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


Ethnic Costume of Norway


This wonderful cdv shows an ethnic costume from Norway. It has been carefully hand painted so as to bring out the navy colored breeches, green vest and red coat of the man, and the green, yellow and red decoration on the woman’s dress. The costumes are fascinating and were probably much more beautiful in person!

The photographer probably made a series of images of ethnic costumes, but this is the only painted image I came across during a recent trip to San Diego, CA. It does make me wonder how this particular cdv found its way from Sweden, where it was made, to almost the border between America and Mexico.I did a little bit of research on the costumes themselves and there is a rich and diverse ethnic costume tradition in Norway. These clothes could be wedding attire, as one website I found referenced women wearing a type of crown or headdress with their wedding clothes. The man’s costume looks similar to one I found from Sunnmøre in the southwestern part of the country. A person more familiar with the many regions and costumes of Norway can better pinpoint where these clothes were from.

The photographers were W. A. Eurenius & P. L. Quist of Stockholm. They were decorated photographers, with silver medals awarded them in 1865, 1866 and 1867. I have one other image from these photographers, also an ethnic costume. Come back soon and take a look.

Further Reading

Bunad – Norwegian Traditional Costumes – My Little Norway

A Cyclopedia of Costume or Dictionary of Dress by James Robinson Planche, Publisher William Clowes and Son, 1879, pp 344-348

An hour before the wedding

Wedding stereoscope

I often see stereoscopes for sale in the antique shops. They were the first real home media, enabling people to see foreign lands, exotic animals, and even the simple and mundane of other people’s lives, all from the comfort of their own parlour. The stereoscope will remind many of you of the View-Master of our childhood (during the 70s). You could easily see the depth and clarity of an image because you were actually looking at two images taken from slightly different angles, thereby giving one a perception of 3D. The stereoscope of old works on the same principle. Two images, from slightly different angles, were placed on a card. The card was placed into a viewer that had a thin divider in its center. The person then held the viewer up to their eyes and that divider made it so that the left eye saw the left image and the right eye saw the right image. A 3D view!

This particular stereoscope struck me as it is entitled “An hour before the wedding.” An hour before the wedding and she is still getting her hair dressed?! Yikes! Modern brides will be gathered in the waiting area with their bridesmaids, awaiting the commencement of the wedding march or whatever music. But, a Victorian wedding might be taking place in the parlour, while the bride is getting ready in the bedroom. It was a very different world, was it not?

I pulled out one side of the image and tried to play with it so we could see it a bit better.

Wedding stereoscope 2

The poufy sleeve of the woman to the left of the bride belies the 1890s or 1900s as the timeframe for the image. It is unfortunate that the image is damaged in its center, so quite difficult to tell what is in the bride’s hands. You can see her shoes sitting on the floor, flowers on the dresser, and her friends dressing her hair. I do so wish we could see her dress!

New Beginnings

Launching a new venture

This Sepia Saturday shows the HMAS Albatross during construction in 1928. The challenge, however is to find photos showing new beginnings. When I think of new beginnings, I think of new homes, babies, weddings, starting school, and the cycles of life illustrated through our seasons of planting, budding, growing, and harvesting. Just recently I stopped into my favorite antique stall and collected a variety of images. Among them was the photo below.

Bride Baby Dog

Bride, baby, dog, house, spring

A bride in her lovely wedding clothes, replete with long trailing veil, holding a baby, in front of a flowering garden. If we imagine well enough this could also be her new home, and her new dog, maybe even her new sister-in-law. I was going to save this for a series of wedding photos to be posted in the spring, but could there be a better image to capture the concept this week?

And as a coincidence, this is on the back of this photo:

Bride Baby Dog Back

Lovely lady standing by a pond

A crooked picture of a lady standing by a pond…with a boat on it. :-)

To find out how others met the challenge this week, click the Sepia Saturday banner at the top of this post. You will be happy you did!

War bride

Love, honor & cherish

Love, honor & cherish

I just hate it love it when I go to an antique shop that obviously doesn’t care lovingly curates their photographic items for sale. In particular, one of my favorite shops has a stall where people can paw through carelessly spend hours thoughtfully sifting in the crummy cardboard boxes holding piles and piles of photos getting wrecked, bent and torn ready for new homes. This is one such photo. I was drawn to the happy and hopeful faces of this young couple posed in their wedding clothes. He is in an Army uniform, she is a lovely white dress, veil and bouquet. The lady at the desk couldn’t find a price on the folder, so she ripped it open to look on the back of the photo. Needless to say, I asked for a discount.

Who’s Wedding?

This is a 2×3 snapshot from someone’s wedding. The group is partially identified on the reverse as follows:

Left to right: Peter, Nancy Achinson, Joan, Kathleen, Gwen, Renee, Peggy, Dorothy Hearn, Michael and Donald.

Harry is immediately behind Renee and Stuart Pemberton behind Peggy. 

The gentlemen on the far back right are Harry and Stuart. Whoever wrote this was not all that interested in the groom, or assumed the recipient would know the groom. I think Gwen is the bride. I found this in a little antique shop and had thoughts of posting it in June for the bridal season, but this week’s Sepia Saturday prompt showed a group of people seated similarly, so here we are.

For other photos of groups, big hats, weddings, garden parties, and more, click over to Sepia Saturday. You will be glad you did!

Love and obey

Aunt Minnie Mills

Recently a site reader suggested I take a look at an ebay auction for a cabinet card described as a wedding portrait. Of course I had to look, and you know me, I had to have it. Lucky me, I won the auction and for this week’s Sepia Saturday we’ll be looking at it.

Aunt Minnie Mills

Someone wrote on the back, identifying this as Aunt Minnie Mills. The picture was taken in 1889 and she is wearing Jane Mills’ wedding dress. The dress is described as grey cashmere wool trimmed in orange velvet. Although I have asked some of my costume historian friends for input, no one really seems to know how this might have looked. Was it burnt orange or carrot orange? We can never know. Women did select a good dress for their wedding, but nothing like the single-use white dresses we see at modern weddings. Dresses were intended for later use, such as in this instance where another woman wore the dress. Coincidentally, my Dad has a photo of my great aunt wearing my grandmother’s wedding dress. Her’s was blue. Either way, my aunt borrowed the wedding dress because she was going out for a special engagement, and I suspect that is the reason Aunt Minnie was wearing Jane’s wedding dress as well.

The photographer was Shepard on South Sixth Street, Nebraska City.

For more photographs of people dressed to go out, click over to Sepia Saturday via the button below.

Clicking through in style

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