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.
This arrived in the mail the other day: my autographed copy of Surf Site Tin Type by Joni Sternbach. She’s an amazing photographer who over the span of several years and thousands of miles went around the world photographing surfers and surf culture using vintage camera gear in wet-plate collodion.
The print accompanying it was a bonus for participating in the Kickstarter campaign- an image of Duke Kahanamoku’s surfboard.
I’ve added a bunch of other books to the catalog here, and re-organized it to make it less painful to scroll through and find something. One of these days I’ll even find the time to finish cataloging the back-issues of Photographers International I have listed.
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.
I’ve selected this batch to group based on them being people of the theater or in theatrical performances of some kind. I excluded the circus freaks even though many of them were theatrical as well (Tom Thumb was a comic actor as well as a star of Barnum’s circus). I’m grouping the cross-dressed women in this because it may well have been a theatrical role they were playing, like Sallie Holman as Ike Partington. There are also acrobats in this grouping, as many of them performed in vaudeville halls as well as in circuses, so they count as theatricals in a way.
Take a look at the two violinists in the fifth row – I’m wondering if they aren’t in fact two pictures of the same duo, at different times.
I thought it would be fun to review my loose tintypes. These are only the ones I’ve previously posted to the blog, not the entire collection. They run the range from tiny gemtype size (the one of Mr. Phillips in the top hat) to quarter-plate size (almost 5×7). They span a time period from the 1860s to the 1920s. Assembled they present a fascinating if incomplete snapshot of daily life in Victorian America. Showing everything from affectionate friends to unconventional family groups to people on vacation to working people with the tools of their trades, they portray a slice of life otherwise undocumented in literature or historical narrative. This is one of the great joys of collecting images like this – not just the traditional studio portraits, but the images that express meaning and personality beyond a marker that someone existed.