Here is my latest acquisition, a ruby glass Ambrotype in an octagonal Union case. The funny thing about the Union cases is that the name has nothing to do with the Civil War – in fact they were losing popularity by the time the war started, as were cased images in general. They got the name Union cases in the 1850s, well before the question of Union vs. Confederacy existed. It helps to confuse the issue that many were made before and during the Civil War with patriotic themes, lending credence to the notion that the name had to do with the war. I’m not going to say that no Confederate-themed Union cases were ever made, but in my limited experience of collecting, I’ve not seen one. I have seen leather/papier-mâché cases with Confederate themes embossed, so I suppose it’s possible, although I believe most Union case makers were located in New England.
I bought this image over the weekend at the Photorama show in Tysons Corner, Virginia. The Photorama shows used to be big deal swap meets and sales, with dozens of dealers filling multiple ballrooms at the Best Western. Now, they’re relegated to a single room in the basement, with maybe ten dealers, mostly peddling castoffs and junk. Bargains can be had, if you’re looking for random odds and ends – I got a Stroboframe flash bracket that retails new for around $60 for $5. And I found this image in a box of stuff. It was dusty and dirty, and didn’t look like much. There was no price tag on it, so I had to find the dealer who had it to get the price. As I was walking up to him, I dropped it, it hit the floor, and one corner of the case cracked off. I told him I was buying it, as I had just broken it. Perhaps out of sympathy or as an acknowledgment of my honesty, he sold it to me for $40. I brought it home, saved the broken pieces, repaired and cleaned it.
You can see the repaired crack in the case in the first picture, and the second one illustrates the ruby glass. I’m not sure the reason for using red glass instead of black glass, unless red glass was cheaper, or perhaps it was believed the red imparted a warmer, more lifelike color to flesh tones.