The latest arrival in my collection – a new CDV of the Thumb “family” including the rent-a-baby, in a pose I haven’t seen before, combined with an advertising verso. The grand irony of the advertisement is that it violates the prime directive of advertising – let your customers know WHERE to get your products. Where on earth (let alone what street in what town in what state) is B. Green’s Modern Wonder Department??
My latest acquisition- this was quite a surprise to find at an online estate auction: a 5×7 (roughly 1/2 plate) tintype in a gilt 8×10 frame, of an identified Union soldier. This is another case of it pays to do a little research when selling- the subject was misidentified as Thomas Hanks, and the rest of the information present in the label was described as “illegible”. It truly is hard to read, but a few minutes playing around in Photoshop and a few more minutes on the US Park Service Civil War Soldiers database (Search Soldiers) got me the confirmation of what I have. Thomas Adams was killed at the Siege of Petersburg on August 12, 1864. He managed to avoid the Battle of the Crater only to die some two weeks later.
This is another CDV I’ve been looking for for a long time – Che Mah, the Chinese Dwarf. I had previously purchased a copy that was in faded condition, thinking it would be some time before I’d find another in better shape. Then this one rolled around.
Unlike the facsimile signatures on the versos of a bunch of my Tom Thumb CDVs, I do believe the pencil signature in English and Chinese is in the hand of Che Mah directly. It certainly does not appear to be mechanically reproduced, and it looks distinct from the signature on the first one:
I just acquired another CDV of Lavinia Warren by Appleton of New York. What’s interesting is that here the photographer, A.A. Turner, is also credited on the studio imprint. I’m assuming that in order for this to have happened, Mr. Turner must have been a financial partner in the business or otherwise a major player, because the other name studios of the period never credited the camera operators, even ones who later went on to have extremely notable careers of their own (Timothy O’Sullivan and Alexander Gardner both worked for Mathew Brady at some point but are not credited on Brady’s cartes de visite, even when Gardner was Brady’s studio manager in DC and helped restore the financial well-being of the studio).
For comparison I’m including the other Lavinia Warren image by Appleton I have:
These appear to be different sittings, as her outfit and the furniture in both scenes are different.
My biggest collecting theme so far is Tom Thumb. I got started when I was first starting to collect CDVs and found one of the Tom Thumb wedding photos by Brady with the facsimile signatures on the verso. Lately I’ve been spurred in my collecting to see if they can outdo Frederick Douglass in their image-making as the most photographed people of the 19th century (see my blog post about Tom Thumb and Frederick Douglass)
This is another CDV of Tom Thumb and his wife, Lavinia Warren, by C.D. Fredricks. I think I’m up to 25 now, and I know there are at least a dozen more images I don’t have that are in reasonably widespread circulation. I don’t think I have any that are particularly rare. This was a very nice acquisition as it is in near-mint condition and the print is exceptionally sharp and fresh.
What are some of the distinguishing features of a CDV that can help you date the image? Fashions worn by the subject, certainly. Hand-written dates and identifications on the verso, yes. The photographer’s information on the verso imprint – often times with better known studios, the dates of operation at a particular location are known, so seeing a particular address would give you a window of when the image was made. Another clue is the style of the imprint – in the early days of the CDV, photographers’ imprints were little more than a name, perhaps a motto, and an address. Later CDVs (starting in the late 1860s and progressing through the end of the CDV period) have more ornate logos on the verso, a trickle-down effect from the more popular cabinet card.
When much of this information is not available, though, how can you tell? There are many CDVs out there that have no imprint, and no identifying information recorded. One way is through the pose. It is rare to find a US Civil War era CDV shot as a tight head-and-shoulders portrait. Such is the case in this image. A post-war portrait, you can tell first through the image composition. Next is his facial hair – while sideburns (so named after the Union General Ambrose Burnside) were around and popular during and even before the war, this beard style is later. The uniform style also has clues- the lapels of his jacket are a post-war style. I’m no expert on military uniforms, but with a bit of careful research, uniforms can help you date the image sometimes within a several year period if there is a particular piece of equipment or clothing displayed that was only issued briefly.
