The First Photographed Frostie

Last week, a storm brought 10 inches of snow to Western Maryland and turned my mind to snowmen of old.

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A woman builds a snowman whilst a man shovels snow. Courtesy National Museum of Wales.

In all probabilty, humans have sculpted snowmen for millenia. In 2007, Bob Eckstein, the author of The History of the Snowman: From the Ice Age to the Flea Market, told NPR that in writing his book, “I wanted to make it clear that snowman-making actually was a form of folk art. Man was making folk art like this for ages, and…maybe it’s one of man’s oldest forms of art…. [T]he further back you go, you find that people were really fascinated with snowmen.”

Eckstein says that building snowmen was “a very popular activity in the Middle Ages…after a snow came down and dumped all these free-art supplies in front of everyone’s house.” The earliest known representation of a snowman dates to that era, drawn in a 1380 A.D. Book of Hours. A century later, in 1494, Michelangelo was commissioned by Piero di Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Gran Maestro of Florence, to practice his art with snow. According to art historian Giorgio Vasari, “de’ Medici had him make in his courtyard a statue of snow, which was very beautiful.” Sadly, no one drew it for posterity.

In 1510, a Florentine apothecary, Lucas Landucci confided in his diary that he had seen “a number of the most beautiful snow-lions, as well as many nude figures…made also by good masters.” Another notable snowmen outbreak occurred just a year later, when folk in Brussels built more than 100 of them “in a public art installation known as the Miracle of 1511,” notes Atlas Obscura. “Their snowmen embodied a dissatisfaction with the political climate, not to mention the six weeks of below-freezing weather. The Belgians rendered their anxieties into tangible, life-like models: a defecating demon, a humiliated king, and womenfolk getting buggered six ways to Sunday. Besides your typical sexually graphic and politically riled caricatures, the Belgian snowmen, Eckstein discovered, were often parodies of folklore figures, such as mermaids, unicorns, and village idiots.”

On a sunny day in the winter of 1853/1854, early female photographer Mary Dillman Welby, then aged 37 and sister of the better-known photographer John Llewelyn Dillwyn of Penlle’r-gaer, Swansea, Wales, United Kingdom, captured the collodion glass-plate image seen at the top of this page. Hidden away in the National Museum of Wales, it was rediscovered by an historian researching extreme weather images who recognized it for what it was—the first photographed Frostie. Ω

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In 1913, Dutch Queen Wilhemina and her heir, Princess Juliana, were sculpted from snow by a band of her subjects. Courtesy Nationaal Archief Nederlands.
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Three British children and their snowman in the early years of the 20th Century. Courtesy Beamish Living Museum of the North.
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Children gaze at their snow creation.
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A patriotic snowman on an American Street, probably New York City.
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One half of a stereoview card “Delights of Childhood Days–our pets and the snowman.” Underwood & Underwood, 1902.
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Edwardians in a winter wonderland with their top-hatted snow fellow.
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Sometime in the 1940s, Reggie Babbage, Denys Bryant, and Jean Babbage built a wee snowman at Shute Hill, Breage, Helston, Cornwall.
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British kids caught in mid-creation sometime in the 1940s.

New Year’s Eve: Roaring End, Rowdy Beginning

New Year’s Eve was celebrated on 31 December for the first time in 45 B.C. when the Julian calendar came into effect.

