The Potent Pen: Augustus Snell and His Family

“The invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.”

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Augustus and Jane Pullan Snell, cabinet card copy of an 1857 daguerreotype. It is most fitting that the photographer’s imprint is in beautiful script. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Augustus Frederick Snell was born 19 January, 1833. Almost a month later, on 17 February, 1833, he was christened at St. Michael, Headingley, West Yorkshire, England, which is today a suburb of Leeds. When Augustus was born, Headingley was still very much a village, but one that had begun to lure the affluent who wished to escape the industrial city’s smoke and bother.

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The Lord’s Prayer in various forms of 19th Century shorthand, a method of rapid transcription via symbolic writing.

Augustus’s parents, William (1791-1847) and Maria Calvert Snell (1803-1873), were respectable, educated late Georgians. On their marriage record of 9 July, 1825, William’s occupation was given as “professor of handwriting.” Later, he became a teacher of stenography and a shorthand writer for the company of Lewis & Snell on Board Lane, opposite Albion Street. The company’s advert in the 14 July, 1825, issue of the Leeds Intelligencer states that “the invaluable and delightful art of stenography, taught by the aid of mnemonics, in the most interesting and amusing manner, by which its principles may be indelibly fixed upon the most treacherous mind.” The price was 25s for the six lessons of the course, and separate apartments were set aside for ladies and those who wished to take their lessons alone.

Maria Calvert ran the Ladies’ Seminary in Headingley before her marriage, and after a brief honeymoon, reopened the school on 14 July, 1825. An Intelligencer advert that ran on that day noted the cost per student per annum as 20 Guineas, for which the girl would be instructed in reading, grammar, geography, plain and fancy needlework, writing, and arithmetic. Additionally, “Mrs. S. has made arrangements for instructing her Pupils in Music, Dancing, Drawing, and every fashionable Accomplishment.”

In future adverts, the school  was described as “commodious, in a remarkably pleasant and airy situation, and has two playgrounds.”

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An advert for the Snells’ boarding school that also offers William Snell’s ability to teach “a correct, elegant, and emphatic Pronunciation with natural and graceful Style.”

In the years ahead, Maria advertised for male day students who would be instructed by William Snell. They needed increased income as babies began to arrive. The Snells produced eight children, most of whom survived childhood: William Mortimer (1826-1835), Adolphus (1828-1832), Maria Ruthetta (1831-1832), Augustus, Edmond Garforth (1834-1871), William (1837-1918), Walter (1838-1902), and Maria (1840-1898).

Another advertisement in the Leeds Mercury of 6 July, 1837, revealed the Snells were clearing out ahead of a move to London. Up for sale were “the household furniture; books; pictures; Mahogany dining, card, and Pembroke tables; carpets; sets of Moreen window curtains and appendages; looking glasses; camp bedsteads and hangings; feather and flock beds and bedding; cane seated chairs; chests of drawers; a small select library of books; Mahogany and painted press bedsteads; mirror, kitchen, and other requisite effects. In lots to suit purchasers, and without the least reserve.”

“Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”

The great city of London was William Snell’s birthplace. His father, Augustus’s grandfather Richard Snell (1759-1831), operated canal carriers from the nation’s metropolis to Yorkshire, Manchester, Liverpool, and the north of England. According to the 20 December, 1819, Intelligencer, “Goods are daily forwarded per Fly-Boats, on the most approved System, with the utmost care and dispatch. Should the Canal Conveyance be stopped by Frost or Accident, Goods will be forwarded by Land, if required, at the lowest possible expense to the owners.” Those wishing to use these services were told to find Snell, Robins, and Snell of London at their warehouse, White Bear Yard, Basinghall Street. It also appears that the group kept the White Bear Inn, presumably also of that place.

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This Old Bailey record details a theft against  Snell, Robins, and Snell, which was a partnership between Augustus’s father, grandfather, uncle, and John Robins, the husband of his aunt, Mary Ann.

Richard Snell died 18 January, 1831, in Edgeware Road, Paddington, leaving the majority of his estate to his son Adolphus, including all his wearing apparel, household furniture, utensils, wine, beer, liquor, and fuel. William Snell inherited 1/5th of his father’s estate, as did his other uncles—all of them colorful characters.

Take, for example, Richard Snell the younger (b. 1789) who died when Augustus was two. “MELANCHOLY OCCURRENCE!” screamed the Manchester Courier on 2 February, 1839. “We are sorry to announce the death of Mr. R. Snell, wine and spirit merchant…. He had been laboring under considerable mental irritability for some days, although free from violent or dangerous symptoms.” Whilst his doctor was with him one evening, “He was suddenly seized with an impression that his life was in danger. Springing from his bed, he possessed himself of a pair of pistols, which with some difficulty were wrested from him.”

After being pacified by his doctor and wife, Snell thought he heard the front door open. “He again became excited, rushed downstairs, and finding the door to the house locked, he seized a poker, broke the windows and succeeded in getting out into the yard. He thence crossed an orchard, and proceeded into Mr. Seddon’s premises adjoining, where he sank down exhausted,” reported the Courier. Shortly thereafter, his doctor found Snell “quite dead.” An inquest decided that “the deceased had died from the effect of excessive excitement, under the influence of temporary derangement.”

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Shorthand writer George Blagrave Snell, uncle of Augustus Snell.

Another Uncle, George Blagrave Snell, was lauded in memoriam by the London Daily Telegraph after his sudden death from a heart attack in Brighton in 1874. Under the title “Death of a Well-Known Shorthand Writer,” it was reported, “Mr. Snell was the father of his profession, having followed it actively for upwards of a half century…. He was retained by the Government, often at much risk to his life, to report the speeches made by various agitators at public meetings during the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1831, and he was known at that time as ‘The Recording Angel of the Marquess of Anglesey’…. He has since on many important occasions been engaged  by the Government, and his presence will not fail to be missed, not only in the courts of law, but in both Houses of Parliament.”

In the days before audio and film recording, shorthand writers like Snell played an important role in the workings of justice. It was their job to faithfully transcribe interviews with the various parties in court cases, civil and criminal. Traces of Snell’s normal daily work (when not busy in his superhero role of “Recording Angel”) can be found in the records of the Old Bailey, such as a case against one George Sherborne, who was charged with “Unlawfully within four months of his bankruptcy obtaining from Samuel Brewer and others certain pianos, and disposing of them otherwise than in the ordinary course of his trade,” which sounds ridiculous, and frankly was (the defendant was found not guilty), but shows how seriously bankruptcy was taken in Victorian Britain.

Snell describes his part of the process in the trial transcript, “I am one of the official shorthand writers to the London Court of Bankruptcy, and attended the examination of the prisoner on 15th January, 1879, before Mr. Registrar Pepys, and took down the questions put to him and his answers—the transcript on the file of proceedings is correct.”

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Henry Saxon Snell

George Blagrave Snell married at age 20 Harriet Saxon (1802-1885) on 15 January, 1825, at St. Marylebone, Westminster. Snell and his wife had eight children, all of whom lived to adulthood. One of their sons, for whom it is worth pausing, was Henry Saxon Snell (1831-1904). He was Augustus’s first cousin and became an architect of some note.

Henry Snell attended University College London and was inducted as a fellow into the Royal Institute of British Architects. He specialized in designing public buildings and amongst his works were the Montrose Asylum, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, the Leancholi Hospital, and the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, Canada.

