The BancroftsDecember 1, 2009
December Greetings! It’s officially the holiday season- hoorah!
I am in the process of cataloguing the Stereocard Collection. The Society owns approximately 250 of these cards- most were produced in the third quarter of the 19th century. They were made with a special camera that had two lenses very near one another. When the photographer took his photograph, he actually took two nearly identical images. The two were developed and mounted on a card. The cards used were of various sizes and measured about 7” wide by about 3 ½” high. They were viewed through a special contraption- a handle with glasses and an easel holder for the card. The viewer slid the easel closer or further from the “glasses” until the image appeared as a three-dimensional view. To us today, these stereopticon cards are cool, fun and very entertaining! But put yourself in the shoes of people who didn’t have television or movies and imagine what fun they were. When I was a small girl, my mom went on a steroptican kick and bought a viewer and some cards- I loved them! She bought a lot of western scenes showing people posed precariously on the tops of mountains and canyons and views of people at Niagara Falls. Even for a little girl in the 1970s- these cards provided a chance to get away and see things that were exciting and even thrilling.
Back to Delaware and the Historical Society and Cuadra Star (alas- a few moments with the thrill seekers atop the Grand Canyon and my mind starts to feel wanderlust…). Anyway, I’m working on a tiny collection of five cards donated by the Bancroft family. The Bancrofts, a Quaker family, had a very successful milling business along the Brandywine River just west of Wilmington. In 1831 Joseph Bancroft founded a cotton mill at Rockford, Delaware. Daily operations were based on the British methods of spinning and weaving. Bancroft’s sons William Poole Bancroft (1835-1928) and Samuel Bancroft, Jr. (1840-1915) became partners in the Rockford factory, which became Joseph Bancroft & Sons. In 1889 the business was incorporated, and was known thereafter as Joseph Bancroft & Sons Company.
This collection of five cards show views of the homes and mills before the company was incorporated. The one that caught my eye is a view of the home of Samuel Bancroft Jr. At 26 he married and had a house built for the couple. A hand-written note on the reverse of the card tells the story: “Samuel Bancroft and Mary R. Richardson were married June 8, 1865 and moved into this house in February 1866- this house being built for them and they occupied the “Fulton house” until this house was ready for them. Samuel Bancroft is sitting on the porch. This was the beginning of the home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Bancroft Jr.”
As an aside- most Delawareans would know Samuel and Mary Bancroft for their interest and generosity to the arts community. Samuel became fascinated with Pre-Raphaelite art and amassed the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art outside the United Kingdom. His donation of the collection and eleven acres of land was the impetus for the Delaware Art Museum in the 1930s.