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New Year’s Eve in the 19th Century was as jolly and booze-fueled as it is in the 21st. Here, Baby New Year 1838, the first born of the reign of young Queen Victoria, enters stage right as the black-draped old woman of 1837 departs stage left, taking with her the Georgian Era.
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This New Year’s Eve party had it goin’ on. Conga lines—usually drunken Conga lines—became popular in the 1930s and remained so right through the 1950s. The Conga was originally a Cuban Carnival dance.
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Nothing says Swinging ’60s New Year’s Eve like bullet-bra and hot-pants-wearing  go-go dancers workin’ it in a giant glass of champagne.
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And nothing says white middle-class respectability like a well-coiffed matron swilling champagne from a bottle whilst standing under a crucifix. Kodachrome, circa 1958.
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No one did parties like Edwardians did parties and Edwardians did party hardy.  This photo preserves one New Year’s Eve during the Gilded Age, circa 1905.
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A high-frolic and uber-booze New Year’s Eve sometime in the late 1940s.
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Meanwhile, in New York’s Time Square, cone-hat wearing paper-horn blowers signaled midnight.
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The origins of Baby New Year go back as far as the ancient Greeks, but the rather unfortunate personifications at parties began when the Saturday Evening Post published Baby New Year covers. This diapered gentlemen attempted to be the life of the party on New Year’s Eve 1954.
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Some sincerely spooky Mummers paraded through Philadelphia on a cold New Year’s Day, 1909. Real photo postcard.
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Times Square packed with crowds in 1954. Celebrations had occurred there as early as 1904. The ball dropping tradition began two years later, in 1906.
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These swingers celebrated New Year’s Eve in a hot tub during the mid 1970s.
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No one did parties like Edwardians did parties and Edwardians did party hardy, redux. This jovial crowd assembled at Restaurant Martin on New Year’s Eve 1906.
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This woman poured champagne for her besties whilst standing on the dining room table. As one does. Circa 1930.
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Whoopin’ it up with the grandparents. Kodachrome slide, circa 1960.
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Dude in the front row was cut off immediately after this picture was taken. Kodchrome slide, mid-1950s.

Ω


Happy New Year, Gentle Readers. Thank you for following me on this journey this far. Leave a comment, if you can. It is always deeply appreciated. And heed Benjamin Franklin, who advised, “Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”

The World Before

“What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.”—John Berger

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Photo courtesy James Morley Collection.

James Morley writes of this ambrotype of Channon Post Office & Stationers, Brompton Road, London, circa 1877: “I have found historical records including newspapers, electoral rolls, and street directories that give Thomas Samuel Channon at a few addresses around Brompton Road, most notably 96 and 100 Brompton Road. These date from 1855 until early into the 20th century. These addresses would appear to have been immediately opposite Harrods department store.”

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Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The limited research I have done on this image, which is a stereoview card marked “State Block, New Hampshire, W.G.C. Kimball, Photographer,” leads me to believe it shows mourners of Concord, New Hampshire native Franklin Pierce (November 23, 1804–October 8, 1869), 14th President of the United States (1853–1857).

The banners affixed to the carriage read “We miss him most who knew him best” and “We mourn his loss,” as well as another phrase that ends in the word “forget.” The image also features an upside down American flag with thirteen stars.

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Photo courtesy James Morley Collection.

This dry-plate glass negative shows a group of locals gathered at the smithy, Manafon, Wales, during the Montgomeryshire by-election of 1894. You can read more about this image at James Morley’s site, What’s That Picture?

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Photo courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.

Beverly Wilgus writes of this 1850s image, “The overwhelming majority of daguerreotypes made were portraits. It was the ability to capture and preserve likenesses of loved ones for an affordable cost that made the daguerreotype such an immediate success. From the beginning there were daguerreotypes of houses, cityscapes, and landscapes. We do not know the ratio of portrait to non-portrait but do know that over the years of searching we have seen thousands of portraits for every one non-portrait. We have three antique and three modern outdoor examples in our collection of over 150 daguerreotypes.

“This 1/2 plate daguerreotype is of a white house behind a picket fence. There are eleven people in the yard, on the porch, or in a window. The man in shirt sleeves at the center of the picture holds a baby and the three figures on the right appear to be children. Is it a new house or was there a traveling daguerreotypist in the neighborhood? Is it an extended family or neighbors who dropped in for the day? We will never know since there is no information or identification with it.”

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Photo courtesy Price and Zimmer Collection.

This stereoview street scene shows a busy day in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, facing north up Broadway from the corner of Chestnut. It was published by Underwood & Underwood in 1908. Ω