Book fair will feature rare photos of the chaotic and complex early construction of the NYC subway

April 4, 2024

Broadway & 116th Street. All photos courtesy of Capitol Hill Books

The ABAA New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF) will be back at the Park Avenue Armory for its 64th year this month. A highlight of the fair is Capitol Hill Books’ photographic archive of 37 albumen photographs that show the very first branch of the NYC subway system being built. Taken in 1901 and 1902, the photos reveal the complex first stages of the city’s transit system, which has been running without interruption since it opened to the public in 1904. The rare photos show now-defunct sections like the Elm Street Route and the laborers who built the system, largely by hand.

This initial construction of the Interborough Rapid Transit Subway spanned 15 different segments overseen by over a dozen contractors. Some images show workers in their street clothes toiling 150 feet below street level; some of the images were taken above or just below the street level of 1900s New York City.

Elm Street at Jersey Alley
Central Park 10-18-1901

Included images show multiple views of the mostly-gone Elm Street, which ran from Chambers to Spring Street. Some still-extant landmarks are visible in photos of the excavation of the Central Park Tunnel to Union Square. The photos may have been taken by Pierre and Granville Pullis, brothers who ran a photo studio on Fulton Street.

The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America’s (ABAA) New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF) take places at the historic Park Avenue Armory from April 4 through April 7. The fair will offer rare books, maps, illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings, illustrations, historical documents, photographs, prints, memorabilia, and ephemera.

This rare photography collection depicting the New York City subway’s earliest days is priced at $12,500.

City Hall Station

This year, the fair will feature exhibits from 15 different countries including Argentina, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

The ABAA is celebrating its 75th Anniversary and will present a series of special
events tied to the New York fair. Learn more here.


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