Another son, George Blagrave Snell, Jr. (1829-1910), also became a shorthand writer and his father’s business partner until the older man’s demise. His story shall be told farther along.

“I have a printing press and types for printing within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington.”

When Augustus’s Uncle Adolphus Snell’s life ended on 6 September, 1872, he was a civil engineer’s clerk in Baker Street, but earlier, he was a printer. A surviving letter in the British National Archives of 5 April, 1834, to the Clerk of the Peace in the county of Middlesex reads, “I, Adolphus Snell, of 13 St. Alban’s Place, Edgeware Road, Paddington, do humbly declare that I have a printing press and types for printing…within Newcastle Place in the Parish of Paddington, for which I desire to be entered for that purpose in pursuance of an act passed in the 39th year of His Majesty George the Third, entitled ‘An Act for the More Effective Suppression of Societies Established for Seditious and Treasonable Purposes and for Better Preventing Treasonable and Seditious Practices.’”

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Augustus’s uncle Adolphus Snell, circa 1865.

(Inscrutably, Adolphus’s death certificate indicates that he expired of “disease of ankle & exhaustion” while at Westminster Hospital.)

Next we come to Augustus’s Uncle James Snell, born 13 March, 1798, in St. Marylebone, Paddington, London. His daughter Emma Harriet Norwood Snell was baptized 26 December, 1822, at Paddington, St. James. This church record notes the occupation of James Snell as dentist.

James Snell invented the first mechanical reclining dental chair with an adjustable seat and back in 1832. James Snell was also a member of the Royal College of Surgeons and the author of A Practical Guide to Operations on the Teeth, in which he made the design of his dental chair design public.

“There is no part of the apparatus of the dentist of more importance to his success, than a good operating chair. To this particular, the professors of this country have not paid sufficient attention, most of them having nothing but a common arm-chair, the use of which must, in many cases, be alike inconvenient to the operator, and fatiguing to the patient,” he wrote. “For some years I used nothing but a common arm chair, but I was so constantly encountering proofs of its inconvenience, both to myself and the patient, that I felt it my duty to construct a chair, better, adapted to the purpose. Having done so, I can say with sincerity, that I have never ceased to blame myself for having so long neglected it.”

At some point afterward, James Snell emigrated to the West Indies. He was memorialized in the London Standard of 9 August, 1850, in two simple lines: “On the 6th…at Kingston, St. Vincent’s, West Indies, James Snell, Esq., in this 55th year.”

Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station.

It is unclear why the Snells left Headingley for London in 1837, but the relocation was likely tied to Uncle Adolphus’s press. When Augustus’s brother Walter was born 20 September, 1838, and christened on 3 November, the baptismal entry records that William and Maria lived in Bayswater and that William was a printer.

A decade after returning to London, Augustus’s father died 3 December, 1847. The 1851 Census placed the family in Paddington, living in 5a Newcastle Place, which was the site of Uncle Adolphus’s press. Maria Snell was the 67-year-old head of the house and business, with her was 18-year-old Augustus and others of his siblings, the eldest of which were working for the printery.

Newcastle Place, as the Snells knew it, is long erased, but it was then and is today a literal stroll to Paddington Station. Construction for the main terminal was completed and the facility opened to the public 29 May, 1854. Augustus would have seen and heard the trains toing and froing, and the seed was possibly placed in his mind that the railroad could provide meaningful work.

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Paddington Station as the Snells knew it.

December, 1856, banns were read at St. Mary, Paddington Green, for Augustus and Jane Pullan, who was the wan, brown-haired, and dark-eyed daughter of Thomas and Ann Pullan. The marriage was solemnized 10 February, 1857, in the parish of St. Mary, Paddington Green, Westminster.

It is probable that the original daguerreotype of my cabinet card was made to commemorate the couple’s union, as the fashions worn by Augustus and Jane date exactly to their marriage year. Some time later, probably in the late 1880s or early 1890s, the daguerreotype was duplicated by the well-known “Stereoscopic Company of 110 & 108 Regent Street W.” (Visit the company’s website to see a stereoview of the building where a Snell clan member took the wedding daguerreotype to be copied.)

Jane’s father, Yorkshireman Thomas Pullan, born in 1803, was a mason by trade. Her mother, Anne Booth, was from Spofforth, Yorkshire, born circa 1807. Jane, the eldest daughter, was born in Chapel Allerton, West Yorkshire, sometime before 12 August, 1838, when her christening occurred at St. Mary the Virgin, Hunslet.

The Pullan family appears on the 1841 and 1851 censuses of Chapel Allerton. During the latter of these censuses, Jane, then aged 18, was enumerated as a house servant at the home of a Royal Bank of England clerk and his family. At some point before 1856, Jane left this employment and moved to London.

It may be that the Snells and the Pullans knew each other. Augustus’s childhood home of Headingley is a mere two miles from Jane’s Chapel Allerton. Perhaps the couple were long-time friends—even long-time sweethearts, or perhaps they met through a chance encounter in the capital city. Whatever the case, four years after their marriage, the 1861 Census placed Augustus and Jane Snell in Christchurch, St. Marylebone, Middlesex, living at 6 Sherborne Street with their sons Thomas Edmund (b. 4 January, 1858; baptized 7 March, Paddington Green) and Charles Walter (26 November, 1859, Marylebone, London). Augustus listed his occupation as a printer and their abode was in Grove Terrace.

Two years afterward, in February 1863, Augustus, then aged 29, became employed by the Great Western Railway in the goods department at Paddington Station. He stayed in the job only a month then resigned his position. Why he did so is not known, but Augustus never again attempted to make the railroad a career.

The 1871 Census enumerated the Snells in Willesden, Middlesex, in Northwest London, about five miles from Charing Cross. The area was mostly rural then and had a population of only some 18,500. But Willesden was on the cusp of urbanization. The Metropolitan Line’s stop at the Willesden Green connected it to the city center in 1879 and just 25 years later, the population grew more than seven times to 140,000.

In 1871, Augustus stated his occupation as a shorthand clerk, no doubt drawing on skills learned from his father. By 1881, Augustus worked as a solicitor’s clerk and both his sons were clerks in an insurance agency. The Snell family lived at East End Villa, on East End Road, Finchley, some six miles further northwest, where the population was less than 12,000.

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Finchley, when photographed for this circa-1918 postcard, still possessed its quiet charm.

Ten years later, in 1891, the couple had become what we now term “empty nesters,” who lived with a servant in a terrace house at 51 Weston Park, Hornsey, Middlesex, now part of Crouch End. Augustus again stated his occupation as shorthand clerk.

As the century came to the close, Augustus and Jane left Middlesex for retirement in a cottage in the Essex countryside. Augustus died 20 December, 1906. The probate record of his Will reads “Snell, Augustus Frederick of Fairview Cottage, Ashington, Rochford, Essex….Probate London, 28 January, to Jane Snell, widow. Effects £294 12s. 6d.” Jane lived until 5 July, 1911, also dying in Ashingdon.

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Augustus and Jane Snell ended their days in a small cottage probably like these in Canewdon View Road, Ashingdon, Esssex. Photo courtesy Rochford District Community Archives.

The couple’s elder son, Thomas, spent his working life as an insurance clerk. He married Kate Strathon, who was born in about 1860 in Plymouth, Devon, and by her had two daughters: Dorothy Strathon (1892-1971) and Winifred Mary (1894-1972).

