The latest acquisition in my collection – an unnamed Corporal in the US Army, photographed by Alexander Gardner.
If you look carefully you can see the service stripe on his sleeve. This designates three years of service, so in all likelihood this was taken in 1864, as Gardner was working for Mathew Brady until late 1862, and opened his own Washington DC studio in 1863. Soldiers with the three year service stripe would have been quite rare before 1864 due to the politics of enlistment in the first years of the war and the relatively small size of the army prior to 1861. I’m not sure how long after the War ended he continued to use the “Photographer to the Army of the Potomac” logo, but it most likely ceased within a year or two after the war, as the civilian population quickly tired of reminders of the irrepressible bloody conflict.
I just discovered one reason why Gardner studio imprint CDVs are so much less common than Brady studio imprint CDVs – Gardner ceased photographing in 1871 and opened an insurance firm, whereas Brady continued working as a photographer until his death three decades after the war.
Ok- it looks like the elk horn chair Seth Kinman gave to President Lincoln made the photo studio rounds in 1864. I now have a copy of the Brady version of the chair’s portrait, along with the Alexander Gardner version. In perusing the Wikipedia article, there appears to be at least one other Brady version of the Kinman-Lincoln chair. I’m trying to find out the disposition of the chair today – it may be part of the White House collections, or it may belong to the Smithsonian. I’ll update when I find out.
According to Wikipedia, here is the story of this particular chair:
Kinman’s presentation of an elkhorn chair to President Abraham Lincoln at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 26, 1864 was recorded by artist Alfred Waud, the only known picture of Lincoln accepting a gift. The drawing shows Lincoln examining Kinman’s rifle, which he called “Ol’ Cottonblossum.” Kinman also presented a fiddle made from the skull and a rib of his favorite mule and played the instrument.
Much to the amusement of Lincoln and other spectators, he played ‘Essence of Old Virginia’ and ‘John Brown’ on the bones of the mule. Lincoln said that if he could play the fiddle he would ask him for it, but since he could not, the fiddle would be better off in Mr. Kinman’s hands.
Within three weeks, Lincoln stated that he would prefer to eat Kinman’s chair, antlers and all, than to appoint a certain office-seeker.
The following April, Kinman marched in President Lincoln’s funeral cortege in Washington.
Here is the Gardner CDV for comparison:
To quote the Wikipedia page about Seth Kinman:
Seth Kinman (September 29, 1815 – February 24, 1888) was an early settler of Humboldt County, California, a hunter based in Fort Humboldt, a famous chair maker, and a nationally recognized entertainer. He stood over 6 ft (1.83 m) tall and was known for his hunting prowess and his brutality toward bears and Indians. Kinman claimed to have shot a total of over 800 grizzly bears, and, in a single month, over 50 elk. He was also a hotel keeper, barkeeper, and a musician who performed for President Lincoln on a fiddle made from the skull of a mule.
Known for his publicity seeking, Kinman appeared as a stereotypical mountain man dressed in buckskins on the U.S. east coast and selling cartes de visites of himself and his famous chairs. The chairs were made from elkhorns and grizzly bear skins and given to U.S. Presidents. Presidents so honored include James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes. He may have had a special relationship with President Lincoln, appearing in at least two of Lincoln’s funeral corteges, and claiming to have witnessed Lincoln’s assassination.
His autobiography, dictated to a scribe in 1876, was first published in 2010 and is noted for putting “the entertainment value of a story ahead of the strict facts.” His descriptions of events change with his retelling of them. Contemporary journalists and modern writers were clearly aware of the stories contained in the autobiography, “but each chooses which version to accept.
here is a young couple who posed at Mathew Brady’s Washington DC studio. They must have been “somebodys” because Brady bothered to copyright the image. I’ve seen enough of his images to notice that the copyright notice is used inconsistently, which leads me to think it was either to protect specific images because of the subject matter, or it may have been time-delimited as a result of a copyright dispute between himself and Alexander Gardner arising out of Gardner’s work for Brady during the Civil War. I’ve noticed it most often on the Fairy Wedding images, but also on the Brady version of the Seth Kinman elkhorn chair (I don’t have the Brady version, just the Alex Gardner version, which has Gardner’s studio stamp on the back, but Seth Kinman’s copyright notice on the front. I don’t recall if the Brady one has Brady’s copyright or Kinman’s).
If any of you Civil War buffs or Victorian America historians recognize this couple, any information would be greatly appreciated.
