I’ve been working on a lot of old films lately. One of the most interesting examples was a reel of 16mm footage featuring Albert Einstein on vacation in the Adirondacks. Films like these are fun to work on because they give me the opportunity to play detective. First I had to try and identify whether the footage was original. The edges of the Einstein film were black, which was a good sign because it indicated that it was most likely shot on reversal film which is appropriate for amateur home footage, whereas commercial or reproduced footage would usually have clear edges. Also, the fact that the reel was composed of several different film stocks (Kodak, Agfa, Kodachrome) and because the splices were all hand-executed using vintage film cement also provided additional evidence that the footage was original. The little plus sign and solid circle symbols you can see on the edges of the film in the second image shown above are date codes. Kodak used combinations of such symbols to indicate the year in which the film was produced. The footage could have been shot years later after the film was first produced but we can establish that Einstein was living and working at Princeton University in the mid to late 1930s and the date symbols shown here corresponded to this time frame. In order to identify the exact locations shown I had to examine individual frames with a jewelers loupe. In one frame I could see a sign advertising cabin rentals. A Google search showed that the company name was still in business around Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks. To verify that this was the same location I matched the mountain landscape from one frame of the film to a modern photo taken in the same area, which you can see compared in the third and fourth images shown above. The last piece of the puzzle required checking into the provenance of the film. The amateur footage was said to have been shot by the son of Dr. Gustav Bucky, a German scientist and close friend of Einstein’s. Because the client providing the film had direct ties to the individuals shown in the film (one of which was Dr. Gustav) and because I could not locate any examples of the footage published elsewhere I was able to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the work was original and unique. Case closed!
This film was later sold through Julien’s Auctions for $6,400