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:
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.
I fell off the wagon again, as it were, with this image of a team of horses pulling a wagon. Dates and location unknown, but it’s a pretty big tintype – approximately 5″x7″. I’m assuming it’s an American image, but the wagon doesn’t look like a type I’m used to seeing in early American images. But I’m no wagon expert – anyone who knows more about this stuff, could they be English?
Here’s a fun little trio of cartes-de-visite, showing the same sitter what looks to be covering a span of 20 or more years. In the first one, Mr. S.W. Phillips of Baltimore appears youthful. In the second one, the card-mounted tintype, a bit older, sporting a rather tall top hat. And in the third photo, a definitely older Mr. Phillips has lost not only his hat but his hair.
I had to fight to keep all three together – the image with the top hat was of much interest to other buyers. I was willing to go a little over what I’d wanted to spend to keep the set, as I thought it would be a real shame for the other two to get separated where they’d linger in someone’s $5 box, unloved, unwanted and without context. As an erstwhile photo historian, all too often these kinds of things get lost because someone removes the context for the sake of the value of a single item.
On a separate note, almost totally unrelated to the rest of this post, sometimes I wish I had enough info to start a Baltimore photo map like my New York, DC and Philadelphia maps. I’m certain that there were many photographers there in the 19th century, as Baltimore was a much more important city at that time and a major hub of commerce and industry. Perhaps this can be a start – the Edkins Gallery at 103 Baltimore Street. If anyone out there in blog-land has studio addresses for Baltimore Victorian photo parlors, I’d love to have them so I can start the map!
Another genre of tintypes to collect is the “trickster”. These could be anything from examples like these where the photographer switched heads on bodies in the shot (don’t ask me how, my guess is it involved re-photographing a dissected original) or people dressed in drag, to modern-day ones like someone wearing victorian period costumes but sporting a digital watch or an iPod.
Little loose tintypes like these (approximately 2×3 inches each) are generally a very affordable entree into collecting. These are both probably from the 1890s/early 1900s.
Here are two tintypes that would probably get listed on eBay as “gay interest”. The one appears to me to be pretty obviously a father and son posing in formal wear. The other is much more ambiguous – is it a trio of gay couples? Just six friends stopping by the tintype parlor on a lark? One of the men in the front row appears to be clenching a cigar in his fingers, and two of the men in the front row seem to have some kind of numbers chalked on the soles of their shoes (who knows what it is, if anything). Also very odd is the staging- the men in front look like they’re sitting on the floor, but the men behind them appear to be standing upright, not sitting or kneeling. Are the two men in the front row (left and center) brothers? Inquiring minds want to know!
Last but not least, aren’t you glad swimwear has evolved since the 1880s? How’d you like to go for a dip in the ocean and have to wear that stuff? It’s bad enough when your swim trunks dry out and get salty – imagine that feeling all over! And how long would it take for what looks like wool to dry after a thorough immersion in salt water? You’d be as likely to catch pneumonia from the swimsuit!
Someone who shall remain unidentified was selling a tintype on eBay. I won’t describe the image in detail, except to say that the subject matter was of sailors. There was a unique identifying feature in the photo that had the potential to point either to World War I or the Civil War. In doing a tiny tiny bit of basic (wikipedia) searching, the more logical conclusion is WW I. The seller had it labeled as a civil war image. I emailed him and pointed out the reasons why the image was WW I. His response back was “I know of no WW I era tintypes as the process was obsolete by the 20th century”. The tintype was around as a souvenir photo at carnivals and fairs into the 1930s. I have some tintypes in my collection that show people with cars. I know I shouldn’t pick fights with people on stuff like this- I don’t care about what it sells for and I don’t want to disrupt this guy’s business, but inaccuracy with something like this rankles me, moreso when it’s caused by unwillingness to do basic research, and even moreso when it’s done out of greed. A WW I tintype of sailors is probably worth $20-50. A Civil War tintype of sailors, tack at least another zero on those numbers, and depending on condition and quality, possibly two more zeros.
