Four men and a tintype

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This fine image is a tintype I found in the great Tennessee vacation haul at the World’s Longest Yard Sale. There was another woman and I who seemed to be on the same route, each of us rushing to find the photos at each individual stall. I felt lucky to find this great piece, because look at all the character here!

We have a stringy beard and hard, hard gaze on our seated fellow; a bowler hat hiding at the side of the young gent to the left; a droopy mustache on the standing fellow to the right; and oh, so much angst in the face of the kneeling dude.

These characters make me wonder and imagine what they were up to…was it no good? Did they go on to rob a bank or help the poor? They sure look like a group of vintage bad boys to me! It is impossible to know, but these great old pictures make us consider just who they were, don’t they?

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.

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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

Top Hats

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Fabulous top hats!

As we arrive closer to the end of this wonderful little album of gem tintypes, we find two spectacular examples of gentlemen’s top hats. The top left image has the distinct sheen of silk on that hat. It is glossy and impressive. Note the fine tinting of his cheeks to give a more “lifelike” appearance to the image. The lower right image also sports a sheen, but more muted, making me wonder what this hat might have been made of. I know very little about hats, so hopefully some helpful visitor will comment to educate us!

We cannot ignore the delightful derby hat in the upper right, nor the wizened whiskers in the lower left. Each man has his version of fashionable facial hair as well. Click on each miniature below to enlarge for detailed viewing.

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Beards, mustaches and youth

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Some fine facial hair and one young face

This next page in the Haberdashers album shows us hats, mustaches, beards and bowties. We have again the gent with his high topped bowler, there in the lower left. He must have been a placeholder on many of these pages being as he is used so often, and that begs the question of just who created this album. If it really was a haberdasher, why would he show the same hat over and over? With the young faces such as the one at the lower right, it seems less likely to be a businessman’s book as well. Maybe it was owned by someone who knew lots of men, in which case that begs the next question of whether these were members of a club, such as a Lodge or the like.

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Hats and bowties

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Back to some fine hats and large bowties

A youngish fellow, a boater, a bowler and a repeat grace this page with delightful details! Note the wonderfully large bowties on the top two gentlemen. They are almost absurd in their size. The ties must be a good 2″ wide to achieve such a dominating bow. While I’m not well versed in the history of neck ties, I do recall seeing these wide bowties on men from the 1840s and ’50s. They obviously made a comeback in the 1870s. The lower left fellow has a skinny bowtie that is almost an after thought when compared with the larger ones. His high crowned bowler compliments his round face nicely. Finally, our repeat image is the doppleganger mentioned a few posts back.

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Ello, gov’na

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One of these faces is not like the others

You must have thought I forgot about you! And, well, I sort of did. We had some upheaval around the homestead, and I had to focus there instead of here. Thanks for bearing with me. Your reward is another fine page from this Haberdasher’s gem tintype album. Being as men were often coiffed and whiskered in the 19th century, it is all the more obvious in a group when one man is the odd man out. Who knows why he did not wear a mustache or beard. It is a personal choice that is also influenced by fashion trends. Maybe his wife didn’t like it. Click each image below for greater detail.

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Doing a double take

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Didn’t I just see you?

Here’s the next page in our bowler hat extravaganza, with three more wonderful hats. Or are they new? The bottom left image is a repeat from a previous page with the high bowler hat. The top left and lower right look like the same person at first glance, but are two distinct faces. I imagine if you were looking for a man in a crowd of men wearing these hats it would be difficult to find the exact one you wanted!

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