Long before Internet memes, the obsession with yowling, murderous, disdainful, aloof, and weirdly adorable felines produced trade cards that are still collected today.
Long before the London Eye there was the Earls Court Gigantic Wheel, which gave passengers a bird’s eye view of the capital city and beyond.
This British postcard was mailed to Mr. W. Roberts, 3302 Lindell Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri on 22 January, 1904. The unknown sender posted it from what is today an upscale area of South Kensington, London. The message reads, “34 Brechin Place. Received yours today the 22nd. Thanks so much, am delighted with them. This is a little of Earls Court exhibition. Will write.”
The wheel at Earls Court, London, was built by Maudslay, Sons, and Field, for the Empire of India Exhibition, and opened to the public 17 July, 1895. The project’s engineer was H. Cecil Booth, who recalled, “One morning in 1894, W. B. Bassett, a retired naval officer, one of the managing directors of the firm, entered the drawing office and called out ‘Is there anyone here who can design a great wheel?’ There was dead silence, whereupon I put up my hand and replied, ‘Yes, I can, sir.’ Basset’s answer was ‘Very well, get on with it at once. It is a very urgent matter!’” (Ferris Wheels: An Illustrated History by Norman D. Anderson.)
The design and build process resulted in a 440-ton wheel that reached a height of 220 feet. It had 40 cars, each of which carried up to 40 passengers. On a clear day, from the apex, riders could see out across London and as far as Windsor Castle. At night, the wheel was a sight in itself, with a spotlight affixed to it and the entire structure and passenger cars decorated with incandescent lamps.
Faux widow + faux husband’s tomb + mourning doggerel = Happy birthday?
This Edwardian postcard from my collection shows a woman in the fullness of her beauty sat atop a chest tomb that is arguably from much earlier in the Victorian era. Whilst the woman is not dressed in conventional mourning, she does wear a recognizable widow’s bonnet—a necessary prop for the maudlin poem below the image: “She wore a wreath of roses, And once again I see that brow, No bridal wreath was there, The widow’s sombre cap conceals Her once luxuriant hair; She weeps in silent solitude, And there is no one near To press her hand within his own, And wipe away the tear; I saw her broken-hearted! Yet methinks I see her now In the pride of youth and beauty with a garland on her brow.”
The postcard was mailed from somewhere on the Channel Island of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France, at 6:30 a.m., 30 July, 1905, to Miss Edith Conner at Clarence Lodge, Clarence Road, in the Jersey town of St. Helier.
The sender’s message was both cheerful and bizarrely inappropriate, as it appears to recognize the recipient’s birthday: “Dear Edith! Permit me to wish you many happy returns of the day. With heaps of love & kind regards to all. Yours truly, A.J.”
One must wonder if the little shop on the High Street was dreadfully low on carte postals. Ω
“Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning?”
Today’s postcards convey “Wish you were here!” almost exclusively, but in the first decades of the 20th Century this method regularly moved information to friends and family who resided even just a few miles away. The short messages often read much like modern email, and when in combination with the photos on the front, can seem like old-school versions of modern Facebook posts.
On 4 March, 1914, this cheerful, beautifully colored postcard of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Broadway (above) was sent to Mrs. C. L. Pennison, Newton, Massachusetts, care of Peckitts on Sugar Hill. The message reads, “Dear Catherine, I was pleased to get your card on Monday while at home. But surprised to hear you are in the White Mountains. I hope you will soon recover your health up there. We were in the midst of a blizzard Monday but are enjoying pleasant weather now. I am well and enjoy my work. Yours, B.”
This postcard of the Washington Street Bridge, Monticello, Indiana, was addressed to Miss Ruthie Brown of Modesto, Illinois, and mailed 4 July, 1913. The reverse reads, “Dear Ruth: This is where I am spending the day. This morning our car struck a buggy just as we were going up the hill beyond this bridge. I hope you are having a lovely vacation. Would like to hear from you very much. Grace Mc. 1 Danville, Ind.”
Beverly Wilgus, the owner of this example, writes, “This postcard was mailed by a grandfather to his granddaughter in November, 1912. The caption ‘Tommy’s first and Turkey’s last picture” [has an] unpleasant edge. The image is embossed and gives the figures a slight 3D effect. It was sent to Dorothy Flower in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts, by Grandpa Midley.”