In 1891, Thomas and Kate lived at 3 Arthur Villas, Belle Vue Road, Friern Barnet, Middlesex, but by 1894 they moved to 77 Victoria Road, Stroud Green, Hornsey, near his parents. By 1901, Thomas and family lived  in Walthamstow at 17 Avon Street; by 1911, after his parents’ deaths, the Snells moved to 71 Fishpond Road, Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Thomas died there 12 February, 1944. His will was probated at Llandudno to his nephew Edmund (see below) on 21 March of that year, with effects of £800 16s. 7p.

The Snell’s second son Charles married Lillian Helen Miller (1866-1892), the daughter of Henry Miller, on 2 May, 1891, at St. Peter, Hammersmith. They had a son, Edmund Norie Snell (1892-1984), whose birth appears to have caused his mother’s death. Charles married again at age 35, in 1894, on the Isle of Wight, to Agnes Jefferd. With her, he had two more children: Marjorie Norah Muriel (1895-1983) and William Frederick Aubrey (1899-1962). Charles eventually became an insurance broker and died in Saltford, Somerset, 27 April, 1920. His Will was probated on 9 July, with effects of £878 15s.

“The said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.”

Augustus’s younger brother, Walter Snell, married Elizabeth Colebrook (1843-1899) on 19 June, 1864, in St. Peters, Walworth, Surrey. She was the daughter of Thomas and Eleanor Colebrook—he, an omnibus conductor according to the 1851 Census of St. Mary Paddington; a butcher according to the 1861 Census of same; and a gentleman according to the couple’s marriage record.

For a time Walter and Elizabeth lived in Aberdeen Place,  Maida Vale, then the 1871 Census placed them at 155 Holloway Road, Islington. Walter, aged 32, was an architect and surveyor. The couple had a daughter, Ellen Maria, born 13 December, 1867.

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Coverage page of the court minutes of Snell v. Snell and Snell.

What happened next was told in Walter Snell’s solicitor’s words, delivered to Her Majesty’s Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes on 16 April, 1873: “On diverse occasions in the months of July, August, September, and October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell [Walter’s first cousin, the son of his eponymous uncle] at your petitioner’s residence No. 155 Holloway Road aforesaid. That in the month of October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Two, the said Elizabeth Snell lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 4 Grafton Road, Seven Sisters Road, Holloway in the county of Middlesex.

“That from on or about the nineteenth of October…up to the date of this petition, the said Elizabeth Snell has lived and cohabited and frequently committed adultery with the said George Blagrave Snell at No. 10 Vorley Terrance, Junction Road, Highgate in the County of Middlesex.” The solicitors concluded, “Your petitioner claims from the said George Blagrave Snell as damages in respect of the said adultery the sum of one thousand pounds.”

The judge ordinary in this case, after hearing from counsel on both sides, made a decision that the case would go to trial so “that the questions of fact arising from the pleadings in this cause be tried…and the damages assessed by verdict of a Common Jury…and further ordered that the respondent and corespondent be at liberty to file their answers to the petition filed in this suit.”

The trial, with all the juicy detail it would have produced, appears never to have occurred. On 28 November, 1873, Walter Snell’s solicitors filed “draft questions and questions for the jury, set the cause down for the trial and filed notice.” Early the next year, on 5 February, the solicitors issued a  subpoena ad testificandum (subpoena ad test), a court summons to appear and give oral testimony for use at a hearing or trial. Another subpoena was issued on 11 February. The next entry is for 9 June, when once again, a subpoena ad test was issued. About fortnight later, a decree nisi was made. The final divorce decree was issued 12 January, 1875.

George Blagrave Snell, Jr., was married when he began his affair with Elizabeth. Emily Maria Pile (1835-1917) had become his bride 23 years before, on 18 July, 1850. By 1873, they had six children living. After the divorce, the 1881 Census placed George and Elizabeth cohabitating as husband and wife in a respectable lodging house at 9 Cunningham Place, Marylebone, London, run by the daughters of Marmaduke R. Langdale, formerly of Madras, East Indies. Meanwhile, George’s legal wife, Emily Snell, was running a large boarding house at 32 Bedford Place, St. George, Bloomsbury. With her were two sons, Robert and Percy—the former a stock broker’s clerk and the latter a shorthand writer.

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Emily Elizabeth Wright

By 1891, Elizabeth Snell had taken over the Langdale’s Boarding house, but all was not well: Elizabeth was an alcoholic. She was either a drinker all along or became one after the divorce. Elizabeth died 6 January, 1899, in Saint Luke’s Hospital, Old Street, London, aged 54. The “wife of George Blagrove Snell…4 Portdown Road, Maida Vale,” expired of “alcoholic paralysis, heart failure confirmed by Wm. Rawes, Medical Superintendent, St. Luke’s,” stated her death certificate. (The term alcoholic paralysis covers a host of nervous system disorders directly resulting from the ingestion of toxic amounts of alcohol.)

Two years later, on 12 August, 1898, 69-year-old George had a daughter, Emma Florence Georgina Snell, by 20-year-old Emily Elizabeth Wright who hailed from Woolpit, Suffolk. They married 27 October, 1900, and lived in Fulham, London, in a small terrace house at 52 Harwood Road. George died on 31 October, 1910, aged 82, in Surrey. His small obituary read, in part, “Funeral to-day, 2.30, at Bramshott Cemetery. Friends kindly accept this, the only intimation.”

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Walter Snell near the end of his life.

On 23 November, 1911, Emily gave a birth to son who she named Herbert John Anthony Snell. I cannot see a way, if the dates of George’s death and Herbert’s birth are correct, that he could have been Snell’s son. It appears that Herbert was sent to live at a  Fegan’s Home for Boys and emigrated to Canada in the 1920s.

Walter Snell lived until 28 May, 1902, dying at Clarendon Lodge, Paignton, Devonshire, leaving his daughter Ellen £217 3s. 6d. She married brewery agent and widow William Parker Margetson 19 February, 1891. Although she had a number of stepchildren, Ellen gave her father but one grandchild, a son who grew up to be Major Sir Philip Margetson (1894-1985), assistant commissioner of Police of the Metropolis from 1946-1957. Ellen died on the Isle of Wight aged 92, on 31 March, 1962. Ω


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Although I do not believe the author is related to the above branch of the Snell family, I came across a 1712 book titled The Art of Writing in its Theory and Practice by Charles Snell. Snell was born in 1670 and died in 1733.  A font named after Snell is still in use today. Above and below are several lovely pages from the book. More can be seen here.

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Dashing Through the Snow

Even the fake kind, or the missing altogether….

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Tintype, circa 1870.

Oh my. After this debacle, let’s hope there was snow outside to sled on.

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Austrian unused real photo postcard, circa 1905, stamped “Fotographie L. Strempel, Klosternburg, Stadplaz.”

Okay. Well, at least there is fake snow. And a fake dog.

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Phyllis and Barbara Nute on Christmas Day, Winthrop, Maine, circa 1927. Paper print.

This is more like it: Real snow outside and the girls are rocking those gifts from Santa.

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Edward Miller on his sled, paper print, circa 1915.

A happy boy on his sled the back garden of what seems to be a row house. A woman stands at the end of the wooden-plank walkway, probably his mother. I hope Edward’s father took him to a local park where there were many high hills to fly down.

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Unmarked albumen print on cardboard, circa 1915.

