Nineteenth Century Photographic Cases And Wall Frames

by Matt Damsker


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SECOND EDITION. By Paul K. Berg. Published by Paul K. Berg; 2003. Library of Congress Catalog Control No. 2002096025; ISBN No. 0-9659670-1-8. 584 pages. For pricing and purchase information, contact Paul K. Berg, P.O. Box 8895, Newport Beach, CA 92660 USA; email: . Suggested Price: $85.

Ever since his retirement from the practice of radiology, California's Paul K. Berg has spent the better part of three decades researching and codifying previously hard-to-find information on 19th-century thermoplastic and non-thermoplastic photography cases and wall frames. Fortunately for collectors, the good doctor's singular pursuit paid off with the 1995 publication of this book's first edition.

Not surprisingly, the second edition is more than a superficial update; it qualifies as a major revision, not only via the addition of hundreds of new case illustrations, but also due to its enhanced features. Most notably, Berg has introduced a beautifully printed, glossy, eight-page full-color section. In it, he vividly reproduces examples that span the 19th century, providing a superb cross-section of cases and frames in all their deeply hued, finely filigreed and imaginatively graphic glory. Obviously, there's a huge difference to viewing an essentially gray-and-gray photograph of say a hand-painted, papier mache and mother-of-pearl case and being able to see its richness and texture in full color.

That enhancement alone would be worth the price of Berg's new edition, but there is much more. This time, Berg provides a helpful new flow chart that upgrades the collector's efficiency in locating cases and frames of specific materials, shapes, designs, and themes. He also delves into the history of the miniature case, the arcana of Union case hinges, and the derivations of thermoplastic case design. And where the first edition prefaced the main body of the book with not much more than a list of case manufacturers, the second edition offers detailed reference material about case sizes, along with summaries of the various case manufacturing companies, die sinkers and engravers, and patents related to miniature cases.

In addition, there is a revised price guide, which should prove invaluable to collectors venturing into this specialized realm. Berg's attention to the rarity factor and the pricing of the cases and frames he surveys is clearly a matter of great expertise. He also cautions collectors: "Rarity should not be directly equated on an equivalent basis with price. Price is based on supply vs. demand, condition, and rarity. Prices may vary by regions and obviously are adjusted by a dealer's buying price and expectations...The impact of computer bidding (Ebay in particular) has impacted prices considerably since 2000. Many cases now appear on this web site and prices of the more common cases have declined noticeably."

Indeed, Berg's case reference numbers are probably the most quoted by dealers and sellers on Ebay and elsewhere on the Internet, while many auction houses, such as Sotheby's, have relied on "Nineteenth Century Photographic Cases and Wall Frames" as a key reference. With the publication of this earnestly researched and impressively expanded second edition, Berg's stature as an important contributor to the art and science of photography collection seems assured.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.