A reader of this blog asked if I could help her figure out the photographs she had of her husbands relatives. She has given me permission to share the photos and the emails that passed between us. It was an interesting learning experience for me!
I’ve attached my scans of both of the photographs. They almost look like daguerreotypes as it is an image on thin shiny paper that is attached to the cardboard Ashman paper. Are they “cabinet” photos? There is nothing on the back. Just the back of the cardboard.
And here is my response.
Thanks for sending me the scans. They were both very attractive folks and the lady’s dress is quite lovely. I wish I could see more of it as sleeves are a good way to date a photograph. Her sleeves were covered by a cape or a pelerine. Her hands are interesting to me. They are so dark but she does not appear to be wearing gloves. I’m wondering if it is it a trick of the photograph or time or was she someone who dyed fabrics and had stained hands? I can’t say too much about the gent (other than he is very handsome) because I’m not to familiar with male fashions.
The two photos appear to be done with the same technique and look to have the same papers in it so I’d guess they were done at the same time. Photos were most often done during special occasions so this may be wedding photos but I would think they would want one of the two of them together. They may have chosen to have them done separately with the idea that
they’d be framed and displayed side by side. Is there any record of a wedding date?
You asked if they were cabinet cards. If you look at Wikipedia, they define cabinet cards as “the style of photograph which was universally adopted for photographic portraiture in 1870. It consisted of a thin photograph that was generally mounted on cards measuring 4¼ by 6½ inches.” I read the words “universally adopted” to mean that by 1870, all photographers were using this process but some had started earlier (1866). If you want to learn about what a daguerreotype is you can go here: http://daguerre.org/dagfaq.php But basically, they are made of metal. So to answer your question, from the scan, I’d say these are cabinet cards and not daguerreotypes.
To start with the dating, I looked up the photographer. And this is what I found-his grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=50983232
If the information is correct, these photos were taken between 1877 and 1902 (I did find another source that listed the studio as being in existence in 1875 and another one that says it was destroyed in 1904 by fire-at this point it would have been owned by Ashman’s heir as he had died two years earlier.) These sites only add two years on either end of the time span. The name of the photographer was on the front/bottom of the card and that was common from 1866-79. This fits with my idea that this is earlier in the photographers career.
Also, judging by the hair style and youth of great grandma I am leaning towards the
earlier dates. Her hair makes me think of 1860s hair styles. Go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860s_in_fashion
and look about 1/4 of the way down. (In retrospect, this style is more suited to the 1850s) How do we reconcile 1860s hair with an 1870s photograph? It is not unheard of for even the young being somewhat old fashioned. If the folks were conservative or religious or new immigrants they may not keep up with the current fashions. Sometimes poverty will keep folks
behind the times (there was some economic troubles in Baltimore in the 1870s) but usually that stops them from having their clothes up to date…hair is relatively easy and cheap to keep up to date.
So my guess is these photos were taken together, possibly for their wedding, and they were most likely done between 1870 and 1879. If the information I have on the photographer is correct, I would say the photographs are from the later half of that decade. There is a really far-fetched possibility that these photos were taken in the late 1860s (by Ashman’s uncle perhaps) when Ashman, himself, was a child and then reprinted in the Ashman studios in the 1870s. This would mean that Ashman would have had to have the negatives. Possible, but a bit of a stretch.
The family responded and shed some new light on the photos that had me rethinking my original guess. Perhaps it may have not been that much of a stretch for these to be reprints!
Thanks so much for the help. Let me give you the names of the lovely people in my photographs. His name is Jordan Ephraim Wilkinson, born in 1833 and died in 1891. His wife is Mary Jane Windley Wilkinson, born April 5, 1839 and died Dec. 3, 1920.
They lived what looks like all of their lives in Belhaven, NC. (328 miles north of Baltimore)They were married in 1857 (Ah ha! That date suits the hair style doesn’t it!), when Jordan was 24 and Mary Jane was 18. The dates of the studio are confusing, because to look at them, I would think that they look about 18 and 24 years of age, but in 1857 the studio wasn’t even open. By the year of the studio opening, they would have been 38 and 44 years of age, and
that just doesn’t appear possible.
I also noticed Mary Jane’s dark hands and I am assuming that it must just be a trick of the developing process, because if it is, in fact, a wedding photo and she had somehow dyed her hands, I can’t imagine that she wouldn’t have hidden her hands somehow…perhaps with
So it seems we had a mystery. A date of the 1850s would suit their wedding day, their styles and their ages but cabinet cards were not done that way in the 1850s. They were the metal daguerreotypes. I was puzzled.
It really is a mystery! They can’t be 38 and 44 years old! They do look more like 18 and 24! The only thing that makes sense is these are reprints! Is it possible they had the negative or knew where to get their hands on it? Wouldn’t it have been romantic if these reprints were done in honor of a 20th or 25th anniversary! I don’t know enough about photography history to know if it was possible to convert negatives from the 1850s into cabinet card style photographs of the 1870s. That might be an interesting thing for me try to find out.
I was so interested in the answer to that puzzle that I shortly had an update for the family….
Look at what I found! http://www.city-gallery.com/learning/guide/copy-photos.php
It was possible to make copies and apparently was fairly common! As families grew and got more branches, these old photos were copied so more members could have one. If one branch of your hubby’s family decided to move away, they may have had reprints made of these photos to take along with them to remember mom and dad by. Grandma’s dark hands may be explained by this as well. If the negative was a bit damaged by time, her hands may have been altered! I learned something new today! And since I love this kind of thing, learning something new is like digging up buried treasures! Thanks so much for being the clue to this discovery!