Local history collectors are seeking funding to help purchase a significant collection of unpublished Chattanooga photographs from an online collector.

The collection-more than 50 original glass plate negatives-depicts life in Chattanooga during the early 1900s. Several photos were scanned for the purpose of this article.

Organizers with Picnooga, an online history website, are offering the general public an opportunity to “adopt” a glass plate negative by donating $15 each. Each adoptee will receive a high quality scan of an image and an exclusive look at the collection online before it’s released to the public.


The $500 goal needs to be met by Jan. 26 in order for the photos to be purchased.

Click here for the donation page.

About 30 pieces have already been purchased, but Picnooga founder David Moon said at least 50 more photos exist with the possibility of more to be found. Once acquired, the collection will be scanned for archival and media purposes and later preserved in an appropriate environment.

“As far as we know these are unpublished,” Moon said. “They belonged to a collector in Chattanooga as I understand. We became aware of the collection after a few of the glass plate negatives were listed on an online auction.”

The collector has agreed to sell the photos as a single lot.

According to Moon, who has viewed scans of many of the photos, a majority depict daily life in Chattanooga at the turn of the 20th century. The photographer’s identity is a mystery, but it is believed he or she was an amateur.

“We know at least some of [the photos] were taken in the 1905 range, most of them we would guess were taken between 1898 and 1905,” he said. “It could be several photographers, but we think it was probably just one.”

And whoever was taking the photos had an artistic eye, Moon said.

“They were obviously a photo bug and cared about their subjects,” Moon said. “Some of them are really sweet.”

The examples released for this article (see below) include a photo of three women posing on the roof of Loveman’s Building in downtown. The Dome Building can be seen in the background and the women are seen tipping what appears to be prop hats with naval pins.

Sam Hall, founder of Deep Zoom Chattanooga, has been doing some detective work on the early photos.

One of the photos is taken from the back of what appears to be the Incline Railway. The railway was routinely used to deliver items to guests of the Lookout Inn. Using his Deep Zoom technology, Hall was able to read the tag on the chair, which appears to belong to an “A. J. Marble.”

Hall was also able to pinpoint the location of another photo of a couple lounging in an open field. He believes it to depict White Oak Cemetery, which was used as a park by citizens in the 1890s.

In terms of historical photography, glass plate negatives represent the highest quality available to collectors.

“Glass plate negatives are high resolution,” Moon said. “In some cases, even higher resolution than the photos taken today. They are the original source, so you’re getting a one generation view from the negative. It’s significant. I can’t say that these are extremely valuable, but from a historical standpoint they’re splendid.”

More photos will be released once the collection is obtained.

A family poses in front of their home. The photo is believed to have been taken around 1900. (Photo: Contributed)