Sunday, May 27, 2012

Opinions Solicited . . .please.

At the recent NGS conference in Cincinnati, I registered for a 3 hour seminar with Maureen Taylor, known as the Photo Detective.  I dearly love the old photos and hoped to sharpen my observational skills related to the many unidentified photos that have generously been shared with me.  It was a wonderful three hours, and what I now know is that I need to study more photos, and I should get the book Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900  by Joan Severa. I was so mad at myself because I intended to take a particular photo with me in case we had the opportunity to have one analyzed.  Instead, I transferred the wrong file to my Nook, and the photo in question was not included in the group. Rats!!

So, I have decided to post a series of photos and ask for your observations.

First, some background on the photos.  The photographs were stuck loosely in an antique photo album which was in the possession my double cousin Mary Margaret. Most of the original photos had been removed from the album, and the original name identifications were written on the photo album pages.  I have assumed that the loose pictures were the ones originally in the album.  From the names in the album, I have also assumed that the album contained photographs of the family of my, Bridget O'Callahan McDonnell who immigrated from Cobh (Queenstown), Ireland about 1854.  I have tried to match the names with the pictures without much success.  So I am turning to you. 

What do you see in the photograph below?  This photo has no identifying names on it.  Many of the photograph names in the album were relatives from the Cincinnati area. It is a tintype.
Click to see image full size
My analysis so far: 

I believe the man is disabled and a civil war veteran.  He is wearing a double breasted (I assume that by the amount of overlap at the lapels)  frock coat that I believe would have been from that time period. The collar is a darker color than the rest of the coat, but I don't know if that is important. He is sitting rather than standing, and his feet are laying on their sides as if he has no control over them therefore he is disabled.  His right arm may or may not be limp. Is that a goatee?

The fringe on the chair, I think, should make it the late 1860's. The only other background I see in the photo is the carpet, and I know nothing about carpet dating.

 Her dress is more fitted than the dresses worn before the civil war.  Is there a bustle in the back?  She has a neck scarf rather than a lace collar.  These are everyday people with clothes that reflect their position.  A big question is whether this is her husband or her son.  He looks young to me.  She looks protective.

Corrections?  Suggestions? Additions?  Your analysis please.


  1. My opinion, for what it's worth.

    The fringe on the chair, the woman's dress, her "neck scarf" and hair style, the full length seated/standing pose - all of these suggest mid- to late 1870s to me, rather than 1860s.

    Although from a slightly different angle than normal, this pose of the man seated and the woman standing with a hand on his shoulder is a standard one used by photographers for a husband and wife throughout the Victorian era. They look to be roughly the same age to me.

    I think his foot is at a slight angle, but he doesn't look very disabled to me. The collar with the dark facing is common, I think, but perhaps more so in the late 1870s and 1880s.

    Hope this helps.

  2. You're right. Now that I checked, I have a photograph of my gg grandparents with her standing and him sitting. My first impression was that they were married but then I wondered if I was assuming too much. I got the dating for the chair from my class with Maureen Taylor. The one foot is difficult to see but they both look "flopped over" on their sides. Maybe he was just relaxed. I didn't even look at her hairstyle - it seems very plain. I think it could be 1870's. Thanks for your input!

  3. I think the dress style is more mid 1870s, as the sleeves on women's dresses had really narrowed by then, particularly as they reached the lower forearm.

    I downloaded your photo and lightened it. Her hair is also dressed on the crown of her head, as was in fashion in the 1870s as contrasted with the bun lower on the nape of the neck in previous decades.

    Both of his feet are flopped over at an angle, which I would have thought unusual for a formal portrait. The narrow necktie was stylish for men in the 1870s, and double breasted coats appear to be in vogue for men for several decades.

    Dee at Shakin' the Family Tree

    You will *love* the book...