Here’s a good simple reference on the history of the tintype, if anyone is interested:
Here are the three new daguerreotypes that arrived yesterday. The scans do not do them justice, as they pick up every fleck of dust and scratch and magnify them, plus the images themselves are slightly soft due to being just out of the scanner’s focusing range. They’re all 1/6 plate daguerreotypes in full leather cases. Mrs. A.A. Hill and the gentleman with the top hat have had their seals replaced and glass and mats cleaned recently. The anonymous gentleman in the fancy vest still has his original seals on the packet. Given that the cases of the two gentlemen’s photos are almost identical (same style of mat and packet frame, same style of case lining – plain red silk), the odds are in favor of them both having been made within a year or two of each other – the gent in the fancy vest would have been photographed sometime between 1847 and 1851.
And last but certainly not least, is the photo that started it all. This was the first image I ever “collected” – it was an inheritance from my grandmother. Alas she did not get to tell me what if anything she knew about him, as it came to me shortly before she passed away. Thanks to a friend who is a serious civil war buff and re-enactor, I have been able to put some information together about who he might be. The soldier was a member of the 76th Pennsylvania Zouaves, who trained and fought in Moroccan-style uniforms adopted from French Zouave units. Zouaves (pronounced zoo-ahh-vah), patterned after the French Zouaves, were elite units especially popular in the Union Army. They were known for their precision on the drill field and for their colorful uniforms consisting of gaiters, baggy pants, short red jackets with trim, and turbans or fezzes.* Given the area of Pennsylvania in which my family lived, he was probably a member of Company B, D or E of the 76th Pennsylvania. The 76th Pennsylvania was involved in a number of major conflicts during the Civil War, including the assault on Fort Wagner (made famous in the movie Glory where the 54th Massachussetts (the first authorized all African-American unit) won their honor in the assault on the ramparts), Drewry’s Bluff, Cold Harbor, the siege of Petersburg, the battle of Fair Oaks, and the surrender of Johnston’s army. As typical, they lost more men to disease than to combat – 161 killed vs 192 laid low by disease. The officers fared better- 9 killed vs. 2 lost to illness. I don’t know for certain, but I believe my ancestor was one of the survivors.
According to my friend, this image was made in late 1861 or early 1862, as the uniform changed over the course of the war to more closely resemble the standard Union blue uniforms. Also, in this picture he looks to be in the peak of health. Most veterans by late in the war were looking rather thin, and on the Confederate side, downright malnourished.
The photo is a 1/9th plate tintype in a half-case – the case is designed to look like a miniature book, but now the front cover has gone AWOL.
If anyone can help identify him more specifically, your assistance would be GREATLY appreciated. The last name would most likely be Berger (or a spelling variation on the same) or Riley. Davies is also possible, but less likely as I think the Davies branch didn’t immigrate to the US until the 1870s, but that could be wrong.
It COULD be George W. Reilly of Company E, but according to the records I found, he entered service in 1865, as a substitute for someone else who was drafted, so the early uniform date would not make sense.
It could also be James D. Davis or George Davis, who were Corporals in Company C, but the spelling of the name is wrong for the time period.
Another possibility is James P. Davis of Company K. Again, the spelling is wrong, but the location is a fit – Company K was organized in Schuykill County, which is where the Davies branch of the family lived. Two other Davises, Robert and Isaac, are listed as privates in Company K, but both were killed in action. So I’m a bit confused as to who he might have been. He’s got some kind of rank insignia on his sleeve, but it is only one stripe, and Union corporals had two stripes. In the modern Marine Corps, lance corporals get a single stripe, but this is not a Marine uniform. So herein lies a giant mystery.
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.
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
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
One daguerreotype, missing case
One daguerreotype, in half leather case
Three daguerreotypes in leather cases
One ambrotype, in half leather case
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Here is another occupational tintype – this one is a bit unusual, not rare, just unusual, in that most of the unmounted tintypes you find are approximately CDV sized or 1/6 plate. This is roughly 1/4 plate size – a little larger than average. Interesting that if you look carefully, you can see that the photographer pre-focused on the set, so the beer bottles and the gate are in focus, but the two men are not completely sharp. This was sold to me as wine-makers as the subject – thanks to the magic of a good scanner, I was able to read the label on one bottle. It says Cabinet Export Beer, Keystone Brewing. I can’t make out the line that has the location. In doing my own simple web searching, most of the references I get are to Keystone Beer, the Coors subsidiary. If anyone out there knows a good reference to historic brewing in the US (or outside the US – I did see some mention of a Keystone Brewing in the UK). In any case, here’s a close-up of the label, in case anyone recognizes this.