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Pane Italiano: 1900

New York circa 1900. "Italian bread peddlers, Mulberry Street." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.

New York circa 1900. "Italian bread peddlers, Mulberry Street." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Photographic Company. View full size.


On Shorpy:
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Get There Early

Before the stock has been pawed through by an untold number of filthy hands.

Remembering my Italiano Granmama

My grandmother used to make bread like this. Delicious!

Broadway Bound

The original cast of Oliver as well as Fiddler (minus the prayer shawls).

Italian Fashion

Every man is wearing a collared shirt, waistcoat, and blazer / suit jacket under their overcoat. And of course, back then, everyone wore a hat.

Yes, they might be wearing layers to keep warm (it looks cold that day), but not so cold that they needed to button their overcoats. Well-dressed, even if not wealthy. Classy and fashionable!


More than most of the other Shorpy photos, this one looks to me like a painting. The people seem more like characters, their positions composed. There’s a central drama over the bread basket, the boy and lady almost head to head. And no one appears to be looking directly at the camera except, perhaps, two blurred characters in the background (man with pipe and light jacket, and tall man with tall peaked cap).

Calling Charles Dickens

This image evokes the dirty, dingy aura of Charles Dickens's London streets, and something near the bottom rung of the immigrant experience in 19th century America. Could some of these folks have been wondering, "Is this why I left (Naples/Calabria/Sicily)?"

Real Life

People sometimes romanticize the immigrant experience of their ancestors. This photo shows real-life day-to-day existence upon coming to America. You can bet my Irish forefathers looked pretty much the same, scruffy clothes included.

Maybe not so wholesome

Probably impossible for us to know from the picture, but there's a decent chance that this bread was adulterated with anything from potatoes and rice to alum, chalk, gypsum, or worse. (Also, probably baked in a coal fired oven, sorry!)

Alum, in particular, caused diarrhea and was thought to have killed many young children. Adulteration of bread (and milk) led to some of the country's earliest food purity laws in New York and other cities.

A good description of how bread was adulterated can be found in the middle of this page:

So is our young man hustling for a local business or hauling in inferior goods to anonymously undercut the market?

Hands washed?

Events of the last year and a half cause one to wonder how many unwashed hands touched those loaves, testing them for freshness, before they went home with their consumer? Or how many infected respiratory systems caressed them with the gentle zephyr of a cough or sneeze?

Yet on the whole, the human race survived, even in the slums of lower Manhattan. Perhaps we today can draw some small comfort from that.

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