If you haven’t been following this story, I think it’s worth taking a look at. The National Media Museum, located in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, was home to a massive collection of photographs, substantively consisting of the collections of the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), spanning the first two centuries of photography. The trustees of the museum decided to transfer a significant portion of the collection to the Victoria & Albert museum in London, without public comment or debate. This is causing a big stink:
The move to relocate some of the museum’s holdings – the bulk of which is part of a Royal Photographic Society (RPS) collection that charts the development of photography over 200 years – was announced in February, prompting accusations of “cultural vandalism”.
“This is an appalling act of cultural vandalism,” said Simon Cooke, the Conservative leader on Bradford city council. “I know London is a big, grand and fantastic city but to denude my city of these photographs reminds us that you … care not one jot for our heritage and history.
“We don’t have much up here and it fills me with a kind of sad rage that you felt able to visit this act of cultural rape on my city.”
As a result, major figures such as David Hockney, Mike Leigh the film director, photographer Don McCullin and more than eighty other artists working with still and moving images have picked up their pens to add their voices to the protest. Here’s hoping they are heard.
Well folks, I think it’s time and appropriate that I spin off my blogging about image collecting from my blogging about my own photographic endeavors. I want to differentiate the two activities and use this blog, dcphotoartist.com, as a professional communication channel to talk about and share my portrait work and travel images. So I hope you all will bear with me as I make the transition, and read up on both blogs. The new blog will be http://dcphotocollector.com. I’m using the theme photo of this post as the branding for the collecting site, at least for now. I’m launching it with another post about Tom Thumb and his wife.
No, not a prequel to The Thief, the Cook, His Wife and Her Lover, it’s a CDV by an unidentified photographer of Tom Thumb, his wife, and her sister Minnie Warren.
The latest addition to the collection of Tom Thumb images, this was one I hadn’t seen before. Clipped corners aside, it’s in quite good condition overall. Certainly the image is very clear and sharp, and the print has minimal wear. In the conversation I had with Zoe Trodd, the co-author of Picturing Frederick Douglass, she triggered an interesting thought. The main thesis of Picturing Frederick Douglass is that he is the most-photographed American of the 19th century. I was skeptical of this as his images on the secondary collector market are not common, however the book does document her case rather thoroughly, with 150-some distinct images of him known. This got me to wondering how many different images of my favorite subject to collect are there. I’ll enumerate the Tom Thumb images I have below:
These are the ones I have in my collection. I know there are more out there that I don’t have (one particular one from the wedding, and at least two from the London Stereoscopic Company). This puts me at 15, eighteen if you count the ones I know but don’t have. It’s a far cry from the 150 of Frederick Douglass, but I’m going to keep hunting and collecting and tallying up. Having been a star of stage and circus for most of his life, he was dependent on publicity for his career and would have worked hard to keep his image in the public eye.
The newest addition to the collection of CDVs of little people sideshow performers – Admiral Dot, age thirteen.
I would take his age, height and weight in this photo with a grain of salt – the producers of these CDVs were prone to mis-statement, exaggeration and even outright lies about the subject’s physical traits as part of the sideshow hype. Fat men and women were often described as sometimes a hundred plus pounds bigger than they were. “Giants” were often endowed with an additional six or seven inches in height. In this case, I’ve managed to wangle a series of Admiral Dot at three different ages- 13, 14 and 18. In the span of five years he’s gained an inch (not unbelievable) and only five pounds.
Admiral Dot was born Leopold Kahn in San Francisco. He had two brothers, also little people, who also went on to become sideshow performers – Major Atom and General Pin. He began his career working for P.T. Barnum, but went on to perform with other companies of little people, married another little person, Lottie Swartood, and have two children before dying from the Spanish Flu during the 1918 epidemic at the age of 59. While I do have images of Major Atom, I have yet to come across one of General Pin – he must not have had the career his two siblings did.
Here is my CDV of Major Atom. Can you see a family resemblance?
Another recent auction acquisition. This is a minuscule 1/9th plate (roughly 2 inches x 2 1/2 inches) Daguerreotype of two brothers. I bought this one because of the relatively unusual size (1/9th plate and smaller Dags are less common) and the subject – I’m not used to seeing 1/9th plate images of more than one person. It has condition issues – while the case still has the original hinge intact, the bottom of one side is missing, as is the lining of the bottom of the image side. The interesting thing about it is that it reveals the case in this instance is made of a thin wood box covered with tooled leather. Some of these cases were made of essentially cardboard before being leather-wrapped. I did do a little bit of cleaning on this one, as the original seals, while present, were badly deteriorated and lots of dust had gotten inside the glass. There is still some kind of schmutz on the surface of the plate, and I do not yet know how to safely remove it, so I am holding off on that. I have digitally cleaned up the scan of the plate to show the potential, but left some of the blotches in the image to give an idea of what it looks like in its present state.