A wistful girl sleds on a snowy day near the family farm. Everything about this image charms me—from the baggy pants, the bottle curls, and mad hat to the upturned, pointed noise of the sled and the low mountain beyond. I wish I knew more about her, but sadly there is no photographer’s impression or inscription. Ω


All images: Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Historical Hotties or “My Imaginary Dead Boyfriends”

The first of an occasional series.

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Hoo Boy! 1/6th-plate daguerreotype with tinting and solarization, circa 1846. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Fresh from the cornfield, tintype, circa 1885. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Ol’ Blue Eyes, 1/6th-plate, hand-tinted daguerreotype, circa 1852. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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Handsome fellow, 1/6th-plate Weston daguerreotype with solarization, circa 1852. James P. Weston operated a daguerreotype gallery in New York City between 1842 and 1857. The studio functioned out of 132 Chatham Street from 1852 to 1856.

Ω

Portrait Brooches: Preserving Appearance in a Time Before Photography

This English Regency-era portrait of a pretty brunette with a ruff-like collar and giraffish neck is an example of the type of image available from a local artist.

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Portrait brooch of an unknown woman. The painting was made during the second decade of the 1800s, but the body of the brooch is from the 1850s. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Before the earliest known photograph was taken in 1826 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphone Niépce and the first picture of an individual taken in late 1839, miniature painted portraits were treasured by those who could afford them. The first known portrait miniature (and possibly the first self-portrait) was painted in 1450 by the artist Jean Fouquet, and until the late 1500s, portrait miniatures remained the possessions of those at the top of the social pyramid. The kings of both France and England employed court miniaturists whose earliest works are of royal spouses, children, and other close relations. From there, the painting of miniature portraits spread, encompassing the nobility then the gentry, in an expanding ripple. By the 18th Century, every European nation and the North American Colonies boasted both well-established and itinerant artists.

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The first known portrait miniature is a self-portrait by Jean Fouquet, painted in 1450. This monochrome gold picture is now in the Louvre.

The English Regency-era portrait above of a pretty brunette with a ruff-like collar and giraffish neck is an example of the type of image available from a local artist. Painted in about 1818, it would have been taken from life, probably by a painter who journeyed to the home of the subject for the number of sittings required to complete the portrait.

“The miniaturist chose a high work surface or placed his easel—a box with an adjustable, slanted lid—on a table. This was moved nearer the window, and the painter sat down—so as not to cover his work painting with the shadow of his hand—then the light fell onto his work from his left. A room facing north had the advantage that the painter was not disturbed by direct or moving sun rays,” notes Bernd Pappe of the Tansey Collection of miniatures, housed in Bomann Museum in Celle, Germany.

At this date, the artist usually painted on a thin tablet of ivory glued onto a supporting card, using paints that either he or she mixed with binder, or—increasingly after 1700—were sold premade.

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Pinchbeck or low-karat gold and black enamel mourning brooch with an amateur portrait painted on a small ivory tablet, probably from the 1830s. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The new availability of premixed paints and ivory sheets turned those who could afford to dabble into portrait artists, too. Well-bred children were expected to have accomplishments, and within the family, portrait sketching was a laudable pastime. It was surely a family member or friend who painted the image beneath the crystal of the mourning brooch above. Of gold and black enamel, it dates to about 1820. The brooch is one of several that I own showing the deceased as portrayed by an amateur—clearly not by someone who made their living as a miniaturist. Because it dates from before the availability of a photographic portrait, one is left to wonder whether the portrait was painted before the brooch and was later repurposed after the sitter’s death, or if it was painted from memory later. In either case, the possibility of this being the only likeness of the subject is considerable. Ω

Kissing Cousins?

“Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.”

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Unknown couple, 6th-plate daguerreotype, circa 1854. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This is another of my daguerreotypes, formerly of the Ralph Bova collection, which was published in Joan Severa’s My Likeness Taken. Severa wrote of the image: “Almost certainly a wedding portrait, this is a reasonably well-to-do couple, since they are dressed in formal day wear.

“The wife has done her hair in the bandeau style, in the longer, deeper roll that was one of the choices at mid-decade. Her hairdo is finished with ribbon ends hanging from a bow at the back of the crown. She wears what is probably a black velvet bodice over a black silk shirt. The fine whitework collar is large, and the white undersleeve cuffs are deeply frilled. The unusually wide silk ribbon is an expensive luxury; it flares prettily from the folds under the collar to spread over the bosom. A gold chain for a pencil hangs at the waistline.

“The young man wears a morning suit: a cutaway coat over striped trousers. His black vest matches the coat, and the high, standing collar of his starched shirt is held by a wide, horizontal necktie.”

When I first uploaded this image to my photostream at Flickr, a number of commentors suggested the sitters were siblings rather than man and wife. I agree there is a definite resemblance. Severna felt strongly that this image had the hallmarks of a wedding photograph and I also agree with her assessment. The two positions may be reconciled if the subjects are married cousins—a common occurrence until the second half of the 20th Century. Ω

Charles W. Pressey: A New Hampshire Family’s Resurrection

The daguerreotype may have been taken to mark Pressey’s official coming of age in 1856.

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Charles Wilber Pressey, 1/6th-Plate Daguerreotype, 1856. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This gorgeous and all-but-pristine daguerreotype portrays Charles Wilber Pressey, most likely at the age of 21. Handsome, jaunty, and possessed of a fetching chapeau, the image may have been taken to reflect Pressey’s official coming of age. He was born in 7 June, 1835, in Sandown, New Hampshire. If my supposition is correct, this image can be dated to the summer of 1856.

The Presseys were New Hampshire natives, having descended from the immigrant John Pressey who arrived in Hampton, New Hampshire, in about 1650. Charles Pressey’s birthplace is in the southeast of Rockingham County, named for Sandown on England’s Isle of Wight. Today’s population is about 6,000. It was smaller in Pressey’s time, although the tranquility and introspection was most likely the same.

The most prominent structure in Sandown was the Meeting House, built by the first minister of Sandown, the Reverend Josiah Cotton, in 1774, and was a focal point for both civic and religious activities. Today, this simple, sturdy building is preserved on the National Register of Historic Places.

“While the town as a whole has been largely ignored by the outside world, its meetinghouse has gained a marked degree of notoriety. Sandown is credited by many with possessing the finest meetinghouse in New Hampshire—and there are those who would go so far as to say the finest in America,” wrote Richard Holmes in A View from Meeting House Hill. “The praise of outsiders, while always appreciated, is not the chief reason that the townspeople honor this building. To the residents of Sandown, this old building is the encapsulation of their town’s entire history, for within its walls has passed the pageant of the community’s past. For 155 years, the good men and women of Sandown gathered at this building to set their own taxes and to draft their own laws. This building was, to a great extent, the capitol of a small, semi-autonomous republic operating inside New Hampshire.”

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Sandown Old Meeting House

Little is known of Charles Pressey’s father, Henry Moulton Pressey, save the barest bones. He was born 7 August, 1806, in Sandown, to Peter Pressey and Bettey Moulton. Peter Pressey died insolvent in October 1823, with debts to a long list of local citizens. Settling the estate included the sale of $280 in real estate to satistfy Peter’s creditors.

On 25 November, 1830, in Freemont, Rockingham County, Henry Pressey married Mary Ingalls (1805-1858), called “Polly.” Their first child was Mary Eliza, born in about 1833 with Charles Wilber following two years after. Another son, Albert A., was born in 1844.

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The gravestone of Charles W. Pressey’s parents, Henry and Polly, at Wells Village Cemetery, Sandown, New Hampshire. Photo by D. J. Goldman.