The message reads, “Dear Dorothy: How would you like to have your picture taken this way? I suppose you would rather have some of the turkey to eat. Hope you will have some for your Thanksgiving dinner. Am going to try to get to No. Uxbridge to see you soon.”
Margaret Ripley was a nurse in France during World War I. The above is one of a series of postcards she sent to her sister back in Surrey, England. “Had 2 nice days here unfortunately Louvre & all museums shut but seen as much as possible. Off to Dunkirk tomorrow to typhoid hospital—so glad to feel we may at last get real work in connection with war. Have enjoyed our week’s holiday very much & were hoping to stay on here a few more days. Love to E & children. Hope they are well again. Mar.”
Although the photographic image is from a decade previous, this postcard’s stamp was cancelled 24 December, 1922. Addressed to Mr. S. Schmall, 4549 Calumet St., Chicago, Illinois, the delightful message reads: “Thank you dear for the nice letter you sent us and all the kisses. Hope you are a good boy. Did you throw Herbert out of bed Sunday morning? Love to you & all. Aunt Alice.”
Postmarked 30 October, 1917, this postcard was sent by the United Brethren Sunday School of Myersville, Maryland, to Helen Keller and family. “U B ready for the U.B. Rally. We need you on Rally Day. Remember the date: Nov. 11th. Do not disappoint us. Help us make this our best Rally Day.” (If there was a smiling emoticon after “Do not disappoint us,” I would feel less creeped out.)
According to Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, “In liturgical Protestant churches, Rally Day marks the beginning of the church calendar year. It typically occurs at the end of September or the beginning of October. Although not all Protestant churches observe this day, the customs associated with it include giving Bibles to children, promoting children from one Sunday school grade to the next, welcoming new members into the church, and making a formal presentation of church goals for the coming year.”
Beverly Wilgus writes, “This multiple-print, real photo postcard shows two soldiers in a studio prop biplane flying over a real San Antonio streetscape. A banner reading ‘San Antonio 1911’ flies from the wing. Even though the plane is obviously phony, the two airmen appear to be real pilots since the message on the back reads, ‘Our first lesson what do you think of it? Geo.’”
I’m thinking Photoshop, version 1.911. Ω
“If my Valentine you won’t be,
I’ll hang myself on your Christmas tree.” —Ernest Hemingway
This tart little valentine was sent from Battle Creek, Michigan, 8 February, 1910, to Mr. Barhite, Bellevue, Michigan, RFD No. 1. The message reads: “Well Mr. Barhite I have not heard from you in a long time and so I don’t know whether you are dead or alive. I hope you are the latter and well write. Edith Mathews.”
The addressee was Gordon Lyman Barhite, born 10 June, 1883, in Michigan, son of Everon Barhite (1837-1923) and Delia F. Root (b.1846). Gordon Barhite appeared on the 1900 census of Bellevue as a boarder on the farm of Theodore Davis, probably acting as a farm hand. By 1910, he was in Fredonia, Michigan, working the farm of Frederic Lee.
Barhite’s 1918 World War I draft registration card notes that he was of medium height, medium build, and had blue eyes and brown hair—and if the childhood picture below is any evidence, he may well have grown into a looker. The address to which bitter Edith sent this postcard was that of Gordon’s mother Delia, who was also listed on the draft registration card as his wonderfully misspelled next-of-kin “Deilicia Barhite.”
The 1920 census appears to tell the outcome of the valentine’s tale: Gordon Barhite then lived in Convis, Michigan, with his wife Edith (b. 11 June 1888). Also enumerated with Gordon and Edith were three children with the surname Patchett: Loren (1907-1925), Wayne (1910-2001), and Bernadine (b. 1912), as well as mother-in-law Frances Coutz (1847-1920).
Frances’s presence provided a vital clue: twenty years earlier, the 1900 Amboy, Michigan, census detailed the household of farmer Joseph Coutz, Jr. (1843-1911), and his wife Frances E. Oldfield Coutz, as well as their daughter Margery Edith.
