Charles R. Coombs, 1862-1940

Six albums and over 700 glass plate negatives which, represent both the Coombs family life as well as Belfast and other nearby towns made by an undertaker.

Charles R. Coombs was born in Belfast, March 20, 1862, the son of Captain Robert Hudson Coombs and Harriet Pendleton Coombs. When Captain Coombs retired from sea, he purchased a furniture and undertaking business and operated it as R. H. Coombs & Son, in partnership with Charles. Charles took over the business after his father’s death and concentrated on the funeral home business. Coombs Funeral Home remained a highly-respected Belfast business until Charles’s son, Horace, retired in 1969.

Charles was a trusted friend to many in the Belfast area, not only as a result of his profession. He participated in Belfast governance, including serving as mayor, and was active in the Lions, the Masonic orders, and Odd Fellows. He loved sailing and hunting and, as a side business, he was an accomplished taxidermist.

Charles seems to have taken up the hobby of photography around 1892, at the age of thirty. He began taking pictures on 4” x 5” glass plate negatives, using a camera that appears to have had a lens less than perfectly suited to the format – the corners of many of the earlier pictures are not very sharp. Around 1895, he bought a larger 5” x 7” format camera with a better lens. His favorite subjects were Belfast buildings, houses, and street scenes; family, friends, and their animals; and hunting and sailing trips. In the 1900 Maine Register, an advertisement for R. H. Coombs & Son, Undertakers, also added other businesses: “and Dealers in Furniture, Cameras, and Photographic Supplies. Views of Belfast and vicinity for sale. Taxidermy work done in an artistic and thorough manner.”

After Charles’s son, Horace, died in 2000, all of Charles’s photographic works were sold at auction, along with other fine family materials. Penobscot Marine Museum was very fortunate to be able to purchase the bulk of Charles’s photographic works, including a photo album with close to 600 images, 515 4”x 5” glass negatives, 165 5” x 7” glass negatives, and some smaller photograph albums.