E. C. Riggs was an “Ambrotype Artist” at the village of Delhi in Delaware County, New York for four years from 1856 to 1859.
An early photographer at the village of Delhi in Delaware County was E. C. Riggs, “Ambrotype Artist.” Riggs operated in rooms over the Post Office and later in rooms over Elwood’s Store. Riggs began his business in 1856. One of his earliest advertisements was placed in a local newspaper in September 1856.
September 10, 1856, Delaware Gazette, advertisement: “Patent Ambrotypes. Great Attraction! E. C. Riggs, Ambrotype Artist, RESPECTFULLY informs the inhabitants of MEREDITH, DELHI and FRANKLIN, that he is sole proprietor of the Patent Ambrotype in these towns, the genuine Ambrotype can be had of none else in these places.
This new and beautiful process is the invention of Prof. James A. Cutting, of Boston, by whom it is patented in the United States, Great Britain and France. These Pictures are taken on the past plate glass and placed upon a corresponding glass, the two being here metrically sealed together with an indestructible cement – the picture being in the centre, as durable as glass itself.
Mr. R. has taken instruction of the best Artist in the State, and is now putting up likenesses that for richness of tone and life-like expression, are unsurpassed.
These pictures can be had at no other room in these towns, Mr. R. having purchased the exclusive right.
The public are invited to call and satisfy themselves.
Rooms at post office.
Ouleout, September 8, 1856.”
James A. Cutting (1814-1867), referred to above in the advertisement, was an American photographer and inventor. He is often credited as the inventor of the Ambrotype photographic process. Cutting patented his improvements on the ambrotype process in 1854, and thus attached his name to the process. Ambrotypes would reach their height of popularity in the mid-1850s to the mid-1860s. Ambrotypes were eventually replaced with Cartes de visite and other paper print photographs, both of which were easily available in multiple copies.
James Ambrose Cutting (1814-1867). "Boston Aquarial and Zoological Gardens." Ballou's Dollar Monthly Magazine, Volume 16, Number 1, July 1862.
As per the Library of Congress “An ambrotype is comprised of an underexposed glass negative placed against a dark background. The dark backing material creates a positive image . . . The invention of wet collodion photography processes in the 1850s allowed the development of two new kinds of photographs--ambrotypes and tintypes. These new formats shared many characteristics with the earlier daguerreotypes but were quicker and cheaper to produce. Primarily used for portraiture, each photo is a unique camera-exposed image and was available in the following standard-sizes. The most common size was the sixth plate.
E. C. Riggs would place a number of advertisements in local newspapers over the next several years between 1857 and 1858. Newspapers that published advertisements from the Riggs gallery included the Delaware Gazette, the Bloomville Mirror, the Franklin Visitor and The Star of Delaware. A few examples of his advertisements are included below.
January 6, 1857, Delaware Gazette, advertisement: “Gifts for the Holidays. If you want to present a lasting memento to a friend call at the Gallery of E. C. Riggs and get a TRUE LIKENESS. There is real value in such gifts, which is more and more appreciated by all, and now is the time to procure them.”
January 15, 1857, Franklin Visitor, advertisement: “E. C. Riggs, Ambrotype Artist, Delhi, N.Y. Rooms over Elwood’s Store.”
March 18, 1857, Delaware Gazette, advertisement: “LATEST NEWS! Awful Doings in Kansas!! E. C. Riggs, Ambrotypist. WOULD say to his friends and the public, that he is permanently established in this village, and invites the patronage of all who want GOOD PICTURES. A new stock of Cases just received and selling off with a rush. Likenesses inserted in Lockets, & c. Now, when in health, is the time to secure portraits of yourselves or friends. Pictures taken in cloudy weather as well as at any time. Maple Suga, Eggs, & c., taken in exchange for Pictures, at market prices. Rooms over Elwood’s Store.”
November 17, 1857, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “AMBROTYPES. GOOD Pictures, and reasonable prices can be found at the Gallery of E. C. RIGGS, who is now putting up likenesses in the best styles of the art. Call in if you want a true and lasting likeness.
Heads taken off at short notice, and without endangering the life of the subject in the least – a new thing.
Rooms of Elwood’s Store.
E. C. Riggs.
Delhi, Sept., 1857.”
January 19, 1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “Ambrotypes at Reduced Prices. THE subscriber, having taken a partner, is now preparing to sell the best kinds of pictures at reduced prices. Call in and get one. Rooms over Elwood’s store. E. C. Riggs.”
