Capewell Glass Negative Collection

This is a story that starts with my Dad.

Allene & Charles

My family and I lived in a tidy rowhouse situated in an area of South Philadelphia now referred to as Grays Ferry. It was a great place to live and raise children when my older brothers and sisters were born and growing up, but by the time my younger brother was born in the mid-’60s, conditions in the area were starting to deteriorate, and my Dad read the writing on the wall and decided to pull up stakes. He was also sick of driving around the neighborhood for an hour looking for a place to park. So we loaded up the truck and headed for South Jersey. Westville, that is.

Capewell Family -  Eyes Shut - detail

Well before my family arrived in Westville, Henry Capewell had a glass factory there. His factory manufactured glassware including flint glass and fine pots. He also held a patent for glass castors that were put under pianos. The castors were sold to “insulate the instrument” and “greatly improve its tone and power.”

Flash forward to about the end of the century, and my Father is volunteering some yard work for an elderly neighbor named Annie. Annie lives alone and has a bunch of “old junk” and wonders if my Dad is interested. Being that Dad lived through the Depression, was in the navy and always figured there would be a use for whatever thing he came upon and refused to throw away, he took the “junk.” Remembering that his newest daughter-in-law, my wife, liked antiques, he decided to unload this latest acquisition upon us. We sifted through the stuff and oohed and ahed over some of the old ephemera like cigarette cards and old programs from plays from the beginning of the 20th century. There were also a load of 5″ x 7″ glass negatives. A big load! We put the stuff in boxes and put it away.

About a decade goes by, and I find myself wondering about those glass negatives. What if something famous was on one of those 200 pieces of glass? I try scanning one, but it’s too big for the scanner’s backlight. I came up with an alternative. I set up a small lightbox; taped out an area for the negatives on it; locked down a digital camera on a tripod and got to work. I shot all 200 negatives and brought the shots into Photoshop where, I cropped, inverted and adjusted each image. I just wanted to get an idea of what was on each slide, but they came out better than I thought!

Snowy Landscape possibly a Frozen Niagara Falls

The first shot I came across was of a Niagara Falls frozen over! Research showed that this was probably from around 1911. I thought, “What else was among the glass negatives?” I blasted through the rest of them.

At the time, I did not know the identity of the photographer. My Father was gone and Annie was, too. There was nobody to ask. I pieced together a story for myself from the photos. I figured the guy in most of the shots was a gentlemen farmer who was well off judging from the clothes and had an expensive (for the time) hobby of being a shutter-bug. He would get arty some times and have family and friends strike unusual poses which I imagine they had to hold due to the slow speed of the plates at the time. He documented his travels and the growth of his family. He took a number of self-portraits by rigging the shutter release up with a length of string. Great stuff. Nothing like a lost photo of a politician or foreign dignitary, but great stuff just the same!

Recently, I was going through the ephemera that my Dad also dumped on us. Among the travel postcards and other bits and pieces, I found an insurance bill addressed to Henry Capewell of Westville, NJ. A little hunting around on the internet, and mystery solved! Capewell is the photographer! I believe Annie was the daughter-in-law of Henry.

Take a look at a big chunk of this gentleman’s work here! It’s great when viewed as a slide show.

The Jersey Shore...The Swimsuit Edition

If you have any information on Capewell or the people in these photos, please leave a comment to this post. Thank you!

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12 Responses to Capewell Glass Negative Collection

  1. Old NFO says:

    Very Interesting… Granted a picture is worth a thousand words, but a few words might bring many of these images to life! Thanks for the history and views.

  2. Joe Williams says:

    Thanks, Old NFO! I’m trying to track down some of the Capewells so they can fill in some of the considerable blanks in what looks to be an interesting story. Hopefully, I’ll hear from them.

  3. Sandy St. Martin says:

    You sent me an e-mail about these photos and I’m just replying. I don’t know if there is a connection with my Capewells or not. I have a Mary Rebecca Oldershaw marrying William H. Capewell in Gloucester City, NJ in 1867. Another source gives the groom’s name as Clarence Lester Capewell.
    William H. Capewell was a crucible maker. Basically, the following is the information I have on Mary (Oldershaw) Capewell.
    Mary R. Oldershaw was enumerated in the 1850 Concord, Merrimack, NH census, p. 1B with her parents. She was 9 months old and born in NJ.
    Mary R. Oldershaw was enumerated in the 1860 Union Township, Camden County, NJ census, p. 727 in the household of her grandfather, Arthur Powell. Mary R. Oldershaw was 10 yrs. old and was born in NJ. She attended school that year.
    Mary Capewell wasenumerated in the 1870 NJ Census, p. 52A, Gloucester Co., Deptford Twp., with her husband, William. She was 20 yrs. old, b. NJ, and was keeping house.
    Mary Capwell was enumerated in the 1880 8th Ward, 2nd precinct, Camden, Camden, NJ census. p. 421D with her husband and children. Mary Capwell was 30 yrs. old and was b. NJ.