My latest addition to the collection – an early Daguerreotype of a little girl, by Charles C. Evans of 380 Market Street, Philadelphia. The velvet pad on the other side of the case reads “Evans 380 Market Street Girard Row” encircled by “Original Sun Beam”. I’d photograph the pad but the case, while complete, is in delicate condition and to do so would risk breaking the case completely (someone a long time in the past tried to repair the case and over-reinforced the spine, rendering it rigid and ultimately damaged it more). The image did have its original seals, but when I lifted the packet out of the case, they basically fell off, so now it’s time to re-seal it with the correct kind of archival tape.
I’ve been having the hardest time figuring out what these two gentlemen’s occupation is. They are wielding a trowel and a tin bucket, and staring into the bucket with a great degree of fascination. But they look too clean and too well-dressed for most manual labor occupations that would use a trowel and bucket – bakers, painters, plasterers, gardeners… when showing their profession, they’re usually a little less polished than these two. I’m going with plasterers as that’s a relatively high-earning trade, so maybe they could afford to get cleaned up before going in for their portraits.
I scanned this out of its octagonal Union case to make it easier to see the details. The case is in remarkably fine original condition, with no major cracks or chips.
The two men together could certainly in some people’s minds qualify this as a “gay interest” image, but I’m going to definitely disqualify this as it’s very obviously first and foremost a professional association. The dressing alike is a very 19th century thing within a trade, whereas dressing alike to show one’s sexual relationship to another is very much a late 20th early 21st century thing.
Here is a lovely daguerreotype, the latest addition to my collection. This is a quarter-plate size piece, in a wallet case. I did not have anything in a wallet case before, so I jumped on the opportunity especially since the plate was in such nice condition. The scan does not do it justice, frankly, as the cover glass and the frame put the plate a little out of the focusing range of the scanner lens, making it look a little less sharp, and any dust is only magnified.
Here is the wallet case itself. The clasp lock in fact works. I suspect there was a better button to operate the clasp at some point in the past and it fell off. This scan again doesn’t do the artifact justice, as the clasp has a lovely pattern etched into it that isn’t coming through.
I wanted the wallet case to add to my collection because I do exhibit and lecture from these artifacts and the wallet style makes it all the more obvious how these were meant to be carried around as treasured keepsakes to show to friends and family, not put up on a wall or a shelf (although wall frames for daguerreotypes and ambrotypes do exist). It creates an interesting dynamic between public and private – these objects were not reserved for viewing in the privacy of ones home, but rather exhibited wherever and whenever the fancy struck. We’ve come full circle on this today, where now people carry their entire photographic life on a little candy-bar sized device in their pocket, which interestingly enough, is roughly the same size as the quarter-plate daguerreotype, just a little skinnier.
Another recent acquisition for the collection is this daguerreotype of an unknown man by R. N. Keely, of 322 North 2nd Street, Philadelphia. Also an early daguerreotype (discernible by the attire of the sitter and the style of the mat), this is probably from the late 1840s. While the mat itself is still quite plain, it bears the photographer’s imprint, and the whole packet (this time complete with intact original seals!) is wrapped in a gilt brass frame.
I was also pleased to see that in this acquisition I had yet another photographer’s studio address to add to my Philadelphia Victorian Photographers’ map. Were I sufficiently motivated and had enough free time, I’d love to sync up the images in my collection with the studios’ addresses, and ideally match the dates as well. But, that would be a great project for an intern to tackle, should I ever have one (hmmm… maybe I should approach my high school alma mater and see if there would be a talented kid interested in the project????).
Obtained from the Frisbee estate, this early daguerreotype (circa 1840s) is an approximate 1/4 plate (the dimensions don’t strictly correspond to 1/4 plate, but it is noticeably larger than a standard 1/6th plate image) in a leather case. The seals are entirely missing and thus the plate is loose in the case, and it demonstrates numerous mat abrasions around the edges.
Condition issues aside, it’s still a striking family photo from the 1840s, and quarter-plate size images are getting rarer. I’m pleased to add this to my collection.