Sunday, November 20, 2011

Advertisement for John Roach as it appeared
in 1942-1843 Doggett's NYC Directory.

The very next morning as I recall, upon my initial meeting with Professors Morse and Draper, I paid a visit on Mr. John Roach's establishment around the corner from my own, on Nassau street.  John Roach was a brilliant Irishman who worked in the manufacture of glass instruments for scientific purposes.  While Morse did refer him, I had already a business relationship with Mr. Roach due to my own work with spectacles and watch repair.

I was immediately met with a warm and welcoming hello as only the Irish can provide in their own inimitable way.  "Well if it isn't Mr. Gurney!  Has another one of your customers need for a stronger pair of corrective lenses then?  Or perhaps the crystal on one of their Lepine's has cracked?"

I smiled good naturedly at him "no, Mr. Roach.  Today I am visiting you on an altogether new venture.  I have just come from a meeting at Professor Morse's rooms at the University."  It seemed apparent that I had to offer no further explanation.  "Ahha!  He has you in his grasp as well then, eh?"  A wide smile erupting over his taut celtic face.  His eyes sparkled with a wink.

"Well, Jeremiah.  Your timing is as accurate as those fancy repeaters you have such an ability to set in motion.  Those wealthy patrons of yours should thank their Holy Father for I'm certain if it weren't for you many would still be reliant on the sun's position in the sky to keep them aware of their day's schedule!"

He continued, "I am only now just finishing off a set of tools for the manufacture of Daguerre's sun portraits for a neighbor of ours, Mr. Johnson".  Mr. John Johnson was an acquaintance of mine.  A very good, if a bit harried, man who also operated in watch and jewelry repair.  "He was here no more than an hour ago, impatient with my work so I sent him off with a cheery good day and a suggestion to visit my friend Mr. Wolcott who might be amenable to expediting matters for him."

Roach paused for a moment, looking down at the glass enclosed wooden display case that stood between the two of us.  A young man at the time, like all of us, but also a man who seemed prematurely aged.  He too had a family to provide for.  The current financial circumstances of our country was hardly comforting to most and to those who were new to our land, those who had recently emmigrated from their native soil, it was even worse.

He looked up from his quiet consideration and met my eyes, "you know Jeremiah, I really don't know if I'm made for this country of yours.  I am quite pleased with it's industry and inquisitiveness, it's appeal for growth and technology.  But," and as he finished his sentence he turned and produced from under his counter a similar camera obscura to that which I had seen at Morse's atelier only yesterday, "when a man cannot find the time for another man to complete the project he was indentured to do on his behalf."  His voice trailed off as he placed the box on the counter.

I watched as Roach produced the brass cylinder that stared at Miss Draper so insolently and with considerate hands, gently but firmly placed the tube into the round opening.  Affixing it with hide glue he stood back and smiled.  "There," he said, "now we have finished."

Camera manufactured by John Roach ca. 1842
courtesy Matthew R. Isenburg

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