A tintype of two men boxing, for your consideration.
I’m attracted to this image by virtue of the slight motion blur captured in their pose – their hands and faces are a little soft from the 1+ second exposure. I suppose this could theoretically be an occupational tintype in that they may be boxers, although they’re rather formally dressed for athletes. I suspect this is just another case of two friends having a lark in the photographers’ studio. There’s probably a lost backstory to the picture – perhaps an inside joke about friends or siblings who were always fighting? Or perhaps it was a photographers’ study.
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.
Here’s another tintype, also acquired today, that fits into that “gay interest” category because it shows two men being physically affectionate. Once more, I will stress that there is NO WAY to know the meaning of the gesture: it was much more acceptable in that day and age for two male friends to hold hands as a sign of friendship. These two look like they could very well be brothers. That aside, it’s an excellent example of a hand-tinted tintype showing a slice of Victorian culture in America. I wonder what’s going on with the one white sock, or is it a single white spat, on the gentleman with crossed legs. This is where the intrigue builds – it could be just that he lost one on the way to the studio, or he got one dirty and decided that only having one looked better than having one clean and one dirty. Or he was absentminded and put on one white sock and one dark one, kind of like Albert Einstein. Or, it could be an 1860’s/1870’s code to indicate something about the relationship between the two men. Without knowing historical referents, it’s an exercise in making interpretive leaps from fragmentary, inconclusive evidence.
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!