had to have had more than $200 worth in negatives. Some of his work was probably destroyed in 1874 when his studio was damaged by fire. Chamberlain perhaps sold only a portion of his work to F.D. Storm, since he was in the photographic business until 1890.
The fire evidently took the heart out of Weitfle. After 1884, he is not listed in any of the directories. What became of him is still a mystery to be uncovered. He apparently did not have a wife or family. According to Mrs. Opal Harber in her fine directory of early Colorado photographers, there is a listing for a Paul Weitfle who operated out of Denver in 1883 with Charles and in 1884 with a Charles Wright. I have been unable to find what his relationship with Charles Weitfle entailed. Perhaps he was a brother or cousin.
"Harrison Ave., Leadville", No. 41 by Charles Weitfle.
In measuring the work of Charles Weitfle, it is difficult to filter out exactly what views Weitfle took in relation to the number of views that were published under his label. Views from his Dover and Newark address seem to be very scarce as I have seen only a handful. I have seen only one Weitfle CDV photographed during the Civil War. There are also reported to be views published under Weitfle's Washington, D.C. address but of, these too, I have no evidence. Weitfle's most common work to he found is his stereo view production out of Central City. It is in, contention that Weitfle published two separate series of' views. The early series is on several different oversize mounts, predominantly yellow' gray/slate, green and buff, which numbered to around 300. The later series, almost entirely on the more familiar gray/slate mounts, number to as many as 500 views. The later set was for the most part a continuation of his first one. I contend that some of his views front the first series were renumbered and placed in the second set. This was a common practice among many photographers of' the time, and Weitfle was no exception. For the past several months I have attempted to compile a comprehensive list by negative number of Weitfle's Colorado, Wyoming and Utah stereographs. I found in many cases, the duplication of numbers or different titles for the same view. It has been nearly impossible to sort out all the different card stock variations or to place the photographs in the proper order in which they were published. Since Weitfle claimed to own substantial holdings of other photographers, it is clear that some of what was published was not his own original work. I tend to believe that most of' the early views were Weitfle's own view taking; the gray mount series was perhaps a mixture of his own with others. The quality of Weitfle's work is generally good to excellent in composition and clarity. In 1878, Weitfle won first place for the best collection of photographs exhibited at the Colorado Mining and Industrial Exposition in Denver. Almost all facets of Colorado were caught by Weitfle's camera. Some of the more popular subjects involved picturesque scenes of the railroads. The Colorado Central R.R., the Union Pacific R.R., and the Denver and Rio Grande R.R. routes were all extensively recorded by Weitfle. Nearly all of Weitfle's stereographs are listed under subjects and included in sets. These sets are distinguished by a subtitle printed on the back of every card. I know of over fifteen different subtitle groupings.
"Chestnut Street, Leadville, North-east", No. 42 by Charles Weitfle.
The ones I am familiar with are listed as follows:
There is no doubt that Weitfle was an excellent photographer in his own right, but may have been an even more successful business man. With the acquisition of other photographers work, Weitfle in a scant five years was the top producer of stereographs in Colorado. A key to his success was his method of distribution. He apparently had an extensive contract with the Barkalow Bros., Railroad News Agents who sold Weitfle's views at railroad depots throughout the West. Rubber-stamped imprints have been observed on numerous views for nearly all of the major cities from Kansas City, Mo. to Salt Lake City, Utah. I have found that fit quantity and in interesting subject matter Weitfle is unequaled as a publisher in file area. Of approximately one half of Weitfle's total stereo view output which I have been able to account for, the variety of subjects is phenomenal. Weitfle not only captured the cities and towns of Colorado and the many tourist areas, but also early scenes in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Sherman, Wyoming. In addition there are excellent rustic scenes in Clear Creek Cañon and Platte Cañon. Through Weitfle's endeavors, as a publisher and photographer Colorado's frontier past has been kept preserved for the pleasures of many generations to come.
In conducting this research there are so many people to acknowledge.
Foremost, I wish to thank many members of the N.S.A. for supplying their information and time, Mr. Francis Rizzari whose excellent research was essential to the publication of this review, and especially to Mr. Terry Mangan whose superb book Colorado on Glass, I have found to be the Bible on the early photography of Colorado. Last but not least I wish to thank my brother, John Waldsmith. for supporting my original interest in Charles Weitfle and in historic photography.
"Clarendon Hotel and Opera House", No. 47 by Charles Weitfle.
"Mixed Trains, Clear Creek Canon", No. 71 by Charles Weitfle.
"Leadville", No. 137 by Charles Weitfle. Note that in this early view of
Leadville the telegraph poles have not been raised into place.
"Eureka & Lawrence Sts." (Central City), No. 221 by Charles Weitfle.
|Courtesy of the National Stereoscopic Association, Mary Ann Sell, President, and Don Gibbs, Manager, Stereo World back issues. Reproduced by permission.|
Additional Weitfle Western Train
Detail images courtesy of the Paul L. Weitfle Collection.