Category Archives: Ambrotypes

Native Americans

In honor of my latest acquisition for my collection (posted immediately below), I’m going to recap my 19th century Native American images collection.

The new image is a school class photo from Springfield, South Dakota. I find the image fascinating and remarkable by virtue of the racial diversity in the school group. Though the class is mostly Native American, there are white and African-American girls in the class as well. I think the teacher who inscribed the card on the verso is the woman in the center of the photograph.

Native American School Group, Springfield, South Dakota
Native American School Group, Springfield, South Dakota

The inscription reads: “With best wishes, Your loving teacher, Mary B. Benedict, North Walton, Delaware Co. New York. Alice & Lucy Cougar”. I’m assuming that Alice & Lucy Cougar are two of the Native American girls in the photo, but which two I’m not sure.

Native American by G.L. Eastman
Native American by G.L. Eastman
Native American and Friend,Klamath Falls, Oregon
Native American and Friend,Klamath Falls, Oregon

I’m not sure on the date on this one – it could well be early 20th century, but I’m including it because it is non-exploitative. If anything it is similar in spirit to the school class group in depicting interaction between Native and non-Native Americans in apparent social equality.

Two Native American Boys, Kearney, Nebraska
Two Native American Boys, Kearney, Nebraska
Rain-in-the-face, by Morse, San Francisco
Rain-in-the-face, by Morse, San Francisco
Black Star, an Osage Brave
Black Star, an Osage Brave
New Mexican Native Couple
New Mexican Native Couple
Ambrotype, Penobscot Boy, 1857
Ambrotype, Penobscot Boy, 1857

This last one is probably the oldest image of a Native American I own, and will most likely remain so, as images this old are quite rare. Most imagery of Native Americans is from the west and mid-west, as Native populations had been largely subsumed and/or eradicated from the east coast by the time photography arrived.

The other two “Art” photos of Native Americans I have are, albeit sympathetic, exploitative portrayals of Native American men in the line of “Noble Savage/Vanishing Tribe” imagery meant to play on the sympathies (and perhaps the subconscious erotic sentiments) of an Eastern, caucasian audience. The reason I say erotic sentiments is that they depict handsome young Native men wearing signals of exotic “nativeness” (headdress, jewelry), but little else. The signs of “nativeness” may or may not be any degree of authentic or relevant to the individual wearing them. The George Eastman photo here is heading that direction in that the costumery the subject wears may not be of any one particular tribe, much as Edward Curtis would do when he felt a photo needed a little something – he would hand his sitter some wardrobe accessory that they might never have otherwise worn and got them to don it for the picture. In that regard, photos like Curtis’ and Eastman’s work are not “documentary” in a strict sense, but they are often the only record that exists of a person or a culture, so they do have record value.

Navajo Brave, Grand Canyon, attributed to Karl Moon
Navajo Brave, Grand Canyon, attributed to Karl Moon
A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman
A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman

While the Carl Moon “Navajo Brave” may be wearing authentic Navajo jewelry, he’s not wearing much else, and the loincloth is not exactly practical daily wear. I could be wrong, but the “New Mexican Native Couple” image shows what I believe would have been far more typical attire for that region of the country. Native Americans may be blessed with a higher melanin content in their skin, but that’s still not a good reason to run around near naked all day at 5000′ elevation under a blazing sun.

The “Tewa Bowman” is another in the same vein – what little accoutrements he wears may be authentic or may not, but to the intended audience for the image it is irrelevant because they neither know nor care; the bow and feathered headdress point to “Indian-ness” and the comeliness and physical condition of the sitter make him “noble” in the same spirit of a Grecian marble nude.

These images leave a complicated, conflicted legacy. They purport to be records of a vanishing culture, yet the record they leave is at best fuzzy and at worst totally inaccurate. The 20th century “save the noble savages” images took the problematic record images one step further. By the dawn of the 20th century, there was a growing awareness in Anglo civilization that Native cultures and peoples were truly vanishing, and the attitude began to shift from approval of that fact to a sense of loss and a desire to intervene in that downward spiral. These “art” images fed a market for Anglos who had no first-hand knowledge of Native culture and felt some degree of racial guilt. Even if the base motivation was in the right place, the images exploited Native subjects to feed a market, wether through distortion of identity, sexual exploitation, or both.

Cased Image Inventory

I was showing my latest daguerreotype to a friend the other day and she asked me how many do I have. I hadn’t really thought about it, so I sat down today and did an inventory. I came up with

Image Type gemtype 1/9th plate 1/6th plate 1/4 plate 1/2 plate
Daguerreotype 1 1 20 6 0
Tintype 1 2 5 0 1
Ambrotype 0 2 7 2 1
Albumen 0 0 0 0 1
Total 2 5 32 8 3

for a grand total of 50 cased images.

I’ll recap as many of them as I have good scans for here. One of these days I’ll get around to re-scanning/photographing the others, which I originally posted to Facebook but not at a consistent file size.

