Tag Archives: Henry Ward Beecher

In the shadow of giants, or “So you’re the little lady whose book started this big war”

Two new additions to the collection, and what may well be a collecting coup – a potentially previously unknown image of Harriet Beecher Stowe, by Gurney of New York.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Beecher Stowe

For those unfamiliar with who Harriet Beecher Stowe was, she was the daughter of a deeply intellectual preacher and abolitionist, Lyman Beecher. Her brother, Henry Ward Beecher, would become a leading figure in the abolition movement of his own, and a major intellectual light in Victorian-era America.Henry Ward Beecher, from the New York Times

Even though Henry was an oratorical and political powerhouse in his day, famous (or infamous, depending on your Union or Confederate sympathies), Harriet Beecher Stowe eclipsed him in his fame as a result of a book she wrote, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

It is reported that upon being introduced to Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862, Abraham Lincoln fondly commented she was “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Although President Lincoln’s comment was certainly made in jest, in truth, Stowe’s novel was indeed instrumental in awakening the abolitionist cause, which was a major factor in turning a nation against itself for four arduous years.

* see linked article below for citation

For an excellent biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, read Harriet Beecher Stowe biography, Ohio State University History department

Here is a photo of Henry and Harriet together, from Wikipedia-

Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe

This photo of Henry Ward Beecher, my other acquisition in this pair, is one by Mathew Brady, published by E&HT Anthony and as such is a common image in average condition.

Henry Ward Beecher, by Brady
Henry Ward Beecher, by Brady

Acquiring this image of Harriet Beecher Stowe in many ways closes a circle for me as I now have a face to go with the book, of which I own a rather tatty copy of the 1852 first printing of the first British edition of the book.

Busy Week in Collecting, Part 2 – various CDVs, including celebrity photos

Here for your viewing pleasure are three random CDVs. The first one I don’t have a lot to say about because the sitter is unknown. The photographer is William Shew, who began his photographic career on the East Coast, then moved out to San Francisco in 1851 to capitalize on the gold rush. He began his career as a Daguerreotypist, and his first studios in San Francisco were a mobile wagon parked in the plaza at Kearny between Clay and Washington streets – now Chinatown (which I hope to photograph the location as it appears today while I’m out in San Francisco on vacation). He was one of only three photographers in San Francisco at the time.

Anonymous CDV by Willam Shew, San Francisco
Anonymous CDV by Willam Shew, San Francisco

The next pair of images come from the mid-19th century cult of celebrity. Although both cards are not marked as to their photographer, there is a good probability that they were taken by the Brady studio, which was known for such subjects, and both had been photographed on other occasions by Brady. The first is Henry Ward Beecher, the prominent preacher and abolitionist and brother to Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and according to Abraham Lincoln, “this little lady whose book started this great big war”.

CDV of Henry Ward Beecher, photographer unknown (probably Brady)
CDV of Henry Ward Beecher, photographer unknown (probably Brady)

This one may NOT be Brady’s, because the set is so plain – even the hat stand/support prop is rather simple for Brady’s studio, and oftentimes public figures of Beecher’s status would be invited to sit for their pictures whenever they visited a new town. These cards were the sports trading cards/Tiger Beat posters of their day, and people would collect them in albums to show off when friends came to visit.

The last image is another of Commodore Nutt and a woman who is unidentified, but another little person. It MAY be Minnie Warren, sister of Lavinia Warren, ex-sweetheart of Commodore Nutt who went on to marry General Tom Thumb in the Fairy Wedding (see previous post), but she appears smaller of stature than Minnie. It is also NOT the Commodore’s wife, who while below average height, was not a dwarf. Again, an anonymous image, but very much in the same vein. It may be possible to identify the photographer from the backdrop of the image. The custom backdrops like this were often like fingerprints or signatures for individual photographers’ work – the painted backdrops were often custom-made and very expensive, so they show up over and over again.

Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)
Commodore Nutt and unknown little woman, Anonymous CDV (probably Brady)

Note the feet of the posing clamp stand showing from behind the girl/woman. I love finding images that show the stand – it’s a bit of a reminder how the image was made. These would all have been shot in daylight studios on wet plate collodion negatives, which meant that the subjects still had multi-second exposures to hold still for.