My latest addition to the collection – an early Daguerreotype of a little girl, by Charles C. Evans of 380 Market Street, Philadelphia. The velvet pad on the other side of the case reads “Evans 380 Market Street Girard Row” encircled by “Original Sun Beam”. I’d photograph the pad but the case, while complete, is in delicate condition and to do so would risk breaking the case completely (someone a long time in the past tried to repair the case and over-reinforced the spine, rendering it rigid and ultimately damaged it more). The image did have its original seals, but when I lifted the packet out of the case, they basically fell off, so now it’s time to re-seal it with the correct kind of archival tape.
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.
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|
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.
My three latest acquisitions. I’ve mentioned/showed the gentleman in the book-form case before, but I have a better photo of the image itself to include now. The little milk-glass ambrotype is truly exquisite. These are in a way consolation prizes for the one that got away – I was bidding on but got outgunned on a vintage 16×21 William Henry Jackson albumen print of Bridalveil falls at Yosemite, from the days of his Denver studio (1880-1897). That was a shame; at the closing bell I could have bought it but then I’d have had to turn around and re-sell it immediately, which would have been no fun. These I get to keep as long as I like.
The first of the new images has arrived. The cased quarter-plate daguerreotype of a gentleman. The case itself is quite amazing – made to look like a little book, it’s nearly half an inch thick and gives the plate some real heft. Makes you wonder if the family had a series of them together on a shelf in their library. The image itself is in quite excellent condition, with minimal tarnishing around the edges of the mat. There is a very subtle hand-coloring applied to his cheeks. As you can see from the shot of the open case, the spine is torn but not completely broken.
Well, new to me that is…
I’ve been off the collecting kick lately because I had some more gear and supplies to buy for my own photography. I found a pair of 14×17 inch film holders that fit my Canham 14×17, and although they’re not a color match for the other three, they’re more than good enough – the external dimensions are identical, so they
re an exact fit, which is the most critical factor when looking for such things. Oh, and they’re less than half the price of new ones that do match my existing holders.
So, with that holdup out of the way, it’s on to more collecting. Two daguerreotypes and a milk glass ambrotype are en route. Daguerreotypes are much more familiar to most people, so I’ll save further commentary until I have them to show. A milk glass ambrotype though- you might wonder what is it? Simply, it’s an ambrotype on a piece of white, opaque glass. Not so simply, to get the image to show, you create a collodion negative the same way you would if you were planning to make albumen or salt prints. You coat a second wet plate onto a piece of milk glass (a white/opalescent glass), then separate the negative from the milk glass with a thin wire or shim or anything that will keep the collodion original very close to but not in contact with the new wet plate. Expose and process as normal for collodion. You end up with a positive on the milk glass (a negative of a negative is a positive). Because of the extra labor involved, they’re somewhat rare. The one I’ve got coming is a very small (1/9th plate size) oval portrait of a young woman, done with a very attractively executed vignette, in a red velvet case. I’ll post pictures as soon as I get it in my own hands. I have no idea who she is or what she did for a living, but something about the outfit feels like a nurse’s habit. Maybe it’s the vignette giving a subliminal halo to the woman adding to the impression – who knows? It probably is a civil war era image, but if that’s true, she’s probably not a nurse, as most of the official requirements for nurses during the civil war requested that they be doughy, extremely plain of looks, and past marriageable age. This girl is none of the above.
For those who haven’t been following this, a few years ago the Liljenquist family (father and three sons) began collecting civil war cased tintypes and ambrotypes. They amassed a collection of over 700 images, of which approximately 10% have been identified. They range in size from 1/9th plate to 1/2 plate, and in subject matter from Union and Confederate soldiers to children, wives, mothers and family members in mourning, officers and enlisted and both slaves and freedmen. The collection is currently on display at the Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress. Although small, the display encompasses some 300 images: some two hundred and fifty Union soldiers and their families and some fifty Confederates. One of the most striking images in the collection is the former slave and his family, a wife and two daughters, posed with him in Union uniform. It makes an interesting parallel that 150 years ago, this man was fighting for his freedom, and today, a very similar man with a very similar family sits in the White House, President of a nation radically remade by the sacrifices of that African-American soldier. Other highlights include the little girl dressed in mourning attire, holding a photo of her father who quite possibly she never knew, and the picture of the confederate soldier accompanied by a letter back home to his family describing how he died on the field of battle. A mourning necklace is also on display: the pendant is an oval gutta-percha case containing the photograph while the chain supporting it is woven of human hair, most likely from the woman who made it and whose husband is depicted inside the case.
The collection is astonishing in its scope and specificity, as well as for the collecting acumen displayed by the Liljenquist family. The family still collects at a furious pace, and so the Library has asked them to make their donations quarterly, instead of weekly as they had been doing, to give the curators time to catalog and preserve their donations. The collection in its entirety will be available online through the Library of Congress’ website in the near future.
Link to the collection: The Last Full Measure: The Liljenquist Collection at the Library of Congress
They also have the collection on display on the LoC Flickr feed entitled “Civil War Faces“. They welcome input from the general public as part of the effort to identify the subjects of the photographs.