Paris Opera albumen print
Paris Opera albumen print
Shopkeepers
Shopkeepers
Anonymous Daguerreotype, ca. 1840-1845
Anonymous Daguerreotype, ca. 1840-1845

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Daughter and Father, daguerrian locket
Daughter and Father, daguerrian locket
Anonymous young gentleman with goatee
Anonymous young gentleman with goatee
Lady with glasses, Daguerreotype, quarter plate, anonymous
Lady with glasses, Daguerreotype, quarter plate, anonymous

DavisAncestor1862Zouave76PA

Mrs. A.A. Hill, Daguerreotype
Mrs. A.A. Hill, Daguerreotype
Anonymous Gentleman in Fancy Vest
Anonymous Gentleman in Fancy Vest
Gentleman With Top Hat, dated October 15, 1849
Gentleman With Top Hat, dated October 15, 1849
Anonymous Daguerreotype, Young Girl, Hand-colored, in Half Case
Anonymous Daguerreotype, Young Girl, Hand-colored, in Half Case

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Daguerreotype, Anonymous Young Man, 1/6th Plate
Daguerreotype, Anonymous Young Man, 1/6th Plate
Fred Jones, 1861, framed black glass Ambrotype
Fred Jones, 1861, framed black glass Ambrotype
Anonymous Daguerreotype, Quarter-Plate, in half case
Anonymous Daguerreotype, Quarter-Plate, in half case
Anonymous, Daguerreotype, Couple, Charlottesville, VA
Anonymous, Daguerreotype, Couple, Charlottesville, VA
Ambrotype, Penobscot Boy, 1857
Ambrotype, Penobscot Boy, 1857
Sixth Plate Daguerreotype in Union case, anonymous lady in bonnet
Sixth Plate Daguerreotype in Union case, anonymous lady in bonnet

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Quarter-plate Daguerreotype, Gentleman in book-form case
Quarter-plate Daguerreotype, Gentleman in book-form case
Tintype, boy and his dog.
Tintype, boy and his dog.
Anonymous Gentleman. Daguerreotype, Half case.
Anonymous Gentleman. Daguerreotype, Half case.

Ruby Glass Ambrotype in Union Case

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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.

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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.

Collection summary

I received three more daguerreotypes in the mail yesterday, and that inspired me to do a mini inventory of the daguerreotype and other cased images collection. Don’t take my collection as being statistically accurate as to the population of cased images out there, but the general trend is I think illustrative of the market in general.

1/9th Plate

  • One milk glass ambrotype in oval velvet pushbutton case
  • Two ambrotypes in gutta percha/thermoplastic cases
  • One daguerreotype in leather case
  • Two tintypes in half leather cases

1/6th Plate

  • Three daguerreotypes in half leather cases
  • Four daguerreotypes in gutta percha/thermoplastic cases
  • Twelve daguerreotypes in leather cases
  • Two ambrotypes in leather cases
  • One ambrotype in leather case
  • One ambrotype in gutta percha/thermoplastic frame
  • One ambrotype in brass mat, missing frame or case (most likely frame)
  • Four tintypes in leather cases

1/4 plate

  • One daguerreotype, missing case
  • One daguerreotype, in half leather case
  • Three daguerreotypes in leather cases
  • One ambrotype, in half leather case

1/2 plate

  • Two ambrotypes in leather cases

So, forty-two cased images altogether, with twenty-eight being 1/6th plate. Seventeen ambrotypes/tintypes, twenty-five daguerreotypes. Thirty-four in some form of leather case, seven in gutta percha/thermoplastic. I’m making a distinction between a half leather case and a whole leather case only from a collectors perspective – the half-cases are images whose cover was separated from the image at some point in time and not retained. Daguerreotypes are over-represented in the collection because that’s what I’ve made an effort to collect. There are probably more cased tins/ambros out there than daguerreotypes. 1/6th plate dominates, because that was the most common size produced. 1/9th plate is probably less uncommon than my collecting habit would indicate, again because of personal taste. The 1/4 plate and larger, though, are far less common. Prices have ranged from as little as free (one is an inherited piece) to $300 (which believe it or not was not one of the half plate images). Most have been in the $30-$150 range. Most images are by undocumented photographers of anonymous subjects, but perhaps four have the sitter identified, and I have one by Plumbe, two by Brady (although one of the Bradys may not be, as the case halves are different), one by Judson of Newark, NJ, one by Clark of New Brunswick, NJ, one by Kimball of New York, NY. One is from Argentina, the rest are American. One is allegedly Ulysses S. Grant’s niece. One is definitively dated 1849. Several others are probably older, including the Brady and Plumbe daguerreotypes, but most are from the 1850s.

On another date, at a different time, I’ll inventory the CDV/uncased image collection, which is much larger and more diverse.

More updates to the Victorian Photographers maps

I’ve added four more studios to the New York and three to the Philadelphia Victorian photography studios maps.