We’ll start this one with two of the most famous Victorian era photographers, Alexander Gardner and Mathew Brady. The Gardner blind stamp changes, but the only thing I can say for certain is that the stamp with the US Capitol building on it was during or shortly after the Civil War, as it touts his association with the Union army.
The Brady evolution is more obvious. The simple, plain version is his blind stamp from early in the Civil War period. The more ornate, shield-like design would be the 1870s, and the final version is the large letters.
Note the similar evolution in Chas Eisenmann’s blind stamp design. I don’t have a good idea of how long a span of time it took for his design to evolve – it may have been as little as a few years, or it may have been a decade or more separating them. I think though that once he changed it, he stuck with the globetrotter logo for an extended period, perhaps 20 years or more.
C.D. Fredricks bind stamp. I know I have another one of his that would be the “middle” design, but I haven’t hunted it down in the CDV album I have – it would be the “middle” in that it no longer says, “specialité”, but also lists Paris and Havana as studio locations, but the design is not as fancy as the late one.
M.P. Rice. Note the change also includes the addition of (most likely) his son to the masthead of the business. Using the date on the verso, this style had arrived by the late 1870s, so the shield designs would have been late 1860s to early 1870s.
Finally some others for which I don’t have early/late pairings. These are just a few of the others I have, but I like looking at them just for the art.
Here’s an anonymous CDV, labeled on the back “View of Patterson’s House, from the N. Yd” I take that to mean North Yard. It must have been an industrialists home, built on the grounds of the factory.
This is only the second architectural CDV I’ve found. I did some cleanup on the scan of the close-up to make it easier to view. If anyone has any idea where this is/was, I would greatly appreciate feedback. The cdv was purchased in south-west Virginia, near Staunton and Harrisonburg. This is perhaps the poorest condition CDV I own, as it has separated into its various components – the albumen print has separated from the card backing, which has separated into two separate, very thin and delicate layers. This is actually interesting because it gives you an insight into how these were assembled, and the various weights and qualities of the paper components. This is also the first CDV I have that the glass plate negative shows a crack in the print (note the lower left corner of the image). I’ve seen plenty of other larger wet collodion images shot on glass plate that show cracks, perhaps the most infamous one being Alexander Gardner’s last portrait of Abraham Lincoln where the plate cracked right through his head. But I’ve never seen a CDV sized image with a cracked plate. Either it just didn’t happen all that often, or the plates that did crack were re-shot and discarded, or both. In any case, this must have been a very important image to someone to have survived the damaged plate.
Patterson House was the home of one of the first commandants of the US Navy Yard in Washington DC. So N. Yd. stands for Navy Yard. This would also place the image in the 1860s, perhaps inter-war or possibly pre-war. Given the location, it is quite possible this image came from either the Brady or Gardner studios, or perhaps even Timothy O’Sullivan. It is impossible to say as there is no identifying imprint on the recto, and the original verso layer of the card is missing. Further research is merited. Because there is no imprint on the front, I would suspect Gardner over Brady, as Gardner did not print his name on the front of his CDVs, and he had a strong relationship with the US Military (he was the one called to photograph the Lincoln conspirators after their capture and incarceration aboard US Navy ironclads anchored at the Navy Yard and the subsequent execution, held a scant few blocks away on what is now the grounds of Fort McNair). So I may well have another Gardner image!
Here’s another portrait by Gardner. Funny thing – Gardner was much more successful in business than Mathew Brady, yet Brady images are far more common than Gardner’s CDVs. I don’t know if it is that he did fewer (certainly seems so) or that his subjects’ heirs are largely holding on to them still. Given the disproportion between his images and Brady’s in the marketplace (not a statistically validated survey, but in my estimation, there’s a 10:1 ratio or more on the Brady:Gardner ratio), I’d say that he just didn’t make that many. This was obviously from his civilian commercial operation, and probably a few years after the Civil War as there is no mention on the back of being “Official Photographer to the Army of the Potomac”. The country as a whole grew war-weary in the aftermath of the war – all aspects of society were changing, and quite radically. Slavery had ended, the agrarian/industrial divide fell heavily in favor of industrialization. Women were a (temporary) presence in the workforce after the death of nearly 700,000 men of working age over four years of truly brutal combat.
With all this change and stress, it’s not a surprise that an association with the US Army that was trumpeted in 1864 would be quickly effaced from advertising copy.
