You’re A Grand Old Flag

Early images of the Stars and Stripes from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

By Beverly Wilgus

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The earliest flag image in our collection is this ambrotype of a young Civil War soldier standing before a painted military backdrop of tents and an American flag. By necessity, it dates from the years of the conflict, between 1861 and 1864. He wears an enlisted man’s trousers, a blue-tinted cape coat, and a regulation enlisted man’s dress Hardee hat bearing the insignia “H” and “81” inside a brass infantry bugle. Five states had an 81st Infantry: Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York. This fierce and determined Union soldier joined up from one of them. 
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This albumen stereoview card is from the 1871 “Kitty At Play” series by John P. Soule of Boston.
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Two girls stand before a large American Flag with a circular pattern of stars in this 19th Century albumen cabinet card. The girl on the left wears a flag dress and touches another flag held by her companion. There is no photographer’s imprint or location on the card. I speculate, but cannot be certain, that this dates from the Centennial celebration of 1876.
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The negative of this 1880s-era cabinet card by Swords Brothers of York, Pennsylvania, is marked “Baby Sutton.” The adorable little girl wears a dress that appears made from actual American flags. She may be a member of a theatrical family, but I have so far uncovered no performers of that name from this period.
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This tintype may portray an elderly couple and their middle-aged daughter at Baerena Park, which operated on an island in the Hudson River, 12 miles south of Albany. The number of stars suggest the image was made circa 1912. Tintypes were made at public entertainment and tourism venues of this type many decades after being supplanted by other photographic technologies.
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This undated tintype captures a little blond girl and an American flag draped over the back of a bench. It is most likely from an amusement park photo arcade during the 1910s.
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This real photo postcard of E. L. Orr shows the young man in uniform standing in front of a large American Flag. The postcard was mailed in November 1918 after the end of World War I. Orr writes on the reverse that he intends to stay in the army until spring to help in the demobilization.
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Rosemary Yacmett, the daughter of the Ohio photographer Fred Yacmett, is pictured in this real photo postcard in front of a large flag. Public records show that Rosemary was born in 1911, so it seems likely that this image celebrates the end of World War I in 1918.

Photo-Multigraphs: The Mirror and the Camera

“It was the purpose of the author to describe a number of novel and curious effects that can be obtained by the aid of the camera, together with some instructive and interesting photographic experiments.”—F. R. Fraprie, 1922

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A photo-multigraph cabinet card by A. M. Lease of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, circa 1895.

By Beverly Wilgus

In 1893, H. P. Ranger was granted Patent No. 505,127 for a “Mirror For Use In Photography.” This was a device comprised of two adjustable mirrors set at an angle. When a subject was placed in front of it, his or her image was reflected in each mirror and that reflection was again reflected, resulting in five or more figures—the number of figures determined by the angle of the mirrors.

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The above schema is from an article published in Scientific American in the 1890s that was included in the 1896 book Photographic Amusements by Frank R. Fraprie and Walter E. Woodbury. My husband and I own a copy of the 1931 edition that still contains the original illustrations.

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Also from the book is the illustration above: “Diagram Showing The Method Of Production Of Five Views of One Subject By Multiphotography.”

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This drawing from Photographic Amusements shows a photographer’s gallery arranged for multiphotography.

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This image from the book illustrates the multiphotographing of a full-length figure. In the 1970s, when we started to build our photographic collection, we found a number of photo-multigraph real photo postcards from the early 20th century, but we knew that the style dated from the late 19th Century, so set out to find earlier examples. Within the last year, we have obtained six cabinet-card photo-multigraphs and one tintype. We are now hunting for an example of a standing model, as is shown in the illustration above. We also hope to find an example where the subject is facing the camera rather than the mirrors.

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Photo-multigraph cabinet card by B. D. Jackson of Grand Rapids, Michigan, circa 1900.

We now own a photo-multigraph tintype that is especially interesting because it shows some the studio wherein the image was taken, including a raised platform and large mirrors that would certainly be capable of showing a standing subject. This gives us hope of finding a full-length photo-multigraph in the future.

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A 3-1/2″ X 5″ tintype photo-multigraph of a seated women, photographer unknown, circa 1900.

