A native of Germany who came to the United States in 1860 at age sixteen, Albert Naegeli settled in New York City and married in 1867 an American-born daughter of German immigrants. Negali began his photography business in New York City in 1864 when the carte de visite was the rage and the carte imperial (cabinet card) was a luxury. A portrait specialist from the first, he trained in the wet plate and paper print processes. He moved his business to Union Square at 46 E. 14th Street in 1876 when he entered into a partnership with Edward M. Estabrooke, a specialist in the ferrotype (tintype) process and author of its first instructional manual, The Ferrotype and How to Make It (1872). The two men had complementary interests: Naegeli in the aesthetics of photography, Estabrooke with the technical processes of photographic production. The partnership lasted until 1880 when Estabrooke departed. Based in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Estabrooke became a regular contributor to photographic letters about technical processes and studio methods. In 1882 he published Photography in the Studio and in the Field (1887), which became a practical aide for the amateur photography boom of the 1880s.
One of the generation of photographers who trained as a graphic artist, Naegeli, like Sarony, Mora, and Howell (his competitors in the portrait field), offered sitters the choice of renderings in oil, watercolor, pastel, crayon and India Ink. He trained his sons Albert Jr., and Henry in the business, the former as a photographer and the latter as a technician. On August 9, 1883, a fire that began at a contiguous building set Naegeli's studio on fire, destroying the laboratory. The fire department saved the building, but water damage from their hoses ruined the atelier's contents. Though losses were calculated at $3,000, Naegeli immediately set about restoring the studio.
While theatrical portraiture occupied only a portion of his business, Naegeli proved more financially astute than his competitors. He sank his profits into New York real estate, owning several buildings on 83rd and 84th Streets. He died a wealthy man. The circumstances of his death were mysterious. Though his eldest son, Albert, insisted that the gunshot wound to his head that killed him was accidental, it was generally known that the death of Naegeli's invalid daughter Helene, who suffered a crippling spinal disease, in November of 1900 had made him despondent.
NOTES: Richard Edwards, "Naegeli," New York's Leading Industries (New York: Historical Publishing Company, 1884), 216. Albert Naegeli death notice. Anthony's Photographic Bulletin 32 (1901), 63. "Family Deny that Photographer Naegeli Shot Himself," The Evening World (Jan 17, 1901), 6. "Flames at Union Square," New York Times (Aug 9, 1883), 5. David S. Shields/ALS