Thrills of discovery – researching your finds

As I’ve been collecting images, especially photos more than a century old, I get curious about what I find. Who was this person? Where were they from? What did they do? Where was this photo taken? Oftentimes, those anonymous images are destined to remain that way, completely unidentifiable. However, sometimes you can do some digging and find out some really amazing things about your images. Three examples:

Pleasant Valley Winery, Hammondsport, NY Carte de Visite by Matthew Brady

I found this CDV by Matthew Brady on Ebay. The location was unspecified. Given that it was taken by his New York studio, I guessed it was also in New York state somewhere. New York has a number of wineries, so I figured it might very well be the Taylor Winery. Google is your friend on such quests – I did a Google Image search for Taylor Winery, and was coming up a bit short, but by happenstance I found a photo of the Pleasant Valley winery building which looked an awful lot like the main building in the photo. Further research on Pleasant Valley showed that the winery was the first bonded winery in the United States, and that it opened its doors in 1860. Perfect timing for a CDV by Brady, who might have actually taken this photo (and not one of his assistants, which was common) given that the Civil War had not yet started, and he would have had time to travel to Hammondsport from New York City to take the photographs himself.

Horatio B. Buck, MD - 1st Lt. 11th Volunteers.

Another Ebay acquisition. This one took a bit more digging, but through a link I found on Google, I was able to find a fair bit of information on Dr. Buck. Trying to figure out what his name actually was was the bigger challenge, as his handwriting is somewhat loose. I’m still trying to find out more about him- where he served, what battles he worked at, etc. The amazing thing is that so many Civil War records are available online.

Family in Novelty Car, Cliff House, San Francisco

This was another fun one. Completely anonymous tintype. I was trying to put a date to the image, with little luck. The car is a generic “car type” and not representing any actual vehicle. Then I took a look at the backdrop. Gosh, that looked familiar. Again, Google Images is your friend in a quest like this. The scene? Cliff House in San Francisco, with Seal Rock in the surf. Cliff House in the form shown in the photo burned down in 1907 (yes, it survived the 1906 earthquake only to perish a year later in a fire). Given that most cars prior to 1905 or so didn’t have that form factor of a semi-closed four door body, that would put it between 1905-1907, and of course locate the photo as having been taken at or near Cliff House.

2 thoughts on “Thrills of discovery – researching your finds”

  1. I have an old photo of my Great Grandfather taken around the 1800’s it was taken at 802 Vine St, Philadelphia, Pa How can I find out more about the photographer who took the photo.

    1. Two places you can check for more information are the city records department and the Chamber of Commerce. Either one should have records. I’d first check with the city as they would be more likely to have records going back – the Chamber may not be that old. If you can put a name to the photographer, there are some good online resources for biographical data. You can start checking here – The Daguerreotype Archive . There is another resource I’ll have to track down that had a lot of biographical data about photographers from the Victorian era that had been published in book form, but the author/compiler passed away recently and the continuing availability of the book is in question while his heirs settle his estate.

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