On 15 January, 1905, Margery Edith Coutz married Frederick William Patchett, who was born 13 April, 1882, in Salford, Lancashire, England, and came to America in 1879. Before 1919, however, the Patchett marriage ended badly. The 1 May Battle Creek Enquirer announced that Gordon Barhite and Edith Patchett obtained a marriage license—they had actually married the day before—and the later 1930 Census placed Frederick Patchett in Hillsdale as a lodger and a divorced mill worker. He later married Edith Mackey (1889-1972). The appearance of this Edith confused me and before I realized that she was indeed a new individual, I believed for a time that Edith Barhite had returned to her first husband.
Edith’s son Loren Patchett, unmarried and working as an electrical lineman, died aged 19 on 29 June, 1925, in Battle Creek, of electrocution caused by the failure to wear protective gloves. “Without the gloves, He climbed a transformer pole on Freemont Street. While in contact with a live wire containing 5,000 volts, he forgot and took hold of another wire which a fellow workman was attempting to sever…. The result was a short circuit which went from hand to hand.” Loren was buried in Riverside Cemetery, Bellevue.
The 1930 census placed Gordon and Edith Barhite in Pennfield. Gordon was a farm laborer and stepdaughter Bernadine worked in a factory. The couple also had a daughter, Helen, born in 1923. Edith acted in a local play put on by the Willing Workers of the Base Line Church in may 1934. In December, 1939, a local newspaper article mentioned that Gordon Barhite and his family were exchanging houses with a Mr. and Mrs. Inman. The Battle Creek Enquirer of 14 March, 1941, noted that “Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Barhite have moved from the Gates apartment house on South Clark to a farm near Climax.” These are the last traces I can find of the family.
Gordon Barhite died in May 1964 and Edith Barhite died 18 June, 1972, in Hillsdale County, Michigan.
Now, the discrepancy: The woman who sent this valentine signed her name Edith Mathews. Was she really Edith Patchett? In 1910, Edith was 22 years old with two young children and an unhappy marriage. Was she already looking to leave Frederick Patchett and was casting about for a new man to provide for her children? If she was, using a false but previously agreed upon surname may have seemed a wise thing to do.
Conversely, Edith Mathews may really have been Edith Mathews. According to the 1911 Battle Creek City Directory, a woman of that name was a boarder at 16 Shepard Street. She was still there in 1912, with fuller details given: Edith G. Mathews was a packer at the Postum Cereal Company. In 1916, she was a machine operator at B.C. Paper Company. After this, she disappeared from 16 Shepard Street.
Was this Valentine from an unhappy woman looking for a way out of a bad marriage or from a single working girl who’d met a handsome farm hand somewhere, somehow? The answer remains unknown, but I shall leave you with this, from my heart to yours: “Love attracts, connects, builds and frees the beauty of humanity. Happy Valentines Day.”—Euginia Herlihy. Ω
When the photographer was an artist, the results were transcendent.
British hand-colored ambrotypes of the 1850s have a vibrancy and veracity unrivaled until the 1903 invention of the first genuine color process by the brothers Lumière. I have a number of these photographic jewels in my collection, but this pair—portraits of John and Mary Ellen Hill Fawcett—are courtesy of James Morley.
“Developed in 1851, the ambrotype took over the popularity of the daguerreotype and pretty much displaced it by 1860. It was much cheaper to produce than a daguerreotype, could be made with a shorter exposure time, and you didn’t have to tilt the plate to see the image. The ambrotype made photography more affordable for middle and working class people,” Karen Langberg of Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers explains, “Ambrotypes were made on a glass plate coated with a wet, light-sensitive substance, which when developed and dried, produced a negative image. The negative then had to be mounted against a dark background or coated with a dark varnish to give the illusion of a positive.”
Before that background was added, the photographer or an artist employed by the studio painted on the reverse to take the plate’s brownish-gray albumen tones to those of life. When the artist was a good one, the results were transcendent.
John Bailiff Fawcett, born 20 March, 1836, in the ancient market town of Kirkby Stephen, Westmorland (now part of Cumbria), England, was the son of Thomas and Esther Bailiff Fawcett, and was baptized 10 April in the Congregational Church in Warcop, Westmorland, about five miles to the north.