Henry Pressey died 28 April, 1848, at the age of 41, likely of Tuberculosis (TB). Two years later, when the 1850 Census was enumerated, Charles and Albert, along with their mother, dwelt with maternal grandparents Samuel and Betsy Ingalls—both born in 1775 in New Hampshire—on a farm in Sandown. The location in 1850 of Charles’s sister Mary is not known, but neither she nor his mother Polly lived out the decade. Their lives were eaten away by TB, known then as the “White Death” and “Consumption.” Mary died 11 October, 1855, and Polly passed away 17 October, 1858. Sandwiched between those two deaths was 7 June, 1856—Charles’s 21st birthday. It is possible that the daguerreotype in my collection marks this attainment and may have been made as a gift for Polly.

To sit for his picture, Charles likely traveled to Exeter, where John Plumbe, Jr., set up a studio and school in the early 1840s. Barbara Rimkunas wrote in the “Historically Speaking” column of the Exeter News-Letter of 17 September, 2013, “In 1841, advertisements for ‘Mr. Plumbe, Professor of Photography’ began running in the Exeter News-Letter. Mr. Plumbe ‘proposes to instruct a limited number of Ladies and gentlemen in this beautiful and valuable art, who will be furnished with complete sets of the improved patent apparatus, by means of which any one may be enabled to take a likeness in an ordinary room without requiring any peculiar adjustment of the light.’ The technology must have seemed near-miraculous to many people, since Mr. Plumbe had to explain that ‘the process is simple; it requires no acquaintance with chemistry and no knowledge of drawing or painting, for the light engraves itself upon the prepared plate.’…. Exeter’s early photographers—Thomas Boutelle, George Sawyer, the Davis Brothers, and William Hobbs—set up shops all along Water Street.”

Pressey chose as his bride Clementine Wood Sleeper, a cousin and a widow one year older, who brought a young son to the marriage.

The 1860 Census, taken in July, placed Charles Pressey at a Sandown box mill, while his 16-year-old younger brother dwelt with his Ingalls grandparents on their farm. If Charles was living away from his remaining family, he would not be alone for long. His eye had alighted on a pretty cousin who had suffered a tragic blow and Charles was resolved to marry her.

Clementine Wood Sleeper was a young widow one year older. Called “Clemmie” by her family, she was born 3 April, 1834, the daughter of Joseph Gardner and Polly Pressey Wood, a paternal relation of Charles Pressey—and one of those to whom his grandfather Peter had once owed money.

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News of Joseph Sleeper’s suicide was carried in multiple newspapers in the eastern United States. This is from the Baltimore Sun, 12 January, 1858. (The Sleepers lived in Sandown, not Landerin.)

In 1855, Clementine married as her first husband Joseph C. Sleeper, son of James and Sally Sleeper of Sandown. The young couple had a child, Edwin Sidney Sleeper, born in Freemont, New Hampshire, 12 November, 1856. Clementine’s husband committed suicide at the Matteson House, a high-class hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on 9 January, 1858. Why he was in that city and what drove him to his desperate act is unknown.

It is likely that Charles and Clementine had known each other all their lives—they were related and their hometown was small. Whether Charles had feelings for Clementine before or during her marriage to Joseph Sleeper is speculation, as is that a man like Charles, who had lost so many of his own family so tragically, might be drawn to comfort a grieving widow, then woo her.

However it came to pass, Clementine Sleeper married Charles Pressey on 28 November, 1860, in the town of Hampstead, which borders Sandown. Charles adopted little Edwin Sleeper as his own. For the rest of Edwin’s life he used the surname Pressey and Charles was always stated as his father, not his stepfather. Many years later, he would be listed in the 1916 Who’s Who in New England as Edwin Sidney Pressey.

“A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age.”

Although a Charles A. Pressey served as sergeant in Company A, Regular Army 19th Infantry, a Charles O. Pressey joined Company I, Indiana 9th Infantry, and a plain Charles Pressey of Company G, 10th Maine Infantry, died during the Battle of Antietam, our Charles Wilber Pressey did not join up during the U.S. Civil War. For a Union man, conscription did not exist until the Draft Act of 1863, but even then single men were conscripted before husbands. Moreover, all drafted men could hire a substitute or pay $300 in lieu of service.

However, Charles’s brother Albert did enlist. On 26 September, 1862, at Concord, the 19-near-old became a private in Company K, 15th New Hampshire Infantry, headed by Colonel John W. Kingman, which mustered for a nine-month stint of service. Charles McGregor, company historian, noted in his Regimental History of the Fifteenth New Hampshire Volunteers, “This was the very darkest period of the war. It was the first regiment of New Hampshire’s quota in response to President Lincoln’s call for 300,000 nine months’ men. A reference to the roster of the regiment will show that it included many men who were too young to enter the service at the outbreak of hostilities, but who had since become of military age…. It is understood that the nine months’ men were raised for a special purpose—as an auxiliary to our struggling armies already in the field, and to enable them to strike the rebellion a staggering and fatal blow.”

Company K went south to Louisiana—probably as foreign a place to Sandown as Albert Pressey could have imagined. The company became part of Sherman’s Division, Department of the Gulf, and participated in the 48-day siege and military assault on Port Hudson in the the summer of 1863, which was the Union’s final engagement in the campaign to recapture the Mississippi.

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The Siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana, by J. O. Davidson, Library of Congress.

After Port Hudson surrendered, the men of the 15th New Hampshire “boarded the steamer City of Madison for Cairo, Illinois, thence to Chicago,” wrote McGregor. “From Chicago and through New York, the regiment enjoyed a continuous ovation. Arrived at Concord at about noon of Saturday, the 8th, and was mustered out on the 13th of August.”

A few months later, on 26 November, Albert wed Amelia A. Moore, daughter of John and Alice Moore, in the town of Derry, near Sandown, and would spend the first part of their married lives there. The couple had a farm and a baby daughter, Mary Ann, by 1870. They would have at least five more children, but only three survived infancy—Lyndall E. (1872-1964), William M. (1874-1942), and Bertha M. (b. 1882). Later, Albert Pressey worked as a stableman in Haverhill, Massachusetts, and eventually moved to a Hampstead farm established by his son William. He received a Civil War veteran’s pension and died aged 77 on 9 August, 1920.

“The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face often has the appearance of extreme age.”

In 1867, Charles and Clementine welcomed their first child, a son named Henry Mahlon Pressey, but the boy died aged one year, five months, and 17 days on 15 September, 1868. It was a horrible and heartbreaking twist of fate, and for Charles, it may have painfully echoed the death of the baby’s namesake. Little Henry’s death record states that he perished of Cholera Infantum, an acute infectious enteritis where death comes after severe diarrhea and vomiting leads to extreme fluid and electrolyte depletion.

The disease’s progress was described in The Eclectic Practice of Medicine with Especial Reference to the Treatment of Disease, written in 1910 by Dr. Finley Ellingwood: “The diarrhea is at first muco-purulent, soon becoming watery, and amounts to purging. The stools are voided with force, and vary in number from ten to fifty in twenty-four hours, and are alkaline in reaction. Vomiting occurs, and may soon become nearly incessant.

