Category Archives: Cased Images

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.

Occupational tintype – Shopkeepers

Shopkeepers
Shopkeepers

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.

Awesome Occupational Cased Tintype

I went to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania today, as much to get out of the house while we still had nice weather (I think it was nearly 70F for the high today, even if a bit overcast!) as anything else. My parents had been up there a couple weeks ago, and told me about this one antiques shop that they thought was worth visiting. The shop not only had a much better than usual bin of “instant ancestors” (more on that in a minute), but they also had an amazing display of (surprisingly reasonably priced) other Civil War -era photos (dags, cased tins, and cased ambrotypes) and a veritable museum worth of vintage rifles, muskets, pistols, swords, cannonballs, uniforms and paraphernalia (canteens, insignia, and so on). I picked up a quartet of “instant ancestors”, and had my eye on three others that were in the box but not bargain priced. Over in the big glass display case with all the high-ticket cased images of identified soldiers both Union and Confederate, there was this occupational tintype, complete with embossed leather case:

Occupational Trio, Cased Tintype ca. 1865
Occupational Trio, Cased Tintype ca. 1865

I’m showing it here out of its case because I scanned the tintype on my flatbed scanner while I had the packet apart to clean the cover glass (some idiot decided to stick the price tag to the cover glass with cellophane tape that was not a “magic” residue-free tape). This one was a minor splurge as I’m trying to keep myself to a budget, but given the overall quality I felt it was well worth it.

As to the subject matter – does anyone have any idea what profession these gentlemen might have? My first thought was butcher, but they don’t seem to be wielding any butcher’s knives or have any of their product with them. My second thought went to baker, but again, no bread in the photo, and I’ve seen bakers before holding bread. Perhaps greengrocers? Shop clerks? The aprons are rather long for general store clerks, I think, but I’m not an expert on 19th century tradesmens uniforms.

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.

Paris Opera House circa 1875

Here is an oddity – a cased albumen print of the Paris Opera house, taken shortly after it opened. The Opera was commissioned in 1861, and completed in 1875. The image could be as early as 1867, when the facade of the not-yet-completed opera house was bared of its scaffolding for the first time. This was taken with a wet-plate camera – notice the foggy foreground? That was pedestrian traffic blurring in the long exposure required by the collodion emulsion.

Paris Opera albumen print
Paris Opera albumen print

The oddity is that someone would have put this in a brass mat and case (the case is now missing), and not presented this as a cabinet card or some other mounted paper format.

This image provides a cautionary tale for collectors – nothing went terribly wrong, and I don’t think I grossly over-paid for it, but when it was listed, it was described as a salt print from a calotype negative. I assumed from the brass mat that this description was accurate. Upon receiving the item, it became obvious that it was NOT a salt print (one easy way to tell is the gloss of the paper surface) and that it was NOT from a calotype (calotypes are paper negatives and are generally softer and more lacking in detail than an image from a glass or film negative).

The image was purchased from a dealer in France, who acquired the image from someone in Romania, as evidenced by the inner envelope the image arrived in. The outer envelope was marked with my proper address here in the United States, but the inner envelope had stamps and a return address from Romania. Pretty cool, eh? Kinda like that photo I have of an Osage brave from the Arkansas territory – it started life in Arkansas, was collected in New York, then ended up in Paris, and I bought it and brought it back to the US. It just shows that like houses and cars, photographs have a life of their own and we are mere custodians for the next generation.

Two new Daguerreotypes

Here are two new daguerreotypes just arrived at the collection- a strong portrait of an anonymous young man in a gorgeous gutta-percha geometric design case, and my first ever photographic jewelry; a strikingly engraved locket with a daguerreotype and tintype of father and daughter (that’s the most logical explanation for the different image types inside).

The 1/6th plate daguerreotype of the young man with a goatee:

Anonymous young gentleman with goatee
Anonymous young gentleman with goatee
Case design, Daguerreotype anonymous gentleman with goatee
Case design, Daguerreotype anonymous gentleman with goatee

I was trying to figure out why the man in this locket would have been a daguerreotype, but the woman a tintype. Were they husband and wife, it would make sense for both images to be the same type, as they would have been taken at the same time. But if it were father and daughter, it would make sense for the photos to have been taken at two different times – the daughter would be carrying around a memento (probably a memento morii) of her father. And the ship sailing into harbor on the front cover perhaps suggests why – the girl may have been the daughter of a sailor or ships captain/officer, who perished at sea… or not… he may have died at home of old age, but that wouldn’t make as much sense or as neat a story.

Daughter and Father, daguerrian locket
Daughter and Father, daguerrian locket
Locket, rear cover
Locket, rear cover
Locket, front cover, ship sailing into harbor
Locket, front cover, ship sailing into harbor

The locket is in excellent overall condition, considering it is much older than most pocket watches I have (I’d place it in the 1860s), yet it has much less wear on the hinge edge where it would be slid in and out of a collar or a pocket.