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



This 1890-1910s cabinet card also came from my Denver trip and features a young girl, her grandmother and grandfather, and an uncle. There was writing on the back in a beautiful German hand identifying them and also giving us Onkel Emil and Helene as two of the names. On the front under the photo it says “Me” under Helene. I am a bit loose with the dating on this because the style of mounting is more similar to post 1900 photo mounts and the photo also appears to have been taken in a home setting, versus a studio setting. The individuals are seated on some type of high backed bench and the wall is papered and adorned with objects I can’t quite identify…candle holders? religious icons?

Had I realized the pricing noted on the backs of these photos in Denver was wrong I would have purchased more! They all stated very clearly $5, but then the shop only charged $1. I put back so many others that appeared related to this one, and then my friends called me from the restaurant (where ARE you???) and I didn’t get time to return. Ah, regrets…

Short hair

This cabinet card from Gendron in Boston features a young lady, approximately aged 13, with short cut hair. I had to have this as a great example of trimmed hair on a female in the 19th century. Hair was considered a point of pride for most women, but girls were able to cut theirs. In certain extreme situations, the hair might be cut, such as a fever. It was believed that removing the hair would prevent the fever being trapped and allow the person to recover more quickly. Or, as in the case of the Gift of the Magi, a person might cut and sell their hair as it was quite valuable to wig makers and in catalog sales. We will never know why this person has shorn hair, but let us hope it was by choice.

Dapper Dan

This gentleman, with his hat and whiskers, looks to be a dapper –  if middle aged – fellow. His vest seems a bit short to really disguise the pot belly, and the cut of his coat accents it also, but the clothing appears to be well made and fashionable.

The photographer was William Hirsch, who operated on both Blue Island Ave and 12th Street, in Chciago. He was in business from 1881-1900. I’m no good with men’s clothing, so I’ll peg this as the 1880s and leave it at that. If someone knows better, please enlighten us!

Mrs. Bewildered?

Directly to the right of our “bewildered” subject in the last post is this woman in her amazing bustle dress. This is definitely late bustle (1882-1889) because of the size and prominence of the bustle, plus the gorgeous drape with what looks like velvet trim on probably wool gaberdine or the equivalent. I picture this in rose red velvet and nut brown wool, which was popular on the fashion plates of the time. Again the photographer is Hartley, a popular choice for the family.

We are just over half way through the Dobb Long Book. Coming up in the later images will be a few names. I desperately want to post them now, but I think the album order was important to the person who put it together. I’ll try to post more often so we can get to the names and Iggy can work his magic. :-)

PS Feeling much better – my daughter has shared two cases of stomach flu so far this winter, ugh! Thank you for your well wishes!

Next to Nina

This cabinet card from the Dobb Long Book is placed next to the funeral card of Mrs. Nina Dobb, which we previously looked at a few weeks back. I can only assume – based on how I personally assemble photo albums – that this young man was close to or related to Nina Dobb. He also bears some resemblance to our mustachioed entry the other day. Could these have been Nina’s husband and son?

Another Hartley Chicago photo. This was clearly a favorite photographer of the family.

Purple pair

You can definitely tell this photograph is purple, indicating it was made using the collodion process and making its date sometime after 1894. The photo also seems to have something underneath it, making the ridge that you can see around the image. It’s almost padded. This photo is placed under the baby from our last posting. They don’t look like the couple on the other side of the page, so it may be a safe guess they are Io/Jo/I. O./J. O.’s parents. It is such a shame that nearly every photograph in the Dobb Long Book goes unnamed, as they surely picture families, friends, loved ones and relatives who led full and happy lives.

This post is a proud Sepia Saturday post. Please click through and take in the sepia goodness from around the world.

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