In this particular case, I’m very lucky – the photographer, C.D. Fredricks, is one of the best-known photographers of the period, and a very early adopter of the CDV format. I have early C.D. Fredricks CDVs that show just his slogan, “Specialité”, along with his name and studio address, on the back. I also have some that show his multiple studio addresses in Havana, New York and Paris.
I just acquired my first half-plate daguerreotype. Half-plate is roughly 4.25 x 6.5 inches in size. Daguerreotypes get truly impressive once they exceed 1/4 plate size. In the second photo of the plate alone, you can clearly see the delicate hand-coloring of his face and hands and the tablecloth on the table to his left in the photo.
This is the plate as it was delivered. It has the original heavy flint glass installed (2.5mm thick!), and you can clearly see the dust and other schmutz on the inside of the glass. It did have its original paper seals, but they were in poor condition, having broken in some places. The preserver looked to have never been opened, either (the preserver is the gold-colored copper foil border around the image that further seals the edges). I decided to open the preserver and examine the state of the seals, to see if it was worth breaking them to clean the glass.
You can see the seals themselves on the left- after a century and a half, the cheap paper tape with a most likely acidic glue was in very poor shape, and not sealing the plate at all. I removed the seals and cleaned the glass. I have temporarily (until I can get a replacement piece of modern borosilicate glass) reinstalled the original flint glass. The reason for replacing the glass (I will keep the original glass with the plate for reference) is that part of the reason the schmutz was on the inside of the glass plate was that the glass itself had impurities and weaknesses that allowed moisture to migrate to the inside of the packet over time. Putting the original glass back on the packet and sealing it up would be undermining your preservation efforts.
When the new glass arrives I’ll replace it and re-seal it with Filmoplast P90, an archival tape, and back the plate with a sheet of acetate for additional protection. At a later date I’ll have the plate professionally cleaned.
Cleaning the glass and re-sealing the packet are restoration activities I feel reasonably confident in my skills to perform. Cleaning the actual plate is something currently way beyond my skills and knowledge – it’s one thing to putter around with modern, reproducible, replaceable objects, another thing entirely to attempt cleaning on an unique original a century and a half old that if damaged or altered is effectively lost forever.
I’ve been fascinated by all things U.S. Civil War, and, since I live in Washington DC, things related to Abraham Lincoln and his assassination. The assassination radically altered the course of post-war politics, economics, and society, and even today 150 years afterward we are still experiencing the after-effects and reverberations of that one pistol shot. I’ve done several guided history tours of Washington DC with Lincoln’s assassination as a topic or the primary theme, including the wonderful John Wilkes Booth Escape Route tour led by the inimitable Ed Bearss (seriously, if you have the opportunity to take that tour, DO IT, NOW, while Ed is still leading tours. He’s a brilliant Civil War historian and a great tour guide, and at 91, not going to be doing them too much longer). I’ve been in Ford’s Theater to see the stage from the Presidential box, heard the tale of the timing of the fatal gunshot, walked the path of John Wilkes Booth as he fled the theater, and read the stories of the cast and crew who were working at Ford’s Theater that night.
In the course of my collecting, reading and research, I’ve seen photographs of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Mary Surratt, the other conspirators, Generals Grant, Sherman, Butler, Burnside, Hooker, McClellan, a whole host of lesser Union generals, Henry Holt (the union general who prosecuted the conspirators), Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris his fiancee who were in the Lincoln’s theater box that night. I have very clear mental pictures of these people. I have photographs of other actors from the period in my collection too. But I’d never seen images of the cast and/or crew of Ford’s Theater on that night. Laura Keene’s name is well known if you’re familiar with the Lincoln assassination story, but I dare you to say you’ve seen her picture before unless you’re truly an assassination or 19th century theater geek.
