Fancy Hat


Up for your perusal today is a lovely young couple from Devon who sat for their photograph in the late 1860s or even early 1870s. I think. I’m basing my assessment on the woman’s clothing as usual, and her dress seems to show a skirt that is elliptical, possibly trending toward the early bustle period, but not quite there. We do know that as skirts got bigger, hats got smaller and taller, to try to counterbalance the eye being drawn to the skirt. This skirt is fairly plain, but the bodice has some lovely trims and of course the hat is quite delicious. This young wife also has earrings, a large bow at her throat and a pin holding that in place. I wish we could know what colors her dress was!

I assume it is her husband seated, as this is a somewhat personal pose, with her hands on his shoulders. He is wearing some type of uniform, I think. The cap looks a bit like a conductor’s cap, so perhaps he worked on the trains. He’s also got a vest and a necktie to complete his costume.

The photographer was J. Grey at 60 Union Street, Stonehouse, Devon.

I’ve been neglecting you…

I had no idea it had been two months since my last post, and I really apologize! I think I have too many hobbies because I have been neglecting my other sites also, and that just isn’t acceptable. But, don’t you fret and don’t you frown, I have a ton of surprises in store for you!! I have just recently been trawling the “Worlds Longest Flea Market” in Tennessee and while most people were buying rustic windows and dishes, I was digging through the boxes of photos. No surprise there! I came away with nearly 100 new items to look at. It’s a matter now of scanning, but I hope to get that done here pretty soon. We are going to be doing some construction on our house in the next several months, so in advance I’m letting you know of my potential lapses, lol.

Just take a look at all these goodies!

Why yes, there are nearly 50 Christmas cards there!

A fine array of images to dig into!

So, I hope to get the site updated more often for your reading enjoyment, plus I do intend to continue my Christmas tradition of posting a Christmas Card a day during the holiday season. This year I have nearly 50 cards, so I expect we will begin in late November and continue through the New Year. That is going to be fun! One set of cards represents one family over more than 10 years. It will be an interesting progression, indeed!Until next week, dear friends, when the progression of fabulous vintage photographs begins anew…

Welcome reddit visitors!

Just a few days ago, I noticed a spike in traffic coming from reddit, so I’d like to say “hello” to all the folks finding their way here from there. I gathered that the reason people were coming here was due to a link in a discussion about 19th century beards. I have long stated my love of 19th century facial hair, and often refer to Century of the Beard for additional information. As I dug into the thread, though, I discovered that many people were claiming that an 1890s photograph was FAKED because it was too clear and almost looked modern.

Aside, I have many fabulous beards and mustaches archived in the facial hair category, don’t be afraid to click that link, my little hipsters! There are chin curtains and handlebars you could only dream of!

While there have been many photoshop fakeries circulated on the internet, and of course it is possible to age a modern photo to look like a vintage image, it is simply arrogant to assume that a photograph that is clear and detailed could only have been made in the 20th century! Matthew Brady – one of the most well known and respected photographers of the 19th century – made startling and detailed images of the American Civil War which stunned the public. Also, it is silly to think that advances in lenses, collodion processing, wet and dry plate technology, and shutter speed were only made after the turn of the century. Frankly, there are photographers today still using antique cameras because they provide detail and warmth – something digital cameras often fail to capture. Furthermore, faces don’t change all that much. I have many examples of dopplegangers plus there have been many circulated on the internet showing the likeness between modern actors and people photographed 150 years ago.

From my own collection, here are some shockingly clear photographs that I can guarantee were not photoshopped or faked. The wet plate photographic process is well documented for capturing clear, detailed and layered images that show depth and warmth. See below the photographs for further reading about the heady, early days of photography. Some collodion images from the 1890s were not as susceptible to the yellowing of age that other methods were, and so they may feature a lavender, purple or strong gray tint. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out if an image is faked or not, but I think the immediate doubt of a vintage photograph only reveals the cynicism of a populace that has been fooled too many times, don’t you?

I think it is also valuable when scanning a photograph to include the margins of the bristol board, because it shows color variation between the card and the albumen print. While it is possible to adjust image properties, why would you? The photo is as it was 100+ years ago and that is the real treasure in these old photographs. Below find eight images that have not been altered, sharpened, or had their contrast changed in any way since they were scanned. Enjoy!

PS I’m giving you a buzz cut right off the bat from the 1880s.

facial hair HSilfverling facial hair 1.1 Red Velvet 9 Red Velvet 8 July 2

AlbumCMurray027 AlbumCMurray024

Additional Resources

The American Museum of Photography

Tintype Photographs via Collectors Weekly

Identifying Antique Photos via Photo Tree

History of Photographic Processes via The British Library

Video on the Wet Plate Collodion Process via J. Paul Getty Museum

The happy couple


This lovely couple was photographed by the Dolph Brothers studio in Erie, PA. The photo dates to the 1860s based on several factors, including the woman’s dress style, the border style and the squared corners on the card. I’m going to take you through my thought process on how I’m refining the date of this image.

