Susan McSparrow / McSparrin

Susan McSparrin – Warren?

This is a gorgeous 1890s era cabinet card of Susan McSparrow McSparrin, found in Tennessee last year. In the middle of the back is the name Warren written in pencil. At first I thought it might have been her married name, but I really don’t know. It could be the name of someone the card was given to, or the name of a town where she lived. Susan looks to be in her 30s to 40s in this image, and while her dress does not display the typical 1890s traits of balloon sleeves and high neck, the edges of the cabinet card are in a deckle style that was not available before the 1890s. Susan may have been a simple, conservative woman who really liked and felt good in this dress. It is also possible this is a reprint of an older photograph made for some reason – marriage or death are two possibilities.

With good reason, this is a beautiful example of understated embellishment. The front closure of the bodice is hidden in the pleats, and there are two rows of soutache running alongside that. You can see some gapping of the pleats on the lower front, suggesting that the bodice has an inner layer where it was fastened using hooks & eyes. This is not uncommon to find on vintage dresses. Note the fine lace at the upper edge of her collar. While lace today is scratchy and would probably be uncomfortable to have so close to the neck, lace at this time was made with natural fibers or rayon, so would likely have been much more soft to the touch. She also has a bar pin at the neck closure that is possibly attached to the second piece that is at her breast bone. That piece looks like it may be a watch – you can see that the chain emerges from inside the dress. Her coif is spectacular and beautiful, but again, understated elegance.

This is such a beautiful image, I am delighted to share it with you today. The photographer, C. C. Shadle, was a well respected photographer in Kittaning, PA. Born October 17, 1845 in Clarion, PA to Issac and Mary Shadle, Christopher C Shadle first was an engineer before taking up his father’s business of photography. He was in Apollo – operating in an old schoolhouse, then Tarentum, and finally settled in Kittaning in 1869. He was in business in 1865, at which time tax records show he paid the Federal Luxury tax on photographs that was established to help defray the costs of the Civil War. He paid at that time $5.80. Each photo was taxed at 10%, and there is some equation that can tell us how many photos he collected the tax on, but I get confused on how much to multiply – it was either 58 or 580. This is important because it can suggest how prolific he was. This tax was paid in October 1865. If he was paying that much per month, then we can extrapolate how much he paid in tax, and then how many photos he took per year, etc etc. (click here for more info on the tax) He was noted to have a very well appointed and conveniently located gallery in town, and also employed apprentice photographers learning their trade. Shadle also owned a farm outside of town in addition to the studio in town. He thrived in the photography business until his unexpected death in 1904 at the age of 59, which was recorded not only in the newspaper but also the U. S. Presbyterian Records. He had been a trustee in the First Presbyterian Church. The gallery was sold to John Leister at that time. Shadle was married to Jane and they had 4 children.

UPDATE: A pair of site readers have helped to solve some of the mystery! Geno let us know that the name is McSparrin, and Katie P found that Susan McSparrin was married to Charles E. McSparrin. They and their son, Bruce Darlington, lived in Dayton, PA. When I get a little bit of time, I’m going to see what more I can learn about them. Thank you, Geno & Katie P!!

Other McSparrin Photographs

Bruce D McSparrin

Mrs. S. M. McSparrin

Further Reading About C. C. Shadle

Excerpt from Biographical And Historical Cyclopedia Of Indiana And Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania, 1891 via pa-roots.org

Biography of William S Otto, employed by C. C. Shadle, via pa.roots.org

History of Apollo, via Google Books

Biography of John Ralph Leister, via pa-roots.org

Listing of obituaries from the National Underwriter, vol 8, September 1, 1904, via Google Books

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4 Women

Sarah, Agnes, Maud & Pearl

Today’s photo is a lovely cabinet card found in the Great Tennessee Vacation Haul, and shows four young women. The back of the card identifies them as Sarah, Agnes, Maud and Pearl.  Sarah and Pearl are on the ends, with Agnes & Maud in the middle. I have no knowledge of their relationship. Could they be sisters, cousins, or simply great friends?

The clothing suggest the 1880s trending to the 1890s. Sleeves are puffed but not ballooned. Because they are seated it’s not really possible to guess if these are A-line or bustled skirts.

The photographer was J. E. Kester in Brockwayville, PA, which is located midstate. It was settled in 1822 and named for the Brockway family which first settled in the area. By 1925, the name Brockwayville had been shortened to Brockway. Brockway has always been a small town, with only 1.2 square miles, and in the 1880 census there were 360 people living there. Current population from the 2010 census is 2072.

I found many other photographs online by J. E. Kester, all seeming to be from the 1890s, as well as a Commemorative Biography indicating that Blanche (Luther) Kester, wife of J. E., was living in Brockwayville in 1898.

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

Family ties and mysteries

From time to time, I am asked by people to help identify photographs, even by finding a general date range. I am happy to do this when possible, although I cannot stress enough that I am not an expert and am simply sharing my general knowledge based on the research I do for this site. Recently I was contacted by site reader Jim Earl, who has a number of British CDVs and cabinet cards that pose a mystery to him. They are from his family’s photograph albums, but as with so many old photos, they were not identified at the time and now the subject names have been lost to the ages. But, because Jim’s photos are wonderful, I asked for, and he granted, permission to post them here for other reader input if any is to be had.

J Earl Beard

Quite a beard!

J Earl 1

Photographic artists Sandry & Burrow

Not much could be found on the photographer, Sandry and Burrow, except to expand the names as William James Sandry & Burrow. Sandry appears to have had a variety of partners and locations. The photo itself is a CDV of a gentleman who initially looks to be from the 1840s or 1850s to me. The squared corners of the card tell us this is most likely an 1860s image, and is possibly a reprint of a daguerrotype.