Warcop was the childhood home of his parental grandfather and namesake, who was born there in 1771. As an adult, before 1807, that John Fawcett moved his wife Margaret, née Moss, and infant daughter to Kirkby Stephen. There were many Fawcetts there, too. The clan had been in what is now the Eden district for more than two centuries, and most Fawcetts were interrelated.
Kirkby Stephen, as the town’s website describes the modern locale, is comprised of “historic buildings, cobbled yards, quaint corners and interesting shops, ideally located in the beautiful Upper Eden valley…. This is an area of Cumbria much less well known than the Lake District, but equally appealing. It is surrounded by a landscape of pastoral rural scenery and wild uplands and offers breathtaking views in every direction. Remotely located from large towns and population centres, Kirkby Stephen has developed a strong and self-sufficient identity and a vibrant sense of community.”
The Fawcetts had some level of local celebrity. In a wonderful, detailed article on the town during the 19th Century, author Ann Sandell writes, “In pre-railway Kirkby Stephen of 1858, as evidenced by the Post Office Directory listings, there were all the usual trades that you would expect in a traditional country market town of the day…. As the nursery rhyme suggests, there was the obligatory Butcher, Baker and Candlestick Maker. There were in fact nine butchers, several of them also farmers and one who was a cattle dealer. There were five bakers and a confectioner. Three tallow chandlers including the famous Fawcett family, at this time Mrs. Ann Fawcett and Richard Fawcett.” (This was Richard Fawcett, born 1798, who died in London in 1870.)
In a search to understand why the Fawcetts might be famous (a quest that was never satisfactorily solved,) I found that at least a few Fawcetts were infamous instead. The Penrith Herald of 18 July, 1874, reported, “Mr. Richard Fawcett [(1828-1909)], tallow chandler, Kirkby Stephen, appeared before the Sanitary Authority, with reference to an alleged nuisance arising from his chandling shop in Millbeck, Kirkby Stephen. Mr. Fawcett said he had adopted all the improvements he had heard of, and he thought his shop would be no worse than his neighbours. It was stated, however, by some of the guardians, that as there was a difference of times, some fault must exist, and they therefore urged upon Mr. Fawcett to take as much care as possible to prevent a repetition of the nuisance.”
And then there was this: “A most calamitous fire occurred early on Saturday morning in the parish of Kirkby Steven, Westmorland. The fire broke out in the shop of Mr. Richard Fawcett, a tallow chandler, at Mill Beck, a hollow part of the parish, to which descent is made from the main street by a steep declivity, and over this shop was a cottage in which a man named Varty and his wife and family resided. Owing to the secluded position of the dwelling and shop, which are flanked by a brewery and cut off from other dwellings, the fire was not noticed till it had burnt itself out, and when the catastrophe was first discovered the premises were destroyed, and the poor fellow Varty and his wife and three children were found burnt to death or suffocated. It seems that Varty, on being roused from his slumbers by the heat and smoke, made a desperate effort to escape with his family, for when discovered dead at 4 o’clock in the morning, he had two of his children in his arms, and the mother had the third. Another person who had got into the chandler’s shop was terribly scalded by the liquid heated by the fire. As may be supposed, the discovery of the ill-fated family caused the greatest consternation in the town and neighbourhood. The inquest on the five bodies was held at the workhouse on Saturday night. The bodies were very much burned, and presented a shocking spectacle. After hearing the evidence of the police, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental Suffocation,’” The Times of London ran in its 20 October, 1884, issue.
Pure negligence was a better verdict. The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald of 25 October set the record straight, “Colonel Sir Charles Firth, President of the Fire Brigade Association, having been to Kirkby Stephen to investigate the circumstances of the fatal fire there, has made the following report thereon: ‘I inspected the scene of the fire at Kirkby Stephen, on the 20th inst. It was caused by a wood conductor of the steam effluvia from the fat boiling in the set-pot having had one end let so far into the chimney which conveyed the heat and smoke from the fire stove under the set-pot as to get on fire and communicate fire to the boiling fat, tallow &c, in the set-pot, and about the set-pot. This in turn caused the suffocation of the five inmates of the two rooms above, forming a dwelling. No means of ventilation existed in the house excepting by the opening of windows or the door. In the bed chamber no fire-place or chimney placed; the family were sealed up to their fate. No cat or dog formed part of the establishment to give alarm. Had the inmates not been so quickly suffocated they could with little risk of limb have dropped safely from the window. I have visited thousands of scenes of fire, but never saw a more imprudent thing than the placing of this wood conductor into a heated place or chimney; and finding in the depositions of the Coroner that the master chandler expressed the opinion that the deceased inmates caused the fire, it is, in my opinion, adding insult to injury; the dead cannot speak, but the facts speak for themselves.’”