Here’s another CDV from the Alexander Gardner studio. It’s a card-size copy of an architectural rendering of St. Paul’s Church here in Washington DC. The Architect is Emlen T. Littell, 111 Broadway, New York. I’ve done a little digging and can’t find a current St. Paul’s church that looks like this – there are a number of St. Paul’s churches in the DC area, but the ones I could find in the most probable parts of town for the time period don’t look anything like this, nor do they mention the architect – and several of them do mention the architect who designed their building.
Emlen Littell was a prominent ecclesiastical architect in the 2nd half of the 19th century, working mostly in New York and Philadelphia. He became president of the American Institute of Architects. One of his most famous designs is the Church of the Incarnation in New York City, which had many famous parishioners including Admiral David Farragut and Eleanor Roosevelt. FDR’s mother’s funeral was held there as well. It has windows designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany among other well-known Victorian artists.
I was able to kill two birds with one stone on this image – I found an Alexander Gardner CDV (which is rare in itself!) and an image nearly identical to a Mathew Brady version I had seen, but in better overall condition, for the same money as the Brady. So now I have two official Gardners.
I found my first Alexander Gardner CDV! I’m very excited. It’s a really cool image of a large group of what could be a family, four couples, or just eight random friends. None are identified. I’ve been hunting for a Gardner CDV for a while now, as they don’t seem to be all that common, unlike the Brady CDVs which show up frequently. I was intrigued by the group dynamic – is this a family? Some of the men appear related, but one doesn’t fit. The couples, if in fact they are four married couples, are not arranged in any particular pairings. Could they just be a group of (extremely well-dressed) friends who dropped by the studio? And what’s with the odd composition showing the group bunched to the side, and the head clamp sitting in the corner by its lonesome? Very odd. It makes the image rather self-reflexive, calling attention to the fact that it is a photograph, not a painting, by reminding us of the process of taking a wet-plate image. Is it perhaps a sign of virtuosity, suggesting that the head clamp was not required? Or was it just sloppy workmanship and by the time they realized they forgot to put the head clamp out of the way, it was too late, and the sitters said, “well, that’s ok we’ll take it anyway”?
Another recent acquisition is a quarter-plate daguerreotype I found in an antiques mall outside Charlottesville, Virginia. This was a fortunate find – not only is the image larger in size than you normally see, but the image quality and preservation is overall quite good (the original seals are intact), and the case, though worn, is complete and still maintains the original hinge and clasps. The image is probably from a Charlottesville area estate, but no identifying information was provided with it. I did remove the packet from the case and discovered the names of the subjects scratched into the paper lining – I’ll have to grind a pencil lead on some sandpaper to make some carbon dust and try to get the characters filled in so I can read the inscription and identify the sitters. I’ll post a photo of it when I have figured out what it says.
Apologies for the color of the image – this was my first time scanning a daguerreotype, and the image itself came out more blue-green than it is in reality. I was concerned about over-correcting and turning the mats some garish shade of yellow that they’re not, so I left it alone this time. This was another intriguing composition – almost all the dags I’ve seen and bought before have some kind of background and/or props for the sitters. This looks like the couple is against a black backdrop, almost as if they’re floating in space. And the large dead space at the top of the frame is interesting too, from a compositional standpoint.
Here is a link to the DC photographers’ map. I’ve got some more photographers written down somewhere that I’ll be adding to the map soon. I found addresses on a CDV for Alexander Gardner’s studio, but oddly enough there were A: two addresses not adjacent but still proximate to each other, and B: neither one was the address I thought it was. There is still the remains of a wet-plate era portrait studio that you can see from the alley behind the National Council of Negro Women’s headquarters in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Avenue. Even though it’s not a portrait studio, I’m including Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office on the map as a point of interest because it, like so many of these studios, was presumed lost for decades but only recently re-discovered, and is chronologically and geographically contemporaneous with the studios I’m tracking. At some point I’m sure either the patrons or the staff of her bureau availed themselves of the photographic archives of the studios in the neighborhood to help in finding missing soldiers after the war.
Also interesting – Alexander Gardner began his career in Washington working as Mathew Brady’s studio manager. At some point they had a falling out and Gardner opened his own studio. I didn’t realize it was literally next door to Brady’s.
I can also now definitively place Schroeder & Rakeman’s studio in Northwest DC, having found another photographer making reference to the “Market” at Pennsylvania Avenue, which is where the Navy Memorial is currently located.