February 25, 1858, Franklin Visitor, advertisement: “EXCELSIOR AMBROTYPES!! It is a well-established fact that the BEST PICTURES taken in this section of the State can be had at the gallery of E. C. Riggs, in Delhi, and this will account for the constant rush to his rooms, at which excellent likenesses are constantly taken. Call in, if you wish A TRUE AND LASTING LIKENESS. A new assortment of cases, &c. just received and selling off by the dozen and in less quantities. It is the duty of every man, woman and child do secure a portrait NOW, while you may; and always remember to call at the gallery of E. C. RIGGS. Rooms over Elwood’s store.”
April 20, 1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “Excelsior Ambrotypes! GREAT RUSH AT RIGGS’ GALLERY for these excellent pictures! Now is the time to call if you want a good one. Over Elwood’s store. E. C. RIGGS.”
May 25, 1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “Terrible Excitement! Civil War in Kansas!! NOTWITHSTANDING the awful doings in Kansas, and in foreign parts, Delhi pursues the even tenor of its way, and RIGGS’ GALLERY is the place to call if you want a GOOD LIKENESS of yourself or friend. Prices moderate and pictures warranted as good as can be found in the county. It will pay to buy the best; so come where you can get them guaranteed durable. Maple Sugar, and Eggs taken in exchange for Ambrotypes. Instruction given in the art. E. C. RIGGS.”
September 11, 1858, The Star of Delaware, advertisement: “We call the attention of our readers to two new advertisements, which appear in the Star this week, one from E. C. Riggs, daguerreotypist, and the other from Messrs. Cormack & Bartlett. Those, who desire to have their likenesses taken, will find Mr. Riggs well worthy of their patronage. We visited his rooms a day or two ago, and examined there some pictures, which are quite equal in execution to any that we have seen in the City or elsewhere. We understand that he has just received a new supply of cases and chemical materials, from which he is prepared to furnish his customers either by wholesale or retail.”
1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “Riggs Ambrotype Gallery, IS THE PLACE to get the BEST of PICTURES, at as cheap a rate, for the size and style, as can be had in this section. A new supply of cases, & c., just received and selling off with a rush. Now is the time to secure a GOOD LIKENESS. Instruction given in the Art. Ambrotype goods at wholesale. E. C. RIGGS.”
1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “THE subscriber would say to the public that he is selling pictures at REDUCED PRICES – those sold before 75 cents can now be had for 50 cents, & c. He wishes it distinctly understood that he takes no 25 cent pictures – that business is left to others, and those who want such pictures may go elsewhere; but if you want a good durable likeness, of fair size, he will make it as cheap as at any other gallery in this county. The public are respectfully invited to call, whether wanting pictures or not. E. C. RIGGS.”
1858, Bloomville Mirror, advertisement: “Great Excitement in Delhi! THE POLICE OF OUR VILLAGE, overhearing an individual saying some suspicious things about “taking heads off,” & c., watched his closely, and saw him enter E. C. RIGGS’ GALLERY, over Elwood’s store, and soon come out again with something in his hand. It proved to be of Riggs’ Excelsior Ambrotypes, done up in good style. He was called a sensible fellow, and went on his way rejoicing. The best pictures in the county are found here., at E. C. RIGGS.”
Competition of the 1850s was tough in the small village of Delhi, with photographers E. C. Riggs and J. Churchill occasionally battling in the local newspapers about each other’s motivations, quality and pricing. Competing photographer J. Churchill operated out of rooms over the store of Griswold and Wright and later in rooms over the offices of Dr. Almiron Fitch. He offered ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and melanotypes. An 1860 advertisement noted that Churchill had been operating for 12 years in the photography business.
In one notable, somewhat nasty, back-and-forth letter (advertisement) published in the Delaware Gazette, a local newspaper, E. C. Riggs first wrote:
“IMMENSE EXCITEMENT! Ambrotypes at Reduced Prices!!
The subscriber would say to the public that, notwithstanding the TREMENDOUS EXERTIONS of our “up town” Philosopher to the contrary, he is alive and attending to business as usual. And his “ignorance of common philosophy” does not prevent him from selling the most beautiful pictures taken in this county, and at lower prices than they have ever been sold before.
As to my Ambrotypes fading, it is false; and I defy the gentleman (?) who takes so much pains to injure me and make himself appear ridiculous, to produce one that has faded in the least. And I would like to have him give satisfaction to his customers, whose pictures I have taken over and finished off after passing through his philosophic hands. I will warrant my work and am willing it shall stand upon its own merits. I respectfully invite the public to examine both sides – they shall be the judges.