The majority of photo-multigraphs we have collected or seen are real photo postcards dating from the first three decades of the 20th Century. Identified galleries were most often in Atlantic City and New York City, although there are other cities represented and a number of images with no gallery identified.

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A photo-multigraph real photo postcard of a man playing cards with himself by Myers-Cope Company, Atlantic City, New Jersey, circa 1910.
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Photo-Multigraph Real Photo Postcard of a man posing with a small dog, unidentified studio, probably from the 1930s.
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A photo-multigraph real photo postcard by Dittrich Studios, Atlantic City, circa 1915. The sitter is identified as Grace Schultz Myer.
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This image, also by Dittrich Studios, shows a woman who is likely the mother of Grace Myers, circa 1915.
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A photo-multigraph Real Photo Postcard of a young boy with the reflection of the unidentified photographer at right edge, circa 1920.
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A photo-multigraph real photo postcard by Dobkin Studio, Atlantic City, of a woman wearing a fur-trimmed coat, circa 1930.

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All images from the Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Mostly Void, Partly Father

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Image courtesy of the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

This mid-1850s, whole-plate daguerreotype of a woman and three children is from the collection of Beverly Wilgus, another of the antique photo collectors of Flickr who has graciously allowed me to present her images. Of it, she writes, “[W]e have had the glass replaced by a conservator. It is our only whole plate daguerreotype (6 ½” X 8 ½”), which is the largest size that was in common production…. I have been asked why there is not father with the family. While it is possible that the father is deceased, I like to think that the photograph was a gift for him.”

If this image was a gift for Father, it was almost certainly purposefully posed to remind him, or any viewer, of his absence—the blank space in the middle the group screams to be filled. It is reminiscent of the portrait of the Bronte sisters, now known as the “Pillar Portrait,” which hangs in the National Gallery in London.

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From left: Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Bronte by their brother Branwell. National Portrait Gallery, London.

Painted in 1834 by the sisters’ talented, ego-driven, and alcohol-fueled brother who was then attempting to become a portrait artist, Branwell Bronte chose to eliminate himself and insert a column instead. It has been argued that he felt the composition was too crowded or that it was done in high dudgeon—we may never know which for sure. Charlotte died in 1855, at about the same time as Beverly’s daguerreotype was taken. After the death of Charlotte’s father in 1861, her husband, the Reverend Arthur Bell Nicholls, cut the painting from its frame, folded it up, and took it with him to his native Ireland, where it languished for many years. During that time, the “ghost” of Branwell began to appear through the paint—part spectral bogeyman, part prodigal son.

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Image courtesy of the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.

Another of Beverly’s images—this one an ambrotype also taken in the mid-1850s—again makes use of empty space to convey the message of loss. And in this image, it is indisputably death that has struck twice, leaving two pointed shapes like stab wounds between the three young people. A “reader” of this portrait, and it was yet very much a time of encoded meanings in art and photography, would know immediately that the teenage girls wore mourning gowns: the dark, wide lace collars of their dresses leave no doubt that the entirety of their costume is black. Between them is their younger brother, now the man of the family, reassuringly touching his elder sister’s arm. He seems stoic but unprepared for the task.

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Albumen cabinet Card, circa 1883. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This final image used props to fill the void caused by death. Whilst the husband and wife focused on a point stage left (she almost certainly dressed in mourning), between them sat a plant stand covered by what must have been a colorful, almost childish string doily, upon which an elaborate picture frame was placed. It contains an image a girl and possibly a boy. The message can be taken no other way: “These were our children; now they are no more.” Ω

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The Lastingness and Beauty of Their Love

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Newlyweds, tintype, circa 1871. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

“I’ve felt for the first time in my life the joyful consciousness that I am truly loved by a truly good man, one that with all my heart I can love and honor… one who loves me for myself alone, and with an unselfish, patient, gentle affection such as I never thought to waken in a human heart… a man in whom I can trust without fear, in whose principles I have perfect faith, in whose large, warm, loving heart my own restless soul can find repose.”—Anna Alcott Pratt, 1859

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Newlyweds, 1/6th-plate relievo ambrotype, circa 1858. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

“[M]y love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break… ”—Sullivan Ballou, letter to wife Sarah, 14 July, 1861.

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Newlyweds, English albumen cabinet card by Wakefield, 1 High Street, Ealing, circa 1900. Photo courtesy James Morley.