  4. Joe Williams says:

    Thanks for replying. I guess my search continues, and I’m hoping somebody comes forward to clear up the lingering mysteries surrounding these glass negatives.

  5. Peggy Morphew says:

    Hello Joe,

    Joseph CAPEWELL was orginally in business with several partners in a GlassWorks in Philadelphia. He died at age ca 45 & is buried in the cemetery in Kensington (Fish Town) near Philadelphia.

    My great-grandmother was Susan Pricilla (sic) CAPEWELL. She was born in Boston, MA 1821 & was the daughter of Joseph CAPEWELL & wife Maria HODGE(S), both of whom were born in England. Susan CAPEWELL had 2 older brothers, John & James George (both born in England); 1 younger brother, William H. (born in PA). All of these died in New Jersey. The brothers & their mother, Maria, are buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Camden. Susan is buried in Harleigh Cemetery.

    Sometime after the death of Joseph CAPEWELL, the entire family clan, as well as most of the partners in the glassworks, moved across the river to Camden, NJ where they established another Glass Factory on Kaighn’s Ave. & the Delaware River. They kept a sales office in Philadelphia.

    Susan P. CAPEWELL married John C. WALLACE in 1839 in Philadelphia. John Walker WALLACE, their only son to reach adulthood, married Elizabeth M. BEARN (location unknown). John W. & Elizabeth had 11 children, 9 of which reached adulthood. They were my mother, Margaret’s parents.

    I lived in Camden/Merchantville, NJ until the death of my mother in 1948. I was sent to live with her sister in Phoenix, Arizona where I later married & raised my family. I presently live in Sun City, Arizona & have been ‘trying from long distance’ to fill in the information & stories of my CAPEWELL ancestors.

    I could not identify any of the people in the photos you posted, but I’m certain most of them are my relatives!!!

    Thank you so much for rescuing them. I would appreciate it if you would keep me informed of any other finds. I found your info by “googling”.

    Peggy Morphew

  6. Joe Williams says:

    Thanks so much for replying, Peggy. I’m hoping that more people chime in and I can have the story behind these glorious photos. Stay tuned!

  7. Leeann Langowski says:

    These photos are fantastic. Thanks for saving and sharing them. I am attempting to research my mothers grandmother for her. She is 78 and doesn’t have a computer. This is what she has told me. Her grandmothers name was Emily Capewell. She was born around 1878. Her mother reportedly was a servent in Henry Capewells household and she was left on his doorstep soon after birth. She was raised by his family. She married my great grandfather Dallas Wood and had two sons, Walter and William. She died when my grandfather was only 10 months old in 1900 at the age of 22. I’m thinking the photo of the young woman with two young boys may be her.

  8. Joe Williams says:

    Thanks so much for commenting! You certainly have a fascinating story, and I hope other folks come forward to help unfold the mystery.

    If you haven’t seen the others already, check them out here at my Flickr site:

    Roughly half of the negatives are there. I have to fix up the other half and put them all up there! Stay tuned!

  9. Dot Carter says:

    Hey Joe, found you infomation on the internet and am interested in the Capewells, My Great Great grandfathers Middle name was Capewell and they were also in the Glass Business. his name was Joseph Capewell McCarthy and his aunt was Mary McCarthy who married Thomas Cains, also in the Glass Business. So I was quite interested in all the information about them. Thanks, Dot Carter

  10. Joe Williams says:

    Thanks, Dot! Through the posts on this site and the page I just launched on Facebook, I am trying to gather information to create a more complete picture of Capewell.!/pages/The-Capewell-Glass-Negative-Collection/245696015513517?sk=wall

  11. Tom Bock says:

    William Capewell & Mary R (Oldershaw) Capewell are the father & mother of Clarence L Capewell also Ernest
    & Alva. They were my great grand parents dont know much about them. Or anything about the pictures.

  12. Joe Williams says:


    Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. Keep an eye on this category. I have 200 glass negatives shot by John B. Capewell and I am realeasing them one at a time on Thursdays. This is the link for the category:

    …and this is my latest post published today which is April 19, 2012:

    Take a look at this post. It has photos of John’s brothers, sisters and parents:

    Halfway down the page is a group of head shots with dates of birth and death. There’s a William there.

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