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.
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.
While I’m on the topic of military themed images, I thought I’d do a (for the most part) no-words review of the military images in my collection.
My latest acquisition. This is probably in a three-way tie for the best piece (by my own accounting, not on a financial basis) in my cased images collection, and still in the top 5 if you include my CDVs. Quite the rarity, it depicts a pair of Confederate soldiers arm-in-arm, smoking cigars. The case is a sought-after Union case (the Union in Union Case has nothing to do with the Union vs. the Confederacy, but rather it was a term for the case style, coined in the mid-1850s) depicting crossed cannon. As the Civil War encroached, patriotic designs became increasingly popular, and I can see how and why a pair of Confederate soldiers would want such a case design for their image.
Here is the image in its brass mat –
And a scan of the bare plate without the mat. I have done some dust removal for the purpose of clarifying the image, and applied a little unsharp mask to the image to bring out detail that would be softened in the scanning process, but otherwise this is an accurate representation of the plate and its condition. The image and the case have condition issues, but it’s an unique piece – where are you ever going to find another copy of this image? Despite the plate condition, you can clearly see the hand-coloring of the uniforms, the flesh-tones, and even the lit ends of the cigars have been tinted red!
The case as a whole is generally in good shape, but the lid is missing the velvet pad. This isn’t such a horrible problem, as the velvet pad can always be replaced, but it would have been terrific if it had remained, as the pad might well have had identifying information about the photographer and his location.
I know I’ve harped on the topic of Victorian-era images of affectionate men before, but I’ll do it again, especially since an image like this can be so fraught with meaning mis-applied by modern sensibilities.
Here we have a pair of Confederate soldiers. They are arm-in-arm, casually smoking cigars. I read the gesture as being purely affectionate, bonding between two soldiers who may be not only deep friends but it also reads to me as reassurance in the face of potential mortality. This one lacks any suggestion of sexuality, but I love the way it humanizes two soldiers that it would be easy for us 150 years after the fact to pigeonhole for their support of a cause we today condemn.
My latest cased image acquisition. In contrast to the daguerreotype pair I just purchased, this is a tintype in a brass mat and frame in a gutta-percha (thermoplastic) case.
The case on this was even lovelier than I expected – there are no major chips or cracks, and the lock is in good working order. Oftentimes the clasping mechanism has become bent over the last 150 years and either tries to form a hermetic seal or refuses to hold the two halves together at all.
When you buy something like this, you never know entirely what you’re getting. Sellers don’t always describe everything with 100% accuracy, as much out of ignorance as anything else (rarely is it ill-will – lots of people just don’t know a lot about what they’re selling). This was described as of a post-Civil War US Army soldier. The fact that it is a tintype and not an ambrotype or a CDV would lend credence to that theory, as tintypes were immensely popular after the war, and although not exclusively an American phenomenon, their greatest popularity was in the United States. However, several things about the uniform suggest that A: it is not American, and B: it is potentially pre- or inter-war. In researching US Army uniforms, I found several uniform stylings from the 1840s-50s that bear a resemblance to the jacket he is wearing. But in my understanding of US Army uniforms (hardly encyclopedic) there was never a pith helmet issued. The rifle appears to be a percussion-cap rifle, which if American, could be an 1840s Harpers Ferry Arsenal product.
Another possibility is that this is a cadet at one of the private military academies. I can rule out The Citadel, VMI, and West Point as possibilities as their uniforms are sufficiently different, particularly in the cuffs of the sleeves.
This photo was taken out-of-doors as can be seen from the grass in the foreground stopping at the canvas backdrop.
You can also see on the scan of the tintype out of its packet that there are scuff marks from the mat. They appear to match the mat, but this is not definitive. The case just feels wrong for the image – it seems to be earlier than the image, and much fancier than you would associate with a tintype. My instinct tells me that sometime after the image was made, someone decided to do a case-ectomy and swap the original case, be it leather or a paper sleeve, for this one. The scratches to the emulsion also seem to suggest that this image was not in a case for its entire life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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|
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.
This is an unusually packaged tintype of three shopkeepers, one with a broom. I have more than good reason to suspect that the image is not original to the packet in which it resides – the packet itself is very oddly assembled, with the brass frame in four separate sections held together by a strangely still elastic string.The packet itself consists of the cover glass, the brass passepartout, the tintype, and a very thick backing glass that appears to have been blackened at one point with some kind of varnish that has faded and flaked off in spots over the intervening century and a half. The varnished back glass would suggest that it had been originally paired with a clear glass ambrotype. However, a clear glass ambrotype would have been thicker than the tintype, and the packet as is barely fits inside the brass frame. Altogether, a mystery of how this particular ensemble came to be assembled as it currently stands.