Now you have. The photo is by C.D. Fredricks, of New York, Havana and Paris. Charles Fredricks was one of the most sought-after portrait photographers of the day, and specialized in theater personalities (I have photos of Tom Thumb, his wife, other circus freaks, and George Pope Morris, a 19th century American poet in my collection). Laura Keene played Miss Florence Trenchard, one of the principal characters in Our American Cousin. She was one of the better known actors of her day, even having her own theater in New York, where Our American Cousin premiered. The performance of Our American Cousin that night was her last night in the play at Ford’s Theater, and the night had been declared a “Benefit Night” for Laura Keene. A “Benefit Night” was a 19th century practice where a significant portion of the proceeds from that night’s ticket sales would go to benefit one actor or actress, usually the lead; it was a form of gratuity to compliment them as they were usually the big box office draw and helped make the show’s run profitable. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln that night broke the near-inviolable rule of the theater: the show must go on. The performance ended with John Wilkes Booth’s leap to the stage and shout of “Sic Semper Tyrannis”, as did Ford’s Theater itself – it never re-opened as a theater in the 19th century after the assassination. It was seized by the federal government, with the idea that it should never be used again for theatrical performances. It became a warehouse for government records, and languished, neglected for decades. It was not until 1968 that the theater was restored and re-opened. 103 years after that ill-fated performance of Our American Cousin, actors once again strode the boards at Ford’s Theater.
Today, you can visit the theater and take guided tours of the auditorium, see the Lincoln box recreated as it was the night of the assassination, and explore the basement where numerous artifacts of that fateful night are displayed including Lincoln’s wool dress coat and top hat he wore to the theater that night, Booth’s pistol that fired the fateful shot, and the bloody pillow that Lincoln’s head rested on as he lay dying at the Petersen House across the street.
These two photos came as part of an estate lot purchase I made. In looking at the first photo, the boy to me looked like he could be Native American. After doing some research, I’m not so sure anymore. The photo was taken by Edgar Decker, a Cleveland society photographer. This would be from the Civil War period or shortly thereafter. The Superior Street imprint on the verso indicates this was taken between 1859 and 1883, but given the style of the CDV, it would argue for before 1870. While certainly not impossible, I think it would be less likely than not that a society photographer would be doing portraits of Native American boys at that time. I don’t know the history of the Native American presence in the Cleveland area in the mid-1800s, so I can’t say to what degree there was one and to what degree they were integrated into Anglo society.
A biography of Edgar Decker, as found at OhioLink :
Edgar Decker (18 February 1832-1 December 1905) was one of Cleveland, Ohio’s earliest and most prominent photographers. Decker grew up in New York State and was largely self-taught. At 13, he became a clerk in a store, after 7 years managing his own store where he developed an interest in photography. He moved to Cleveland in 1857 and worked in various studios for 2 years before opening his own on Superior Street in 1859, moving it to the more fashionable Euclid Avenue in 1883. Decker maintained a studio in Cleveland for over 40 years, producing an enormous volume of work that included portraits of old pioneers, lawyers, businessmen, physicians, society women, and families. In 1862 he photographed Cleveland regiments encamped outside the city prior to their involvement in the Civil War. Decker won many prizes for his portraits of famous statesmen, soldiers, diplomats, and actors and actresses. Among these were 4 presidents–Garfield, Grant, Hayes, and McKinley–as well as General Sheridan. His original photographic portraits were tipped in the book Cleveland, Past and Present; Its Representative Men (1869). Active in photographic societies, in 1887 Decker was elected president of the National Photographic Association. His work was continued by his protege George Edmondson, who also became a well-known Cleveland photographer. Edmondson acquired Decker’s studio at the turn of the century. Decker also served on city council from 1878-1882. He married Julia English on 2 February 1857. They had a son, Edgar, Jr. Decker was buried in Lake View Cemetery.
The second image I believe is the same boy – they have very similar hair, and similar facial structures. Since the poses and composition are different, and neither photo is labeled who it is. it’s hard to tell for sure. This is the image that makes me think the boy is not Native American moreso than the identity of the first photographer.
If any of you out there are expert enough on the topic to provide guidance on if this boy is Native American, part Native American, or is totally Caucasian, I’d love to hear from you.