“The pulse is rapid and weak; the temperature taken in the rectum may be found to be as high as 105° to 106° F., while the peripheral temperature may be low. The tongue becomes red and dry; there is intense thirst. The urine is scanty or it may be suppressed. The skin has a mottled appearance from poor capillary circulation; the extremities are usually cold. The child is restless at first, but later becomes listless; the features are drawn and shrunken and the face has often the appearance of extreme age. The eyelids are but partly closed, the mouth is open, and the fontanels are depressed. Not only is prostration present from the beginning, but signs of profound toxemia are are marked. Toward the end of fatal cases the breathing is irregular and the head retracted; the temperature is sub-normal, or there may be hyperpyrexia. Death may occur in twenty-four hours.”

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An  unidentified mother from Canestota, New York, holding her dead infant, albumen carte de visite, circa 1875. Clementine Pressey may have sat for a similar photograph. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Their baby was gone, but the theme of resurgence strongly marked the chapters of Charles Pressey’s life. By the 8 June enumeration of the 1870 Census there was a new son, Charles Park Pressey (b. 25 November, 1869). In 1872, the Presseys—a unit of four again—moved the short distance to Hampstead where their boy, known as Park, would thrive, where they took up farming, and where they would become established as well-respected and noted citizens.

In 1880, the census enumerated Charles and Clementine on their farm with Edwin, aged 23, and Park, aged 10. Also living with them was Clementine’s father Joseph A. Wood, aged 77; her mother Polly, aged 76; and her brother Clarence, who was aged 28 and a commercial miller.

In February 1880, there was a rare glimpse of Clementine Pressey chaperoning the town youth at a meeting of The Ladies’ Sociable where there were “various games, charades, recitations, readings, and singing,” according to A Memorial of the Town of Hampstead, New Hampshire, Vol. II, by Harriette Noyes.

During the years 1880 to 1900, Pressey was elected a member of the Trustees of Hampstead High School and after his election on 31 December, 1884, became a deacon of the Congregational Church. His company, C. W. Pressey & Co.,was a general lumber business and manufactured wooden boxes in the town from about 1872 to 1892. In 1900, he was elected a Rockingham County commissioner.

Charles made an appearance in a June 1890 court case concerning the town of Hampstead’s ability to establish a new cemetery. The New Hampshire Reports, Vol. LXVI’s summary of Eastman v. Hampstead reveals that a four-acre lot was purchased and the deed delivered to the town. However, when the selectmen went to lay out the new cemetery they found that “across the highway, on land owned by Charles W. Pressey, one of the cemetery committee, was a dwelling-house occupied by George Wyman. Wyman had a contract with Pressey for the purchase of the house and land, and objected to the laying out of the cemetery within 20 rods [110 yards] of it. At this time, Pressey notified the selectmen of Wyman’s objection, and informed them that he could not consent to laying out the cemetery within 20 rods of the dwelling-house.”

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Hampstead, New Hampshire, as the Presseys would have known it in about 1910.

The issue was resolved by paying Pressey and Wyman $100 for a release to build the graveyard no closer than ten rods to the house and the laying out progressed with lots no closer than 20 rods. The money was fronted by Selectman Josiah Eastman on behalf of the cemetery committee, but the bad blood this created became evident when the town refused to reimburse Eastman for his expense. The court ruled in Eastman’s favor, writing, “It is noted that Pressey was estopped to withhold his consent to use the land as a cemetery, and therefore the release was without consideration. This objection is not tenable. Wyman had a contract for the purchase of the Pressey land and was the equitable owner. It was Wyman, not Pressey, who objected…. There was no estoppel. The plaintiff is entitled to judgement for $100 and interest from the date of the writ.”

It is possible that the fine photo of the Pressey home was taken by Park, who was fascinated by old houses all his life.

Both Charles and Clementine’s sons were exceedingly well educated—so much so it seems Charles wanted to give them the underpinings for success he’d lost when his own father died.

Park Pressey was schooled in the public and high schools of Hampstead, as well as the Exeter Phillips Academy, a residential school founded in 1781 known for academic excellence and a distinguished faculty. Park also attended Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts, from which he graduated in 1893. Later in life, he became the manager of the Boston Branch of the Educational Register Company. He was the author of The Vocational Reader (Beacon Vocational Series) and a regular contributor to Youth’s Companion and St. Nicholas Magazine. Park was also an avid photographer.

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This photo of the Pressey home in Hampstead was published in Harriette Noyes’s A Memorial of the Town of Hampstead, New Hampshire, Vol. I.

It is probable that the fine photograph of the Pressey home above was taken by Park, who was fascinated with old houses all his life. A local architecture scrapbook compiled by Park between 1896 and 1910 exists in the Historic Society of New England containing “well-illustrated news clippings relating to architectural and historical subjects pertaining to Boston, with some coverage of Andover, Amesbury, Salem, Bedford, Marblehead, Malden, Portsmouth, NH and other communities.”

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An interior area of the Pressey’s Hampstead home photographed by Park, from the collection of the Historic Society of New England.

Park also obtained the Halliday Historic Photograph Company Collection, lauded as an “unrivaled” documentary source of old New England homes by The Bulletin of the Society for the Preservation of New England, December 1916. “Sometime after Mr. Halliday’s death in 1904 the collection of negatives came to the possession of Mr. C. Park Pressey, who has still further enlarged it. It would be difficult to overestimate the value of such a collection as this, as an astonishing number of the houses represented have been destroyed and many of these photographs are the best or only record.” The society eventually purchased the collection.

Park married late in life—in 1926 in Belmont, Massachusetts. The 1930 Census enumerated him back in Hampstead, aged 60, with his wife Anne D., aged 39, and daughter Carol Anne (1928-11 Sept. 2011), aged 1. His occupation was given as publisher and photographer.

By the late 1950s, Park devoted himself to preserving old houses and other structures, writing tracts such as Have you seen this Old House? Or Priscilla’s Quest for a Family Roof-Tree, and articles such as “Old New England Canals” in Old Time New England in 1956.

He would die in 1963 in Lynn, Massachusetts.

Park’s daughter Carol married Anthony P. DiPesa (d. 11 Nov. 2007) and had five children. She was buried in Puritan Lawn Memorial Park, Peabody, Massachusetts.

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Charles Park Pressey, circa 1900.

Edwin Pressey attended district and Hampstead High schools, graduated from Williams College in 1885, and from Union Theological Seminary, New York, in 1888. He earned a Ph.D. from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1904. He authored the book History, Philosophy and Practical Use of Mental Healing in 1910. (Did his interest spring from a need to understand the suicide of his biological father?) Edwin also lectured on Biblical archeological developments. His chief recreation, he told Who’s Who, was tramping.

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A sketch of Edwin S. Pressey published in the St. Paul Globe.

On 23 August, 1887, Edwin married Orrie Belle, daughter of William C. Little and Julia Harris Haseltine. The bride was a music teacher. The couple had had two children—Sidney Leavitt (b. 1888) and Julia Clementine Pressey (b. 1895).

During his early years in the ministry, Edwin served as pastor of Congregational churches at Brooklyn, New York; Springfield, Vermont; and Glenwood, Illinois. Next, he became pastor of the St. Anthony Park Congregational Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. The 3 March, 1897, St. Paul Globe contained an article on Edwin’s installation, as well as a sketched portrait. “Last night marked an epoch in the history of [the church], which will long be remembered by the members…. The church interior was ablaze with light in honor of the occasion, and was very prettily decorated with festoons of smilax and cut flowers,” the newspaper noted. After the official service was concluded, “the evening was spent in a social way, and Rev. Pressey was given an informal welcome to his new charge.”