A woman and boy

A woman and boy

Another CDV made of a woman and boy, I am assuming a mother and son. Her dress is more characteristic of the 1870s, but his suit of clothes is suggestive of the 1860s. Another mystery photographer, A. Lloyd Beard from Cardiff. He made plenty of photos which are currently selling on sites like eBay, but no one seems to know when he was in business. I’m guessing at the late 1860s on this one.

Definitely 1860s here

Definitely 1860s here

This lovely image is definitely from the 1860s based on the wide hooped skirts of mother and child. The mother’s dress features a “false vest” style, which was a high-fashion look. The child has several rows of growth tucks and trim on her skirt. No photographer information was found on the photo.

J Earl Purple Bow

Fabulous hand painting

J Earl 2

Well, here is William James Sandry again!

Based on the hairstyle and dress, I’m putting this image into the 1870s. Clothing styles and hairstyles changed drastically between the 1860s and 1870s. Skirts were not the full bell shape over cage crinolines, but instead smooth fronted and draped to the rear end, in the early bustle look. Pads and small pillows were added under the skirt to emphasize the lady’s backside. Hairstyles no longer accented a nice wide face, but instead added height and angularity. This lady shows us her lovely purple tie – hand painted by the photographer – and even has rather large earrings. Her bodice is called a basque waist as it lays overtop of the skirt in a separate piece, rather than the two pieces being sewn together into one dress. The photographers were William James Sandry and E. Sandry this time.

Family time

Family time

J Earl

Howard Nicholls, photographer

This photograph is a cabinet card, turned into the landscape orientation to capture the entire family. As was common, the photograph was made out of doors so natural light could be used for the best exposure. I’d put this image in the late 1880s or very early 1890s based on the sleeve shapes of the women’s dresses. These are possibly Pascoe family members of the Cornwall Pascoes, who sailed to the US in 1856 to settle in Michigan and later Kansas in the 1870s. Jim says the family kept in touch, and clearly some of these images predate the settlement in Kansas. Others may be family who exchanged photos during the Michigan settlement. I found nothing at all on the photographer Howard Nicholls of Redruth.

While I’m afraid I did  not find anything more detailed about the photographers, such as dates of operation, I am hopeful that the general dates based on clothing are helpful for Jim. Sometimes, that is all it takes, knowing certain people are included or excluded based on the photo date. Good luck, Jim, in your search for answers to the family photographic mysteries!

 

 

 

Liberty Bell 27

Liberty Bell

Close your mouth, son

Well, here it is. The last photo from the Liberty Bell Album. It began in mystery and has ended that way. Site reader John Roberts did find some information on our one name, Bertha Ham, which through my own disorganization I don’t have linked to the face of the photo. One day I will be able to unpack it and match the name to the face, but until then, we only know the following:

1900 Census, Bertha M Ham, single, age 25 (born Nov 1874), living with her mother, Mary J Ham, age 64 (b Oct 1835) at 36 South Street, Exeter, New Hampshire. Mary and her deceased husband both were born in New Hampshire (as well as Mary’s parents), and Bertha was born in Massachusetts. While her occupation isn’t listed on the census sheet, Bertha is listed as an ‘Operative’ in city directories produced around that time.

Using that information, I was able to find a family tree listing her family.

Joseph Ham (b 1835, d 1875) married Mary J Currier (1835-1914) Nov 25, 1858. They had four children:

Joseph (1860-????)
Mary E (1861-????)
Frederick S (1865-1914)
Flora Bertha (our subject from above)

Frederick and his mother both died in March of 1914 within 3 weeks of each other, but I wasn’t able to determine why.

And there you have it. Perhaps someone searching on Bertha, Frederick, Mary E or Joseph Ham will find this page and make the connection to their family tree!

This last photo was made by N. A. Nealey of Linden Street, Exeter, NH. We previously saw images made by Nealey, click here and here for the women. You will notice that this, the last photo in the album bears a remarkable resemblance to this, the subject of the first photo in the album! Is that a funny coincidence or ironic placement by the original owner? We shall never really know.

Coming up in a few days I have a real treasure to share with you…a gem album! I found it online and it has been a real delight to examine. We will learn a little bit about gems and a lot about the faces.

Liberty Bell 23

Liberty Bell 25

Oh really?

This gentleman has a rather inquisitive look, doesn’t he? The photograph made by E. W. Smart in Exeter, NH is from post 1900, due to the longer shape of the bristol board and fancy embossed border around the image. We have seen several others from the Liberty Bell album that feature similar styling. According to Brett Payne’s Victorian & Edwardian Photo Album Collection, Elijah W. Smart was born in 1859, spent time working as a brass finisher, and then did a stint as a photographer before going back to the brass finishing business. Brett Payne is a fellow photograph enthusiast and I enjoy his other site Photo Sleuth which I found through Sepia Saturday.

Liberty Bell 15

Liberty Bell 17

Sullen boy

As we continue through the Liberty Bell album it appears the family and/or friends must have been located in the Massachusetts and New Hampshire area. Today we look at a sullen looking boy in skirts, so under the age of 5, and likely under the age of 4. He is probably upset because he is still in skirts! My understanding is that skirts were used on boys until 4 or 5 years of age. Initially they were used to facilitate diaper changes on small boys and toddlers. Later on, a boy’s first short pants were a sign of moving away from babyhood and on to boyhood. It was a big moment for a child.

This as-yet-unbreached boy was photographed some time in the 1890s by A. M. Bean of 295 Essex Street, Lawrence, MA.

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