New York:

  • William J. Tait, corner Greenwich & Cortlandt streets
  • John C. Helme – Daguerreotype studio, 111 Bowery
  • Abraham Bogardus – Daguerreotype studio (early), Greenwich & Barclay
  • Mathew Brady – Daguerreotype studio (early), 205-207 Broadway

Philadelphia:

  • D.C.Collins & Co. City Daguerreotype Establishment, 100 Chestnut Street
  • Reimer, 612 N. 2nd Street
  • Van Loan & Ennis – Daguerreotype studio, 118 Chestnut Street

Just a little more fun with the photographers maps compilation.

Here’s a quick link to the maps in case:

Victorian Photo Parlor Maps

Some more food for thought – I think I’ve mentioned this before, about the migration over time of certain studios, moving uptown in New York as their client base moved further uptown – to better illustrate this, I’ve pulled the studio addresses for three of the most prominent portrait studios of the day, and listed them in chronological order as best possible:

Mathew Brady:

  • 205-207 Broadway
  • 359 Broadway
  • 635 Broadway
  • 785 Broadway

Gurney & Sons

  • 349 Broadway
  • 707 Broadway
  • 5th Avenue & E. 16th Street

Abraham Bogardus

  • Greenwich & Barclay Streets
  • 363 Broadway
  • 872 Broadway

Also notice how close they all were to each other. While I don’t have dates per-se for each of the addresses, notice that at one point, all three were in the same block of Broadway (the 300 block), and again later, all three were in a two block span of Broadway, further uptown (700-800 block). Even early on, they were clustered close to each other in Lower Manhattan – 643 Bleecker is not far from Greenwich & Barclay, and another photographer, William J. Tait, was just a block or two away at Greenwich & Cortlandt streets.

The Early Bradys

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Here are my two early Mathew Brady images. The one is a simple daguerreotype, and based on the mat style, I’d place it as an early dag – pre 1850, maybe as early as 1845. The velvet pad on the dag shows Brady’s New York studio address. I’ve also posted the ambrotype, which is a later image. This is an interesting and unusual presentation, where the image can be viewed from either side.

More from the collection – tins and ambros and dags, oh my!

Fred Jones, born June 15, 1855, ca. 1861, Concord, New Hampshire. Here’s a photo of a little boy dressed up as a soldier. I haven’t done any further research into the Jones family of Concord, but I’d suspect that little Fred’s dad went off to war and Fred was just playing his part and being patriotic, imitating dad.

Fred Jones, 1861, framed black glass Ambrotype
Fred Jones, 1861, framed black glass Ambrotype

The image is a black glass ambrotype in a thermoplastic/gutta percha frame, suited to hang on a wall. I acquired this one from a descendant of the subject, so it came with more biographical data than is usual. While I’m glad I was able to buy it, I can’t imagine how anyone could let such a piece of family history be sold out of the family. My apologies in advance to my Facebook friends who have already seen this image, but it was so neat that when it arrived, I couldn’t resist posting it with my iPhone immediately.

This next image is an “occupational” tintype. A popular genre in its day, the occupational photograph shows ordinary working-class people with tools of their trade and/or professional attire that showed who and what they were (railroad conductors, butchers, carpenters etc). This has become a very popular genre to collect, and certain professions are much more collectible than others (anything to do with photography is highly sought after, for example).

Tintype, Occupational, Plumber
Tintype, Occupational, Plumber

Two men and a bicycle. This was inspired by a friend of mine who collects images of men with facial hair and images of bicycles – killing two birds with one stone here. My guess on the age of the image, based on the bike tires, would be sometime between 1890-1910. Pneumatic bike tires were invented in 1889, and first commercially produced in 1890.

Tintype, Two Men and a Bicycle
Tintype, Two Men and a Bicycle

And last but certainly not least, a nice 1/6 plate daguerreotype. Because the scanner picks up every little dust particle, it’s hard to tell from the scan that this is actually one of the most lovely daguerreotypes in my collection. Virtually free of imperfections, from wipe marks to polishing scratches, this image of a young man in a rich wool coat is truly striking. It is in a very red leather case (most cases are brown), complete. The hinge has been replaced with modern tape, but otherwise the whole is quite original.

Daguerreotype, Anonymous Young Man, 1/6th Plate
Daguerreotype, Anonymous Young Man, 1/6th Plate

I’m still trying to figure out how to post my Brady clear glass ambro – when I can get a little table-top studio set configured in my dining room, I’ll take photos of it to post here. The trick with it is that the image is viewable from both sides. There is no black backing paper, and the case is in three pieces – a front cover, a center panel with the image, and a rear cover, all hinged together like a little book. I’ll have to do some creative posing of the piece to demonstrate this and to display the image clearly. I’ve seen very few ambrotypes presented this way, and the few I have were also Mathew Brady images. I’m far from a fount of knowledge on this subject, so I don’t know if this was a uniquely Brady thing to do, or if I just haven’t seen enough images yet to know how widespread the practice actually was.