The years that followed were crowded with sermons, weddings, christenings, funerals, and conferences. Orrie Pressey was also deeply involved in her husband’s work. The 4 April, 1905, issue of the Minneapolis Journal noted, for example, that when the Congregational Missionary Society next met, “Mrs. Edwin Pressey and Mrs. W. Hays will speak on ‘The Ancient Religions of Japan,’ and ‘Why America is Interested in Japan.’”

“Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems.”

As Charles and Clementine had done for Edwin and Park—doubtless recognizing the brilliance of both boys—so Edwin and Orrie did for Sidney and Julia. The children were incredibly gifted. By 1910, Sidney was training to become a psychologist. (Were these the continued ripples of Joseph Sleeper’s long-ago suicide?) His 1918 draft registration stated he was a “mental test expert” in a psychiatric hospital in Boston.

Sidney Pressey was a noted professor of psychology at Ohio State University from 1921 to 1959. A cognitive psychologist, he is credited with inventing in the mid-1920s the first teaching machine, which presented students with multiple-choice questions. Sidney is quoted in a 1932 article in School and Society, “Education was the one major activity to which the country has thus far not systematically applied ingenuity to the solution of its problems;” his teaching machine was an attempt at doing so. After retiring, he continued to publish on the topic of cognitive psychology. He wrote several books, including a influential textbook Psychology and the New Education in 1937. Sidney Pressey died 1 July, 1979.

Edwin, Orrie, and Julia Pressey were enumerated  in Orange, Massachusetts, in 1910 and in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1920, at which time Edwin served as pastor of the Plymouth Congregational Church. Julia graduated from Smith College, Northampton, Massachussetts, in 1918 then enrolled in the Wisconsin Library School, where she did field work in Harry Houdini’s home town of Appleton in the winter of 1922 and graduated in May of that year. On 14 October, 1924, Kansas’s Emporia Gazette noted, “A demonstration of the use of the catalog will be given by Miss Julia Pressey, head cataloguer at the Kellogg Library.”

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Julia Clementine Pressey in 1918 from the Smith College yearbook.

Sometime between 1925 and 1930, Julia received a post as assistant professor of library science at the Atlanta Library School, Atlanta, Georgia. Edwin Pressey had retired and both parents moved with her there. (Later Julia would become a faculty member at Emory University.) Orrie Pressey died sometime between late 1930 and 1940 in Atlanta.

After her mother’s passing, Julia donated a quilt made by Orrie in the late 1800s to the National Museum of American History, which describes it thus: “Crazy-patched square and rectangular blocks were assembled to make Orrie Little’s Parlor Throw. The four corner blocks are made entirely of ribbons. A variety of silks, satins and velvets were used for the other blocks. The lining is a brown-and-black stripe printed fabric. The binding is made of 12 different ¾-inch ribbons, seamed to the lining and whip-stitched to the front. Embroidery is used to embellish the edges of the patches and along the bound edge.”

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A crazy quilt made by Orrie Belle Little Pressey. Photo courtesy National Museum of American History.

During the war years and through the end of the decade, Julia was head of the Decimal Classification Section of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Various University of Illinois alumni newsletters highlight her activities—for example, lecturing to students at a Catholic University evening class on cataloging and classification and serving as a committee member to resolve classification problems at the a national gathering of the Assembly of Librarians of the Americas.

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From the end of the Second World War to the close of the 1940s, Edwin Pressey lived with his son Sidney in Columbus, Ohio, near to the university where Sidney taught. Edwin’s passing was noted in this tiny obituary that ran in the 29 November Mansfield, Ohio, News-Journal.

As for Julia, I can find little about her life during the 1950s and 1960s. She never married and died 1 July, 1976, in Pomona, California, at the age of 81.

Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery.

Back to the beginning now—or at least the end of the beginning.

By 1910, Charles Pressey had largely retired—the census of that year noted he performed odd jobs. His last census appearance was in 1920, when he was enumerated with Clementine in their home on Main Street in Hampstead. Charles died there 26 April, 1927, of pneumonia ten days in duration that began from a cold. He was 92.

Clementine Pressey lived long enough to see her husband’s coffin carried from their parlour to his newly dug grave in Lakeview Cemetery. She would soon join him there—surviving her husband by only three days. Clementine died 29 April, age 93, of a heart attack brought on by cold and bronchitis. She was buried beside him on 1 May.

Just as I finished this article, I located a second photo of Charles Wilber Pressey that dates to about 1903. I freely admit that my eyes filled with tears. He is older, weathered, but recognizably that handsome young man of the summer of  ’56. Ω

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Charles Wilber Pressey, circa 1903.

Say “Cheese”

The photographer may have told the children to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.

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Siblings, 6th-plate ambrotype, circa 1855. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This ambrotype is not only endearing, but raises several points of interest: First, both children were stood atop chairs and with that placement came the possibility that either could topple—especially the younger child who looks about age two or three. The belts around the siblings’ waists were not part of their costumes—it is likely they were both strapped to metal stands that photographers used to provide stability for their subjects, as well as to keep young sitters like these from wandering out of the frame. (That this was sometimes necessary is illustrated the adorable image below. How refreshing it is to see a mother cracking up at the antics of her toddler whilst Daddy or a studio assistant tries to keep the child from escaping.) The photographer may also have told the siblings to hold hands and grab the waist belts to keep their arms still during the exposure.

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Smiling mother and fleeing toddler, albumen cart de visite, circa 1860. Photograph by Whipple, 96 Washington Street, Boston, Massachussetts. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Both children may also have been head clamped, as can be seen in the Victorian cartoon below. Contrary to what duplicitous eBay sellers and 14-year-old goth bloggers might propose, these metal stands were not used to hold up dead bodies. The cartoon below clearly shows how posing stands worked to help keep sitters still.

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Secondly, it is unclear whether the child on the right of the ambrotype is a boy or a girl. The center-parted hair argues female, but the rest of the outfit says boy despite the floral top and long cotton bloomers under a buoyant checked skirt.

Also tantalizing are the partial words visible at the edges of the image. At one point, the sticky back of the ambrotype was covered by newspaper. If still intact, this may have yielded a clue about this image’s precise date and location of origin. Ω

Generations

The sap of another generation,
fingering through a broken tree
to push fresh branches
towards a further light,
a different identity.
—John Montague, “The Living and The Dead”

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Elder and infant, albumen paper print, Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

This wonderful outdoor image, circa 1910, shows a bonneted babe sitting in a wicker pram on an early spring day in the eastern United States. The child’s pudgy hand appears lightly pinched, rather than held, by the arthritic fingers of his or her grandmother—perhaps great-grandmother. The old woman, who was probably born in the 1830s, is magnificent with her weathered face and carefully coiffed, almost ruched white hair in contrast to her elaborate dark clothing. She seems quite elderly, but sturdy and strong. A house, possibly the family home, can be glimpsed through the leafless trees behind her.

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British albumen carte de visite, circa 1866. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The next image is of a multigenerational British family posed on a ground-floor window ledge on a pleasant day during the mid-1860s. Grandmother, who is dressed in black-and-white widow’s clothing, sits in wicker chair, whilst Father and Mother lean into the picture from inside the home. Mum’s hand rests possessively on the shoulder of her youngest son, whilst the eldest brother perches on the sill and the middle son sits cross-legged below him. The daughter of the house, a tween in a jaunty summer dress, looks very much a mini-me of her mother.

