Nosy Neighbor: Where Can I Buy Photos of Old Tribeca?

My husband loves historic Tribeca photography, and I’d love to give him an old photo of our building as a gift. Do you have any leads or resources I could use in my search? —A.

I get this question often enough, but I’ve never had a decent answer—and unfortunately I knew I wouldn’t be able to get A. some ideas in time for the Judeo-Christian holidays. So I suggested that, in the meantime, she seek possible sources at Historical Tribeca: A Scrapbook, a page linking to many of the posts I’ve run over the years that include old photos.

And then I poked around myself. Here are three organizations that have archives of old New York photos and allow you to buy prints. There may be others—the New York Historical Society or the Library of Congress come to mind—but none seemed designed for easy searching and printing.

The Museum of the City of New York has “more than 185,000 images from our collections, now available as part of our ongoing digitization project. We will be adding more material to the portal as our imaging and cataloging work continues.” You can browse the collections—which include images and objects by creator and subject matter or plug an address into the search function at the top. (Entering 152 Franklin, no quotation marks, led me to the image below.) Prints are not necessarily available for all imagery. The current rates for personal use are $85 to $240, depending on the print size, and that includes domestic shipping. Public use is $40-$50 more.

152 Franklin (1970-1990) by Edmund Vincent Gillon / Museum of the City of New York [2013.3.2.860]152 Franklin (1970-1990) by Edmund Vincent Gillon / Museum of the City of New York [2013.3.2.860].

As you might expect, the New York Public Library has a mammoth collection of imagery of all kinds. I found searching the general collection to be impossible; from what I can tell, the best way to find NYPL photos of old New York is via, which organizes the NYPL’s New York City photos by interactive map. Click on a dot to see a photo of that location (such as the one of W. Broadway, below—that’s the J. Crew Liquor Store on the other side of the elevated train tracks), and then there’s a link to the photo on the NYPL site, which has an option to order a print. Prices seem to range from $60 to $270 for a print, or more for the image on stretched canvas or framed, and that does not include shipping.

W. Broadway and White in 1938 by P.L. Sperr courtesy the New York Public Library [724382F].

The New York City Department of Recordsonline gallery now totals more than 900,000—the largest collection of historical images of New York City in the world. The Online Gallery provides free and open research access to items digitized from the Municipal Archives’ collections, including photographs, maps, motion-pictures and audio recordings. The holdings are arranged by collection; or you may search ‘All Collections’ by keyword or any of the advanced search criteria.” (Alternatively, you can go to the Municipal Archives, which is inside the spectacular Beaux Arts Surrogate’s Courthouse building at 31 Chambers.) Click here to enter the online gallery. Using quotation marks around the search term does not work, but you can try searching by street number or street name, and then filter results by borough. Many of the images of buildings come from when the city photographed every building for tax purposes, “between 1939 and 1941, and again in the mid-1980s.” Even when the quality is poor, those photos can be fascinating—such as this one of 101-107 Duane, now the site of Tribeca Tower. Information on ordering prints from the general collection is here; prices range from $45 to $120, with domestic shipping adding another $5.50 to $30 (or you can pick it up for free). The rates are different for the tax photos—$35 to $60, depending on the print size and when the photo was taken.

101-107 Duane Street circa 1980s courtesy NYC Municipal Archives [dof_1_00151_0001].

I came across the Old NYC Photos website when NYCUrbanism posted a photo on Instagram. It’s owned by Brian Merlis, who was a mail carrier in this area in the early 80s (and who is also selling old street signs on eBay). There’s a list of “Towns” in the left column; click on “More towns” and then go to page 10, where you’ll find the Tribeca archive. The section defines Tribeca rather broadly, but there’s still a lot of interest. Prints are $16 (8″ x 10″) to $80 (32″ x 40″), or more if you want it framed or on canvas.

Franklin and Varick in 1915.

Previous Nosy Neighbor posts:
Is Distilled now a café during the day?
Wasn’t the World Trade Center Greenmarket supposed to be open by now?
What’s the YogaSmoga townhouse on Greenwich?
Why are these people gathering on Broadway?
What are those things at Warren and Church?
Who were those people marching?
Why does 3 World Trade Center have tailpipes?
What’s that thing on 60 Hudson’s roof?
Why is this statue behind a fence?
Why does 1 World Trade Center look so unfinished at night?
Why do Brookfield Place’s escalators run that way?
What is Stadium Goods?
Why is the Duane Park flag almost always at half-staff?
What is Maison di Prima?
Where can I get breakfast in Tribeca?
Who are the Goatsingers?
Why was this cornice removed?
What’s coming to the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s storefronts?
What’s this two-year subway construction project?
What are those doodads on 60 Vestry?
What’s up with the exposed wall at 111 Murray?
What’s inside the base of 7 World Trade Center?
What’s the Supermarket?
What’s happening at 172 Duane?
What’s that new building next to 30 Park Place?
Is this rooftop addition legal?
Who’s painting those faces all over?
What are those panels on the sanitation garage?
How many fake restaurants are on Seamless?
Is a 60-story hotel going up on W. Broadway?
Why is 15 Warren painted that way?
Where do Laughing Man’s profits go?
When will FiOS come to Tribeca?
What’s up with 60 Hudson?
What goes on at 444 Greenwich?
Why are Goldman Sachs’s lights always on?
Who’s responsible for the snowflake lights?
Why does cobblestoning require sprinklers?
Do newspaper boxes need permits?
Why does 161 Duane say “Whalebone”?
What’s the story behind those Harrison townhouses?
What are those white things at 137 Franklin?
What’s that thing at W. Broadway and Leonard?
What happens to old cobblestones?
Are buses allowed to idle on Laight?
What’s happening with the Verizon building?
Can you recommend any Tribeca picture books?
Why are those shuttles on Greenwich?
Who enforces sidewalk-café regulations?
What are those black pellets on Pier 25?
What do the characters on 47 Vestry mean?
What’s up with those Verizon carts?
Where was the original Blues Bar?
Who are the guys in the geeky pants?
Can we walk on the West Street medians?
What’s the story behind the lights at 289 Church?
What’s the Dream House at 275 Church?
How come film shoots have a trailer with doors marked “Lucy” and “Desi”?