Photo Essays

19th-Century Photos of a Brooklyn Brownstone

B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
(all images courtesy Swann Auction Galleries unless noted otherwise)

The beautiful mansion that once stood at 353 Clinton Avenue in Clinton Hill in Brooklyn belonged to the industrialist William Henry Nichols, co-founder of G. H. Nichols and Company — a chemical company that smelted metals and minerals at its Newtown Creek plant to make sulfuric acid and other substances. He was tremendously successful in the chemical business, as is plain to see from the plush interiors of his home.

An album of seven photos by architectural photographer B.J. Smith from circa 1876 will come up for auction next month at Swann Auction Galleries in New York, with a pre-sale estimate of $500–750 (a bargain compared to the price of homes on Clinton Avenue nowadays). The small albumen prints show the very finely detailed and extravagantly decorated drawing room, living room, dining room, library, reception room, main hall, and butler’s pantry of Nichols’ home. Each room boasts luxurious fabrics, ornate porcelain vases, sculptures, and wood paneling. The living room even seems to have been outfitted with a portrait of Nichols specifically for the photo shoot.

B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue (all images courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries unless noted otherwise)
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue
B.J. Smith, interior of 353 Clinton Avenue

You’d hope that the Nichols home had been preserved, perhaps even turned into a house museum, but that did not come to pass. Today, the block on which the home once stood looks like this:

The block where 353 Clinton Avenue used to be (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The block where 353 Clinton Avenue used to be (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

B.J. Smith’s photo album of 353 Clinton Avenue hits the auction block at Swann Auction Galleries on December 11 as part of the Vernacular Imagery, Photobooks & Fine Photographs sale.

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