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Family in mourning, British albumen carte de visite, circa 1862. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The third image, which is marked “J. McCornick, Photographer, 3 The Bridges, Walsall,” is more somber. One subject is a young girl of about 12 years beside an elderly gentleman who is likely her grandfather. The seated female may be the girl’s mother or her grandmother—it is hard to be sure, although they are clearly related.

The members of this family group are dressed in mourning, but nothing more of the nature of their loss can be supposed, except that the mother or grandmother was not mourning for her husband. The prevailing custom for widows’ bonnets was to include a white inset to frame the face.

Grandfather, whose hand appears to rest protectively on the small of his granddaughter’s back, holds in his other hand some type of folded document or wallet. The message he conveyed with this prop is now inscrutable, but it would have been understood by the carte de visite’s viewers.

The final image is a four-generation portrait, identified on the reverse as “Elizabeth Stokesbury, age 79 years; Clarissa Stokesbury, age 51 years; Extonetta Book, age 29 years; Esther Cook Book, age 3 years.”

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The sitters were photographed circa 1902 in Chariton, Lucas County, Iowa. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

At the far left is Elizabeth Clark (11 April 1824-5 Oct. 1910), born in Fayette County, Ohio, to Welsh native Joshua Clark (1795-29 March 1830) and his wife Mary Blaugher (1795-16 March 1879).

Elizabeth Clark married farmer John S. Stokesbury (7 Sept. 1819-12 May 1867), the son of Robert Stokesbury (1790–1839) and Anna Baughman (1794–1870). In 1850, the Stokesburys farmed in Jefferson, Green County, Iowa; by 1860 they had moved to a new farm in the county of Wayne. The couple had eleven children to assist them: Robert (b. abt. 1842); Angeline (b. abt. 1844); Mary Ann (b. abt. 1846); Joseph (b. abt. 1848); Sarah (b. abt. 1850); Clarissa (12 Sept. 1851-8 March 1935); Harvey (b. abt. 1853); John (b. abt. 1859); Elizabeth Ann (28 June 1861-9 Aug 1946); Clark D. (b. abt. 1863); and Launa (1865-1939).

At age 16, Clarissa, second from left, married a cousin, Jesse Bush Stokesbury (24 Jan. 1843-18 Dec. 1918), the son of James Madison Stokesbury (1813–1869) and Phoebe Painter (1819–1902). By 1870, Clarissa and Jesse had migrated to Chariton, Iowa, where, the family farm was enumerated on the 1870 Census. However, their days on the land were ended by 1880, when Jesse was recorded on the census as a laundry man, and on the 1900 Census he was enumerated as a day laborer. His widowed mother-in-law, Elizabeth Stokesbury, was also in residence, along with her youngest children.

Clarissa and John had the following sons and daughters: Bryant W. (b. abt. 1868); Hillary Edwin (13 April 1870-8 Feb. 1950); Theodosia (b. abt 1872); and Extonetta (b. Dec. 1873), second from right in the photograph, who was known as “Nettie.”

On 24 November, 1898, Nettie married harness maker and saddler John Atwater Book (Sept. 1864-17 April 1924), son of Harlan and Emmaline Book. By 1900, the Books and their first child, Esther Cook (far right—and yes, Cook Book) all lived with Jesse and Clarissa Stokesbury. Nettie and John had two more children: Sarah E. (b. 6 Feb. 1902); and Jesse H. (b. 24 Dec. 1903). Sarah married Loren L. Adams on 12 September, 1935; Jesse married Fae Arza Wicks in June 1929. He died in January 1970 in Seymour, Indiana, and was buried at Chariton Cemetery.

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The west side of Chariton’s main square, real photo postcard, circa 1915. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

Nettie’s brother Edwin Stokesbury, who became a broom maker and married Ollie B. Ritter on 20 February, 1894, had set up house in Chariton by 1900. The couple had four children, but shortly thereafter the marriage failed. Ollie married as her second husband a man named Van Trump and Edwin’s children took their step-father’s surname. By 1920, widowed Clarissa and her son Edwin lived together.

In 1920, Esther Book worked as a bookkeeper in a Chariton store along with sister Sarah. On the 1930 Census, Nettie, Esther, and Sarah were enumerated in one household, with Nettie working as a sales lady in a variety store; Esther worked as a bookkeeper in a bank and Sarah was a tailoress in a dry goods store.

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The Des Moines Register of 25 December, 1935, featured a testimonial advertisement by Nettie in which she was quoted, “I like the simplicity of operating the Colonial Furnace and the way it holds fire. The damper enables one to feed the fire so that no smoke, soot, or gas escapes into the rooms. And I like the draft in the feed door, which can be opened to prevent puffing.”

Extonetta Book died on 8 May, 1962, and was buried in Chariton Cemetery. It appears that her daughter Esther never married. She worked for many years as the secretary  of the Farmers Mutual Insurance Association and died 25 March, 1965, three years after her mother. Esther is also buried in Chariton Cemetery. Ω

The Miracle of Mr. Guppy

Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident.

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An unmarked 1860s albumen carte de visite of an 1850s daguerreotype of an unknown man. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

In July 2013, I purchased this carte de visite (CDV), which I recognized as an 1860s copy of an earlier daguerreotype. The subject reminded me of the English actor Burn Gorman in his role as Mr. Guppy in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. There was no inscription to identify the sitter, so in my Flickr photostream I titled the image “Mr. Guppy” and went on.

In January 2014, I stumbled across the auction of a 1/4-plate daguerreotype that left me gobsmacked. It was Mr. Guppy. The original image.

A conversation with the seller elucidated that the daguerreotype came from a Vermont estate, but there had been no accompanying CDV. The seller was equally surprised at the strange twist of fate.

Clearly, I had to win the auction—the wishes of Mr. Guppy, whoever he had been, seemed evident. I did not fail him; today, the daguerreotype and CDV are united in my care.

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The original 1/4th-plate daguerreotype of “Mr. Guppy.” Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

The daguerreotype’s brass mat is stamped “Jaquith, 98 Broadway.” According to Craig’s Daguerreian Registry, this was the gallery of Nathaniel Jaquith, who was active from 1848 to 1857 at that address.

Nathaniel Crosby Jaquith was born 30 April, 1816, in Medford, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and died 24 June, 1879, in Elizabeth, Union County, New Jersey. He is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Jaquith was the brother-in-law Henry Earle Insley, also a daguerreian photographer, and he was the grandson of Nathan Jaquith, a private in Captain Timothy Walker’s Company, Colonel Greene’s Regiment, during the American Revolution, and the great-grandson of Benjamin Jaquith, who was also a private in that unit. Before taking up the new art of daguerrotyping in 1841, Jaquith operated a shop at 235 Greenwich Street, New York City, where he sold “Cheap and Fashionable Goods.”

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An advertisement for Jaquith’s from the 16 August, 1841, New-York Tribune.

When I received the daguerreotype, I found the image packet had old seals, but there were wipe marks on the plate. My supposition is that whoever wanted the daguerreotype duplicated handed it to the copyist, who broke the original seals and removed the metal plate from the packet, as the CDV shows the tarnish halo surrounding the sitter. The copyist may also have cleaned tarnish that had developed on the subject’s face during the two-plus decades since the portrait had been taken. I am likely to be only the second person to break the packet seals in some 140 years.

For an excellent description of the elements of a daguerreotype packet, visit the Library Company of Philadephia’s online exhibit, “Catching a Shadow: Daguerreotypes in Philadelphia 1839-1860.” Ω

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