“My family consists of 10 children—6 boys and 4 girls. Two of the boys died in infancy, and were buried in the old church yard, at the bottom… on the north side.”
How the chandler Richard Fawcett was related to John Fawcett and his father Thomas is unknown. Thomas, son of John and Margaret Fawcett mentioned earlier, was christened in Kirkby Stephen 12 July, 1812. Thomas became a painter, glazier, and gilder who married Esther (b. 1814), the dressmaker daughter of Joseph Bailiff (1782-1867) and Agnes Brunskill (1777-1860), on 25 June, 1835; little John arrived nine months later, almost on the dot. Thomas and Esther would go on to have at four more children—Sarah, born in 1840; Margaret, born in 1846; Joseph, born in 1849; and Mary, born 1853.
John Fawcett’s bride, Mary Ellen Hill, was born 15 November, 1837, to Sarah Littleford (1812-1870) and Thomas Hill (1812-1894). Her father, who came from Eastham, Essex, married her mother, who was born in Deanshanger, Buckinghamshire, on 26 December, 1837, in Tower Hamlets, Bromley-St. Leonard, Middlesex, about 3.75 miles northeast of St. Paul Cathedral, London. In the late 1830s, the couple lived in Kendal, Westmorland. However, by 1841, Sarah, daughter Mary Ellen (b. 15 November, 1837), and son Rowland (b. 25 January, 1841), lived in High Street, Whitechapel, London, in what appears to have been a boarding house. With her husband apparently left behind, Sarah Hill described herself as “independent.”
Whatever split the family in the early 1840s—and it is hard to think other than a purposeful separation—husband and wife had reunited by the 1851 Census. The Hills were enumerated in Kendal, Westmorland—another market town, about 25 miles southwest of Kirkby Stephen and famed for its Kendal mint cakes.
Thomas Hill’s profession was schoolmaster. A letter exists in which Hill writes that his wife died 24 January, 1870, “and is interred in the Kendal Church cemetery, where I hope to lie with her when it pleases God to call me away.” He continues, “My family consists of 10 children—6 boys and 4 girls. Two of the boys died in infancy, and were buried in the old church yard, at the bottom… on the north side. My family now (1884) consists of 4 sons living, 4 daughters living, and 25 grandchildren.”
Hill was the master of the Kendal Green British School. He writes of his experience, “I had a great deal to do in preparing for the opening of the school—several scores of reading lessons in sheets to paste on boards, besides other things. These occupied me for nearly 2 weeks. When all was ready, it was publicly announced that the school would be opened…and that the names of intending scholars would be taken on two days in the previous week: 63 names were given in. It was considered best not to take all the boys the first week, so the first 40 were taken, then 20 more the next week, and afterwards all that came. So I began with 40 boys on the 12th October 1835, a day much to be remembered by me, as if it was the commencement of mastership which extended over a long period of 40 years!”
Sadly, nothing survives nor lingers in living memory to tell us how John Fawcett and Mary Ann Hill met, but we know they wed in Kendal in April 1859. The pair of ambrotypes, both dated to that year, are without doubt wedding portraits. This brings me to a conjecture for which I have only slight supporting evidence (see below), but wish to moot nonetheless: Perhaps we should not conclude that the Fawcett family painting trade equaled only wall and building prettiment. Thomas Fawcett was also a gilder—one who overlays metallic leaf including gold on items sometimes quite delicate and precious—as well as a glazier who insets fragile glass. Might it be possible that Thomas Fawcett and perhaps his son John, too, were artistically skilled and that one of them is responsible for the magnificent coloring of the wedding ambrotypes?
