This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

“I bought this for 6d. at a Rummage Sale at Ealing Broadway Methodist Church. It was thrown out by Mrs J. W. Allcock.”—Thomas Inwood, 1939

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An English 1/9th-plate daguerreotype of an unidentified teenager, possibly a member of the Allcock family, taken in the mid-1840s. Image courtesy James Morley Collection.

The first photographic image of human being was captured in 1839, when at about 8 a.m. one fine Spring day, photographic pioneer Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre sat up his camera in the window of the Diorama in Boulevard du Temple, Paris, 3rd arrondissement, for an exposure that lasted up to 12 minutes. Although the street was crowded with both persons and horse-drawn traffic, none of them remained still long enough to register save one man on a corner to whom a bootblack attended. We will never know who he was, but this 19th Century Frenchman holds a special place in mankind’s history.

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This is the unmirrored version of the Daguerre’s 1839 daguerreotype, correctly reflecting the photographer’s view of the Boulevarde du Temple. The man having his boots blackened is at lower right. This precious sliver of the past was destroyed during cleaning in 1974.

In the 21st Century, we possess both still and moving images of our family and friends, but in the 1830s faces of loved ones could be preserved only by personal memory, sculpture, portraits, caricatures, or silhouettes. The vast majority of people were born and died leaving no visual legacy. This quote from Henry Fitz, Sr., captures the enthusiasm that resulted from the release of the daguerreotype process by the French government as a gift to the world 19 August, 1839: “Here is a similitude of heavenly origin! Of a wonderful power! A supernatural (so far as man’s agency is concerned,) agent! An effect produced by the light of heaven; absolutely creating man’s perfect image and identity [emphasis mine].” (The Layman’s Legacy, Volume II, 1840.)

Millions of daguerreotypes—the vast majority of them portraits—were created in the the heyday of the art. Of those, it has been estimated that several hundred thousand survive. In A Curious & Ingenious Art: Reflections on Daguerreotypes at Harvard, author Melissa Banta explains, “Like painters of miniature portraits, they adopted the convention of placing a decorative mat and a sheet of glass over the plate. They used thin paper tapes to hold the assemblage together and to protect the image from shifting. Sometimes they enveloped the entire packet in an ornate metal rim, known as a preserver. This tiny composite fit snugly into a velvet- or stain-lined case made of leather, wood, or thermoplastic, or into a frame. Such decorative touches lent the daguerreotype much of its intimacy and charm. Fortuitously, these same elements protected the plate from its worst enemies: abrasion, airborne contaminants, and corrosive substances.”

Despite the care in their making, countless daguerreotypes succumbed to attempts to clean ills that become acute over time, including “surface dust, white or beige mold spiders, silver tarnish, blue or brown spots and areas of scum deposits that were caused when the older glass leached out some of its impurities onto the surface,” notes experienced restorer Casey A. Waters of Fine Daguerreotypes & Photography. “Less common elements are daguerreian measles (tiny black dots sometimes visible through an 8x loup), a white or bluish haze (but not tarnish), residue from wax on the copper side of the plate, and exfoliation of or bubbles in the silver layer.”

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A circa 1850 daguerreotype of sisters in matching dresses that displays wipe marks and a fingerprint from past attempts at cleaning. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.

There is another reason that many of these precious historic relicts are now lost: Their inheritors tipped them in the rubbish bin. We see the same phenomenon today—grandchildren or other distant relatives hurry through possessions after a death, keeping only what appears valuable at that moment. Unidentified images of people who mean nothing to the inheritors are discarded.

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Thomas Inwood’s 1939 note, front.

The daguerreotype at the top of this article was mercifully saved from oblivion and now resides in the James Morley Collection. “I bought this for 6d. at a Rummage Sale at Ealing Broadway Methodist Church. It was thrown out by Mrs J. W. Allcock. 37 Hillcroft Crescent. Ealing W5. Spring 1937,” wrote Thomas Ernest Inwood (b. 1871) on a slip of paper inside the daguerreotype’s case. James Morley ascertained that Inwood lived at 8 North Common Road, Ealing, in 1937, when he spent his 6d. on this portrait of an unknown adolescent, seeing in it what others could not. “This is a Daguerreotype Portrait. About 1845. These photos were taken between 1842-1857. The Chief Librarian at the Victoria & Albert Museum said it was a splendid specimen & well worth retaining. Centenary of Photography 1839-1939. 12 January, 1939.”

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Inwood’s note, reverse.

The Allcock family lived at 37 Hillcroft Crescent, Ealing, in 1937, headed by John William Allcock, and including his wife Mabel, née Hewson, and daughter Ruth. John Allcock was a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, born in Litchurch, Derbyshire, in 1870 to railway messenger William Allcock (1828-1903) and his wife Sarah Naylor Gott (1839-1919). If the daguerreotype’s young subject is an Allcock, he was from William’s generation. Ω

Men of Mystery

A selection of unidentified daguerreotype and ambrotype portraits.

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A very early daguerreotype of a personable young man that dates to about 1843. Courtesy Price and Zimmer Collection.
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The rugged and remarkable older gentleman who sat for this ambrotype in about 1852 probably first opened his eyes to the world in the 1780s or 1790s. Courtesy Price and Zimmer Collection.
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A painterly 1/6th-plate daguerreotype of a breathtaking young man. His fashions date this portrait to about 1850. Ann Longmore-Etheridge Collection.
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An unusual profile daguerreotype taken in about 1850. Courtesy Jack and Beverly Wilgus Collection.
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A 1/4th-plate ambrotype of an unknown man intently focused on a point in the distance. Taken circa 1860. From the James Morley Collection.
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A man and his dog, whose front paws were held to keep them from moving during the long exposure. This 1/6th-plate ambrotype, probably from the late 1850s, is courtesy of the Caroline Leech Collection.

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