The back of the card is occupied with a line drawing of an artist’s palate, as well as the name and direction of the photographer.  There was a trend postwar to use the reverse of the card for advertisements/accolades of the studio. The more there is on the back, the later in the era it was made. This of course isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a very common trend that helps photograph enthusiasts narrow down the dates an image was probably made.

To further the search, of course there is now the internet. I can’t imagine doing an analog search before the web, honestly! Crowd sourcing and collaboration, online city directories, genealogy websites, and other photography enthusiasts all combine to amass loads of information about photographers and photographic styles. Bear with me here, because sometimes to get to the conclusion, you have to take the scenic route.

This particular photographer, Dolph Bros, doesn’t seem to have readily available information about the actual photographers, such as names or ages, but what we do know is they had a bit of a penchant for military photography. They are well known for having photographed many members of the Union Army, in particular Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent was shot during the courageous battle for Little Round Top during the days-long battle of Gettysburg on the other side of the state. While Joshua Chamberlain survived the battle and went on to civic greatness, Vincent did not survive his wounds, but is memorialized in Erie as a local hero. Not only does his statue stand before the Blasco Library, the first high school in Erie’s West side was named Strong Vincent High School. He died in 1863, so we know Dolph Bros was in business prior to Gettysburg which took place in July 1863.

Farrar Hall, in which the Dolph Bros studio resided, was built as part of the West Park Place commercial district between 1857 and 1865 – a block of commercial buildings bordered by 5th, Peach, Park and State streets, and intended to replace a number of wooden structures that had burned down in 1857. Farrar Hall itself was built as a joint venture between A. H. Gray, F. F. Farrar, William Caughey, and John Clemens and it was finished in 1860. The upper floor was occupied by an opera house that at its inception was grand, but by its demise was seedy. It was the original Farrar Hall, but later was renamed as the Park Opera House.

I was able to find via Revenue Collector a CDV made by Dolph Bros that has a tax stamp, so we know they were in business as early as 1862. I also found a reference to this studio in an online Erie City Directory for 1867-1868. That gives us a possible date range of 1862-1868.

So, my conclusions are:

  1. There is no evidence of a tax stamp on the reverse of the card. We can eliminate the earlier period of the Dolph Bros operations as when the image was made, and now we have a range of 1865-1868.
  2. The embellished backmark of the card was a trend toward the later half of the decade. This mirrors the 1865-1868 range.
  3. The portrait style showing the full body of the subject is also a post-war trend. Before this style, images often were as small as a dime in the center of the card and only showed the subject’s head. This reinforces the 1865-1868 range.
  4. The clothing shows us nothing remarkable or unusual that would call out a specific style or fashion trend, but in its common appearance again reinforces the date range of 1865-1868.


Should evidence surface in the future showing business operations through 1869, or some family member is able to identify this couple and prove a year it was taken, we would then possibly be able to refine the date even further. But until such time as we get more detail, I am going to stay with the 1865-1868 time frame. I’m also going to venture a guess that it could have been a wedding portrait.

Further Reading

Scanned examples of Civil War Tax Stamps, aka revenue stamps, via

A collection of Civil War Tax Stamps on this very website, Who Were They?

The history of West Park Place, via Living Places

A very brief history of Strong Vincent, via

Pretty girl with hand tinting


This is a beautiful image of a lovely little girl from the late 1860 time frame. I am targeting this date because one of the remaining corners of this card is clearly square. The rounded corner didn’t really become popularized until the 1870s. I say late 1860s because the image takes up the full card, which was more common post 1865. The card is badly damaged, I suspect by silverfish or other paper eating insects. The front and back of the card both show strange damage which looks a bit like how termites work their way through wood.

Our young lady is unfortunately quite washed out by the photographic process. We can’t know what color her dress was, and we can’t assume it was even white! I learned long ago that certain colors photographed as black, white and gray, even though they could have been yellow, blue and red! Thankfully the photographer tinted the sash and ribbon ties on the dress in a lovely light blue, added pink to her cheeks, and even colored the chair upholstery green and the wooden frame brown. She has lovely lace on the hem of her drawers and notice her shoes! They are quite high fashion.

