While I’m on the topic of military themed images, I thought I’d do a (for the most part) no-words review of the military images in my collection.
My latest cased image acquisition. In contrast to the daguerreotype pair I just purchased, this is a tintype in a brass mat and frame in a gutta-percha (thermoplastic) case.
The case on this was even lovelier than I expected – there are no major chips or cracks, and the lock is in good working order. Oftentimes the clasping mechanism has become bent over the last 150 years and either tries to form a hermetic seal or refuses to hold the two halves together at all.
When you buy something like this, you never know entirely what you’re getting. Sellers don’t always describe everything with 100% accuracy, as much out of ignorance as anything else (rarely is it ill-will – lots of people just don’t know a lot about what they’re selling). This was described as of a post-Civil War US Army soldier. The fact that it is a tintype and not an ambrotype or a CDV would lend credence to that theory, as tintypes were immensely popular after the war, and although not exclusively an American phenomenon, their greatest popularity was in the United States. However, several things about the uniform suggest that A: it is not American, and B: it is potentially pre- or inter-war. In researching US Army uniforms, I found several uniform stylings from the 1840s-50s that bear a resemblance to the jacket he is wearing. But in my understanding of US Army uniforms (hardly encyclopedic) there was never a pith helmet issued. The rifle appears to be a percussion-cap rifle, which if American, could be an 1840s Harpers Ferry Arsenal product.
Another possibility is that this is a cadet at one of the private military academies. I can rule out The Citadel, VMI, and West Point as possibilities as their uniforms are sufficiently different, particularly in the cuffs of the sleeves.
This photo was taken out-of-doors as can be seen from the grass in the foreground stopping at the canvas backdrop.
You can also see on the scan of the tintype out of its packet that there are scuff marks from the mat. They appear to match the mat, but this is not definitive. The case just feels wrong for the image – it seems to be earlier than the image, and much fancier than you would associate with a tintype. My instinct tells me that sometime after the image was made, someone decided to do a case-ectomy and swap the original case, be it leather or a paper sleeve, for this one. The scratches to the emulsion also seem to suggest that this image was not in a case for its entire life.
Here’s a Union soldier, identity unknown, from the William J. Tait studio. This may well have been taken immediately prior to shipping out to battlefields unknown – the studio address is Courtlandt Street and Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan – basically in the site of the modern World Trade Center. Back then it would have been only two or three blocks from the waterfront piers. It’s another image that obviously meant a lot to someone as it has a fold across the middle – someone was carrying it around with them in a pocket. Did the sitter die in combat, or was it just a fond memory of a critical time in US history that inspired the owner to keep it at hand?
In a totally different light, here’s a west coast sailor. This time, most likely the 1890s, on a cabinet card. The original card is a little bit bigger than 3.5″ by 5″. I did a very mild clean-up of the scan in Photoshop to make the image more readable online. The original card is slightly lower in contrast and has a couple very minor spots in the background that do not interfere with the subject. I tried to scan his hat at high resolution to see if I could read the ship’s name he was assigned to, but it couldn’t be resolved (at least not with my scanner).
There’s a noticeable difference between the two photos, and I don’t think it is just attributable to the changes in photo technology between 1860 and 1890. The Civil War sitter has a far more somber expression on his face and in his body language – it’s as if he knows he is going to die, and this is a reminder to send back to his family so they won’t forget him when he’s gone. The 1890s sailor, on the other hand, is having a lark, getting his portrait done while in port perhaps as much a souvenir of the location as anything else. Later I’ll re-scan and post my Hong Kong sailor photos to provide a comparison.