Call in ladies and gentleman, and see who takes the cheapest and best pictures. A poor picture is dear at any price.
My Rooms are over Elwood’s Store.
Office hours are 9 A.M. to 3 ½ P. M.
E. C. Riggs. (Delaware Gazette. December 17, 1856.)
In response photographer J. Churchill wrote:
“Pictures on Glass. The subscriber invites the attention of the public to his advertisement in another column, and his assertations therein contained, are in every respect true and correct. But it is not his intention to publish here, but to correct some misrepresentations which I see in an advertisement signed E. C. Riggs, in which he states as follows “As to my Ambrotypes fading, it is false, and I defy the gentleman to produce one that has faded in the least.” If I am the man to whom he alludes as the “up town philosopher,” and the man who took so much pains to injure him, then I say the gentleman has stated a wicked falsehood, and he could not be ignorant of it. I never said a word about his Ambroytpes fading, for there is not one to be found, probably, that is more than three or four months old. And how does he know whether he asserts the truth or not?
I did say they were of short duration, and this I am able to maintain.
He further says “I warrant my work and am willing it shall stand upon its own merits.” With what degree of propriety does he warrant his work, and what assurance can he give the public of its duration? Will the few months he has been in business be a sufficient time to test their durability? Let the public judge. Yet he is willing to warrant his work, but is careful not to say how long; he is then willing it shall stand upon its own merits. So am I, but it will not upon its own merits or any other.
If the Patented Ambrotype was of such durability, why did Brady and others of New York give them up? Because they were worthless, and his information is from one of the best men in this town, taken from his own lips.
I now come to his last italicized sentence. “A poor picture is dear at any price.” This is my sentiments exactly; and those who have been so unfortunate as to get one of your Patented Ambrotypes, will probably find out in a short time the truth of this assertion to their sorrow.
Gentlemen and ladies, call at my office and get you a fifty cent picture, and I will make it as durable as the rock of Gibraltar.
Yes, when your flesh in dust shall lie,
When death’s grey film o’er spread your beaming eye,
My life-like mocking at decay,
Will still be fresh and vivid as to-day.
A Splendid Stock just received.
J. CHURCHILL.” (Delaware Gazette. December 24, 1856.)
The E. C. Riggs gallery operation seems to have only lasted a few years. In 1859 Riggs would leave the photography business as he sought to engage in a different line of work. He rented out his rooms and sold his equipment, including “his ENTIRE STOCK of GOODS AND APPARATUS used in the Ambrotype business. One ½ Size and one ¼ Size CAMERA, and Shields belonging to them; Cases, Mats, Preservers, Baths, & c.” (The Star of Delaware. January 15, 1859.)
In early 1859 the E. C. Riggs gallery business was bought by B. F. Gilbert, who had previously operated at Hobart and Stamford.
Gilbert advertised the opening of his new gallery in the local newspaper: “New Ambrotype Gallery in Delhi. The subscriber would inform the inhabitants of Delhi and vicinity that he has taken the rooms formerly occupied by E. C. Riggs, where his is prepared to put up pictures in any of the late improved styles, and much superior in clearness of tone and expression to any that has ever been offered in this place. The public are invited to call and examine specimens. Rooms over Elwood’s store. B. F. GILBERT.” (“New Ambrotype Gallery in Delhi.” Bloomville Mirror. February 8, 1859.) Gilbert would later operate in rooms over the Gazette Office in Delhi.
In 1867 the B. F. Gilbert Gallery would be bought by Byron R. Johnson, who had previously operated a gallery for 16 years at San Francisco. By late 1869, with Johnson moving to Europe, the Johnson gallery was then operated by Maurice Farrington.
Farrington continued to use the “Johnson Gallery” name for several years. Around 1872 Maurice began to use the name “Farrington’s Photograph Gallery,” and other similar names. Maurice Farrington, in addition to running his photography business, also acquired a drug store business, which would eventually be taken over by his son Frank Farrington. Maurice Farrington continued to work at his photography business until he passed away in 1914.
In 1911 Frank Farrington sold “Farrington’s Drug Store” to P. B. Merrill and W. A. Humphries. In addition to operating the drug store, the partnership of Pierre “Pete” Merrill (1880-1975) and William A. Humphries also published photographic postcards of the Delhi area under the name Merrill & Humphries.
Little did photographer E. C. Riggs know in 1856 that his “ambrotype” gallery would eventually pass through a succession of five different photographers at the village of Delhi, and survive well into the 20th century.