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


Softly falling jowls and a wardrobe malfunction

Mounted Tin Types 2 W

Is her dress coming open here?

A nice tintype of an older lady, maybe in her 50s? I have heard a lot of talk lately about tintypes adding years to a person’s face, so unless I see actual age signs, I’m a bit hesitant to guess. However, this lady does have the drooping eyelids and softly falling jowls of middle age.

From what I can see of her dress, it is a gathered front bodice with dropped shoulder seams, putting the dress in the 1860s. Unless my eyes are deceiving me, it looks like the front opening of the dress has popped open a smidge, showing a glimpse of the white undergarments or lining.

I read a little bit about dating tintypes in paper sleeves, and while I am confident this image is from the 1860s, I’m not certain as to what part. There was a style of paper sleeve called a cartouche that was popular until about 1865. The cartouche was characterized by an oval opening and decorative motifs around the opening. What makes me uncertain about this one is that the motifs are in the corners of the card. I’m not well versed enough in 1860s cartouche sleeves to know if that is exactly what this is. But, I’m leaning toward the second half of the 60s, or even the very end of the 60s. The card itself is CDV sized to fit with the popular styles of the time.

The style of motifs correspond with some other images I found in the same lot, so I am going to assume they were made by the same photographer, which was T. M. Saurman in Morristown, PA. My research into Saurman confuses me further on dating this particular image. He was found in the 1870 census to be only 23 years old. Could he have been in business in 1865 at only 18 years old? I find that unlikely. So this is probably not a cartouche in the style that was popular until about 1865, but an updated version for the use of photographic artists who made tintypes well until the 1900s. More on T. M. Saurman in my next post! Don’t go away.


Two children

Gems 1

A girl and boy, were they related?

Today let’s start our dive into Victorian Gems. This is the first page as you open the little Red Gem Album. It’s a nice way to start an album, with two pretty children.

Plaid Dress Girl

Plaid Dress Girl

It is unfortunate that the scratch goes right across her face but otherwise this image is lovely and well preserved. She has her hair parted in the center as was customary for girls in the mid 19th century. I can’t tell if the hair is short, but it appears there is a tendril poking out from behind her ear on the right. Her dress is plaid which was not uncommon for children. Plaid hid dirt and stains better than solids. The fabric was possibly a wool/cotton blend. The dress also has a fine lace at her collar, befitting a little girl. Based on the dropped shoulder seams of her dress, I’d place this image in the 1860s. It appears also that the photographer tinted the cheeks of this subject to highlight her youth. She looks to be around 8-10 years old.

Gems 1 Boy

Handsome boy

Her page mate has the side part in his hair expected of boys of the era, and also has an unfortunate scratch across his face. His serious expression probably hides the exuberance locked within while he sat calmly for his portrait. His sack coat is also very common of the period. A sack coat is a catch all name for any coat that was loosely fitted and buttoned at the collar. It could have coordinated with trousers and was likely wool. He has a shirt of some kind underneath and you can just see the edge of its collar behind the folded lapels of his coat. He looks to have been 10-12 years of age. I do wonder if he and the girl were siblings.

No photographers information is included in this entire album, so I am going to forgo stating that in every post.

Was she grumpy?

This is an 1860’s vintage CdV that I call Grumpy Girl. She does not look happy to be having her likeness made at all! On the very right edge of the photo, you can just see the elbow and leg of the adult who was with her. Considering you can see both the elbow and the leg in the same area, it is likely a man, as a woman’s skirt would have been quite wide in this era. This girl’s expression makes you wonder if it was close to nap time.

Mid century woman

This is another Civil War era photo. Even though the corners were cut – most likely to fit into a frame or album – we can tell by the borders of the photo. Plus her clothing just screams Civil War era! First, she has a very full skirt with minimal embellishment or trim, except the very tedious to make pleated trim. Next, you can tell by her bodice shape that she is wearing a corset, and in this period, the look was to flatten the body so that it sort of inserted into the top of the bell shaped skirt. Third, the sleeves of her bodice attach about 2 inches below the natural shoulder and feature detailed trimming at the mid upper arm. This was a very popular technique to draw the eyes wide and give the impression of a wide or round upper body. The sleeves appear to be coat sleeves with a small undersleeve peeking out at the cuff. The cuffs also are quite decorated. On to the collar. It is fairly plain, in a round shape, with a bow tie. This is a very common collar treatment. Finally, her hair. She has a nice round face, with the hair parted in the middle and drawn back over her ears, and gathered in the back in some dressing. She may have on a headband or ribbon. This is a very lovely lady of the mid 1860s.

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