The photo was made by R. Taylor at 16 Gt Ryrie Street, Geelong, Australia. I couldn’t find anything to explain what Gt would mean, but I am wondering if it means “great” as in “Great Ryrie Street.” I didn’t find any references to that street, however. There is a “Little Ryrie Street” so maybe Great Ryrie Street simply evolved into Ryrie Street. Ryrie Street is just a short walk from the water of Port Philip Bay. Geelong itself is near Clifton Springs and not too distant from Melbourne. Coincidentally, there is now an antique shop located at 16 Ryrie Street. As you can see in this picture, it’s in a very old building, and maybe it even housed the photography studio at one time. These kinds of connections are just fascinating to me.

Moorabool Antique Galleries, Geelong, Australia

Gilded framing

SD CDVs 13

Today’s CDV for review is a fine image from America taken during the Civil War era. Although the card bears no backmark, so we can’t identify the photographer, it does have the remnants of stamp adhesive. During the Civil War, Congress passed a revenue tax on luxury goods. Beginning in 1862, items such as playing cards and telegrams were assessed a tax that was used to help fund the war. In 1864, photographs were added to the list of items considered luxury goods, and therefore taxed. Customers were charged the fee for their photographs, plus the additional revenue tax. The tax was repealed in 1866, but many photographic cards bore these stamps, which were applied and cancelled by the photographer. They became popular with collectors, and so we now have many photographic cards that show the evidence of a stamp once having been there, but that was removed at some point.

The color and denomination of the stamp would have indicated the value of the purchase. The tax went from 1 cent all the way to 1 dollar – which at that time was quite a lot of money. Most photographs carried a 1 or 2 cent tax stamp. For more reading the tax stamps, see the links below this post.

The type of gilded framing of the image is also a clue that this is a Civil War era image. This ornate decoration as well as embossed decorations were popular styles of framing the images. There was a trend in the early years of CDV photography to center the image with almost no background, which to our modern eyes looks a bit like a head floating in space. I would imagine that the addition of framing helped to emphasize the image, and also allowed the owner to place it into a simple frame.

This subject’s adornment is also interesting. You can see she has a small white collar above her neckline. It is not a “peter pan” style collar as was very popular, but it is a simple band. The collar was detachable and protected the garment from the dirt and oils on a person’s skin. When it became soiled, it was removed and laundered, then basted back into place. The fabrics used for dresses were the types that could not be easily laundered – wool, silks, and blends of these fibers with cotton or linen, for example. So, collars and cuffs were made to be removable and laundered, while dresses were spot cleaned as needed. The bow tie she is wearing is probably pinned into place, rather than tied around her neck.

You can also see that she has some type of hair covering, such as a decorated net. The hair is glossy, as was fashionable at that time. It was drawn back over the ears and dressed in some fashion, then covered with a net to keep stray wisps from looking untidy. The net is not a “snood” – a word coined in the 1930s. The net was made of fine threads that covered the hair and were of the same color as the hair for the most part. The net could be decorated with a band of ribbon, making it look like a headband.

All in all, this is a fine image from the American Civil War era, and I’m very pleased to share it with you today!

Additional Reading

Tax stamps during the Civil War – via Old Photographic

Revenue stamps – via Wikipedia

Dating Old Photographs with Tax Stamps – via Genealogy Bank



I wanted to share these two photographs today because of the unusual shawl-like additions to these dresses. Although I titled the post “Sisters?” as a suggestion they may be nuns, but looking at them again, I wonder if they might have been Quakers. I’m not familiar with Quaker dress other than to say it was “unadorned” or “simple.” And nuns might have worn wimples, which these ladies are not wearing. A wrap for warmth would probably be more decorated, and at least fall a bit lower on the arms. These look like capelets or mantles, but again, I am out of my area of knowledge even there. In the upper picture (no background shown) the woman appears to have maybe a necklace on a black cord falling directly along the area where her garment meets in center front.

The photographs have no identifying information, nor do they even possess a photographers’ backmark, so I can’t tell you if they are from America, Britain, or anywhere in the world.  The only thing I can tell you with some certainty is that they are from the 1860s.

Please feel free to comment with any input. This is a mystery to me!

UPDATE: I should not be surprised, it was Iggy aka Intense Guy who found the image below, an example of Quaker dress in the 19th century. It is a modern reproduction made by The Costume Project for the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, located in Shropshire, England. They state that the reproductions are made from original patterns, so I’ll have to trust that this is an accurate representation of Quaker dress in England. Being as the CDVs posted above do not have any indication of where they were made, I can only say they look similar to this example dress, but cannot suggest any sort of other connection. I spoke to some clothing historians, and they thought the cape might have been a pelerine, but having looked up what a pelerine is, I’m not so sure. It’s defined as lacy, with long narrow points hanging down in front, fur and decoration. These seem too simple to be a fashion garment and lack the long narrow points.


Image from and identified as Quaker dress circa 1840s

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: