Windows to another time – Ralph Snowball’s Glass Negatives

Top men, Raspberry Gully, NSW, 24 June 1898

Day Shift – 19/05/2009 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist University of Newcastle

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the work to date on the Norm Barney Photographic Collection that was donated to the University’s Cultural Collections in June 2008. The Collection consists of around 1065 glass negatives from Newcastle Photographer Ralph Snowball, and thousands more regular negatives from the Collections of Norm Barney and his friend and colleague Bert Lovett.

Broadcast Notes:

There are a number of collections of Ralph Snowball’s images throughout the region in private collections as well as public, most notable is the collection in Local Studies in Newcastle Public Library and available through Hunter Photobank.

This particular Collection of around 1065 extraordinary glass slides forms part of Norm Barney’s Photographic Collection that was donated with the University’s Cultural Collections in June 2008.

To view our progress to date and see the larger images please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab:

These are the largest images of this kind available online anywhere, we are proud to present these photographic masterpieces to the wider community. They are so big you can pick the the breadcrumbs out of the beards!

Wallsend Number 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Wallsend Number 1 tunnel, Wallsend, NSW, 11 June 1897

Originally more than 8,000 glass negatives were stored in the cellar of Ralph Snowball’s Clarence Rd house. Most had not seen the light of day since Snowball’s death in 1925 right up until the beginning of 1989 when around the 800 or so boxes were rediscovered by Norm Barney and Bert Lovett.

Most were of two sizes: whole plate, approximately 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 in (21.6 x 16.5cm) and half plate, approximately 6 1/2mx 4 1/2 in (16.5 x 12.7 cm).

All were examined and around 2000 were subsequently dumped due to being destroyed by a combination of age and dampness. We estimate that around 4000 were donated to Newcastle City Council’s local history library.

A total of around 1065 glass plates remained with Norm Barney in 44 boxes, the ‘cream of the crop’ that was kept with the family to prepare Norm Barney’s publications. Included are also some archival registers and notebooks belonging to Ralph Snowball.

Following Newcastle Herald journalist’s investigations in 2008, it was uncovered that further 1000 of the original cache were sold to a private collector, Mr Keith Parsons.

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street, Newcastle, NSW, [n.d.]

Municipal Baths, Newcomen Street, Newcastle, NSW, [n.d.]

Over the years these were cleaned, listed, wrapped in acid-free paper, reboxed and placed in metal cupboards and eventually donated to the University in June 2008 by the widow of the late Norm Barney, Mrs Daphne Barney.

Norm Barney and Bert Lovett were able to identify most of the names, dates and places with the help of the surviving notebooks, details on some of the old boxes, and Ralph Snowball’s habit of writing on some of the negatives.

In addition to the Snowball Glass Negatives (1065 images), inscribed box lids (3 boxes) and notebooks (1 box) the collection also includes negatives from the private collections of Norm Barney and Bert Lovett (approx. 7000 items).

John Scholey's house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

John Scholey’s house, Mayfield, NSW, 7 November 1900

We currently have employed a qualified conservator to document the condition of the glass negatives, clean and re-house them. A digitiser to scan the glass negatives at a minimum of 300-600 dpi and import the jpgs (or optimised image files) in to our online Flickr site, and a cataloguer to create library catalogue entries for them in the University Library’s Newcat catalogue. After this process the glass negatives will be retired into the safety and preservation of archive boxes for long term storage.

To view more of these amazing images of Newcastle and the Hunter Region please visit our flickr site (make sure to click the ‘all sizes’ tab:

Gionni Di Gravio
University Archivist

Media Stories

‘Glimpse of an era long gone’ Newcastle Herald 11 September 2010 pp 22-23

‘Found: the lost photos’ Herald Feature by Mike Scanlon 18 September 2010 p.10

‘Pictures for posterity’ by Jill Stowell Newcastle Herald 18 September 2010 p.18

10 thoughts on “Windows to another time – Ralph Snowball’s Glass Negatives

  1. Pingback: Cultural Collections Annual Report 2009 « UoN Cultural Collections

  2. what did you use to scan these glass negatives with? I have a lot of glass negatives that need scanned that were donated to our local museum. Can you help me. Thanks

    • Hi Terri,

      We use an Epson Perfection 4990 and V700 Photo Scanner. The cheaper 4990 models are very hard to find now. You need one with a light source in the lid and with a full glass plate above and below. All the new Epson scanners, ( with the exception of the Epsom Perfection V700 Photo which is what we would recommend) have a restricted glass section in the lid, which is tailor made of more conventional film negatives, and not good for the older glass plates. I hope this is clear as it can be confusing for most people do not understand that with scanning negatives you need the light source moving through the item from above and below, whereas normal reflective scanning only needs one light source from below.

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  4. I have a photograph dating from about 1888 of my great grandfather’s tailors shop near Newcastle NSW , Ralph Snowball stamped on the reverse and 2 other groups, probably a Friendly Society and a school group, the versos are not legible.
    Happy to upload these to you if they are interesting.
    I can identify all the people in the tailors store.

    Janet Cockerill, Cambridge, UK

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