The Fawcetts were a close-knit unit. In 1861, three generations of the family, including maternal grandfather Joseph Bailiff, inhabited numbers 14 to 16 Chapel Terrace, carrying out their trades and employing a domestic servant. Family matriarch Esther Bailiff Fawcett died in the Spring of 1867, and by 1871 Thomas Fawcett, his second son Joseph, and daughter Mary had moved to Kirkby Stephen’s Main Street to run the family painting and glazing business.
Also on Main Street, just a little down the road, were John and Mary Ellen Fawcett. They were parents many times over by this date: their firstborn was Mary Caroline, who arrived in 3 May, 1860; Thomas Bailiff arrived in October 1862; Frederick was born in 1864; Henry John was born in 19 September, 1865; Rowland Hill was born 24 May, 1867; and Joseph was born during July 1868. Another son, William Arthur, would make his debut in April 1872, completing the family.
In 1871, John told the census taker that he was both a painter and a photographer, although by the 1881 Census he had altered this to painter and decorator. This information sent me on a hunt for extant copies of his work. I found one record from the National Archives, Kew, which pertains to John: “’Photograph of railway Train passing over Belah Viaduct.’ Copyright owner of work: Edward Metcalfe, 29 High Street, Kirkby Stephen. Copyright author of work: John Fawcett, 19 High Street, Kirkby Stephen. Address when photograph was taken, Chapel Terrace, Kirkby Stephen. Name of parties to agreement: John Fawcett, and Edward Metcalfe.” Was this a photo John had taken long before to which he sold the rights later in life? Probably, but more certain is this image:
I discovered this carte de visite (CDV) on eBay during my hunt for images by John Fawcett. It dates from about 1870 and clearly shows Fawcett’s imprint on the reverse. But as I looked at the sitter, I felt I had seen him before—especially that straight nose that seems to lack a bridge and the upward-glancing dark eyes. It occurred to me that this was possibly a self-portrait of John Fawcett when he was aged about 35, taken a little more than a decade after his wedding portrait. If not John, might be another member of the family?
In 1891, the Fawcetts yet lived on Main Street, with John self-identifying as a house painter and decorator, his photographer days apparently long behind him. John and Mary Ellen’s daughter, Mary Caroline had married grocer John Alsop (1862-1936) in 1889, and the pair dwelt on Main Street with her younger brother William Arthur serving as an apprentice. The couple’s other sons had moved away to follow careers with the railroad and as drapers.
John’s father Thomas died 7 November, 1891, aged 79. His Will was proved the month following at Carlisle by John and his brother Joseph. His personal estate was a mere £6 2s. 6d, but he had been cared for by Joseph, who remained in the family trade of painting (and now paper hanging), as well as spinster daughter Mary, so there is no reason to believe Thomas died in penury. Mary Ellen’s father, Thomas Hill, died in Kendal during October, 1894, apparently intestate.
John and Mary Ellen lost their youngest son, William, on 17 May, 1904. He had married a local Kirkby Stephen woman, Charlotte Horsfield, and set up a grocery in the nearby village of Great Asby, Westmorland. William left behind two young sons, one less than a year old when he died.
Before the next census, the John and Mary Ellen removed to 19 High Street, where he continued in his life-long career; the couple were well-off enough to employ a male domestic servant. When Mary Ellen Hill Fawcett died 6 April, 1910, she left a personal estate of £928 18s. 7d.
After his wife’s passing, John lived at 19 High Street with his son Joseph, Joseph’s wife Harriet Annie Braithwaite, and their three daughters. By 1911, Joseph Fawcett had left the painting trade and was an insurance agent for Refuge Assurance Company.
John died in September 1916. He and Mary Ellen had more than a dozen grandchildren, including Reginald John Fawcett, born during December 1902 in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, to Henry Fawcett and his wife Ada Turner. His resemblance to his grandfather at about the same age is marked. Ω
I’m pleased to announce that I will be featuring material from my friend, fellow collector, and author Caroline Leech. Her first book, Tales of Innocence and Darkness, was published in 2012. Caroline not only collects what some might call the “broken toys” of early photography, but literally the beautiful, wounded treasures of the past. She photographs them in haunting arrangements that I am honored to share with you. I’ll close with an example.