“To lovers, I devise their imaginary world, with whatever they may need, as the stars of the sky, the red, red roses by the wall, the snow of the hawthorn, the sweet strains of music, and aught else they may desire to figure to each other the lastingness and beauty of their love.”—Williston Fish, A Last Will, 1898

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I am delighted to announce that I have joined the staff writing team at Historical Diaries. Material from Your Dying Charlotte will appear there regularly.

I am also delighted to note that I will be able to bring you material from James Morley, who maintains his vast and wonderful collection on flickr, here, and is the founder of the blog What’s That Picture? His twitter handle is @PhotosOfThePast.

To Be, or Not to Be, a Victorian Postmortem

If the baby was not dead, but sleeping, why was he laid on a covered cushion or small table instead of being held in his nanny’s arms?

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Written on reverse: “Mother, Me, Duncan (Died 10-19), and Nanny McFalls,” Scottish albumen cabinet card by the studio of E. Geering, Aberdeen, circa 1888. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This is an puzzling image—and one for which I am interested in reader input. The inscription on the image, printed in pencil, reads: “Mother, Me, Duncan (died 10-19), and Nanny McFalls.”

When I purchased the cabinet card, I presumed that it was a postmortem image showing a deceased child guarded by his or her nanny, who wore a black bow on her white cap as well as a black dress with a white pin-front apron. The child’s well-heeled mother, in a proper dark dress, raised her eyes to heaven as if for angelic support, clutching her remaining offspring, who held a large china doll and looked warily at the camera.

The baby rested upon a draped piece of furniture in a position that indicated the illusion of sleeping rather than in-one’s-face death, which was a style of Victorian postmortem images that grew increasingly popular as the turn of the millennium approached.

The infant showed no visible signs of illness, rigor mortis, or decomposition. The child was not dressed for burial but wore regular clothing for an infant of his age, including little hard-soled leather walking shoes. The nanny’s hand rested on his arm while she faced the camera without any grief apparent. If the baby was not dead but sleeping, why was he laid on a covered cushion or small table instead of being held in his nanny’s arms? Also, he was old enough to be woken to have his picture taken. Why would he have been posed this way if he was just having a wee nap?

The fashions shown in this image date it, I am confident, between 1887 and 1890. This accords exactly with the presence of photographer Edmund Geering in Abderdeen, Scotland. Geering was an Englishman born in Sussex in about 1843. He was active as a photographer in Kincardineshire by 1871. He married a Scotswoman and was, according to Aberdeen city directories, operating out of 10 Union Place from the early 1880s to about 1889.

So the fashions, the type of photo, and the career of the photographer all place the image in the late 1880s. This brings me to the death date noted in the inscription: “10-19.” What does it mean? October 19? October 1919? If the latter, this is not a postmortem image at all and is instead simply a photo of an affluent woman, her children, and her servant. If the date refers only to a month and a day, why is there no year?

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The cabin card’s reverse with the inscription at the top.

One possibility is that Duncan was not the baby, but the child. The baby grew up to become the writer of the inscription and Duncan was actually the child in the frilly dress holding the doll. In fact, the child’s hair was parted on the side, which was one indicator of maleness in an age where boys and girls dressed alike during the first years of life. In this scenario, it was the baby’s brother, Duncan, who died as an adult in October 1919.

My fellow Flickr historian and actual cousin, Laura Harrison, opined, “If you look at the order of names, it would seem ‘Me’ is the tot and ‘Duncan’ is the baby. With October 1919 being the date of death, and assuming the picture was taken between 1881 and 1891, the baby could have served in World War I and died in 1919 from battle injuries. A lot of soldiers died in the years after the war due to injuries.”

Good point, cousin.

After looking at the reverse inscription, Flickr user Christie Harris chimed in, “The inscription looks like it was probably written well after the photo was taken; I think the 1919 [death date] would be more likely.” I agree with Christie that the handwriting of the inscriber was quite modern and was added many years later.

And so we are left with a mystery. Actually, two: I genuinely want to know more about Nanny McFalls. I searched for her as best I could, but with so little to go on, I could not identify her. In the image, she seems a cheerful, young Scottish woman who cared about her charges and who was loved enough in return to earn a place in her employer’s family portrait. Ω