Standing There: The Equipment Used to Capture Ancestors’ Smiles

In my last post I shared the final images found within the covers of the Minor Family Album. All of the photographs are portraits of children, taken by professional photographers between the years of 1888 and 1894.  I am not an advanced student of photography’s history, and therefore, cannot pull all of the evidence present in these cabinet cards, but I can infer from the presence of a certain piece of equipment what type of camera was used for a few of the shots.

CLUES

Early photographs were made on wet plates using light sensitive chemicals.  The amount of time that a photographer had to leave the camera shutter open to activate the chemicals and expose an image on the plate varied between five and ten minutes.  Such long exposures required the use of cast iron adjustable stands equipped with medieval-looking clamps that held squirmy subjects still.  By the early 1880s new technologies–dry plates using new chemicals–were being introduced which markedly decreased this sitting time. Shorter exposures were a boon to capturing more realistic portraits, of everyone, but most particularly of children. Photography was a competitive business, and as professionals could afford it, they replaced their cameras and threw their “Brady” stands on the rubbish pile.

While examining the photographs I noticed posing stands peeking out from behind several subjects, a clue that the photographer was using the older, wet plate, long exposure technology.  Why else would a professional use those contraptions?

I invite you to examine these photographs and see if you can’t spot the photographer’s equipment.  And for those history buffs, what other evidence exists in these cabinet cards to support the use of wet or dry plates?

WHAT DID YOU SEE?

I found that the stands appeared in photographs that Thomas W. Rogers, Carmichaels (Pennsylvania), took in the late 1880s-early 1890s.  Did you discover evidence of posing aids in any other photographs?

 

Unknown Woman In Day Cap: The Minor Family Album

This middle-aged woman sat for her portrait, held motionless by a photographer’s head rest for the minutes-long exposure. The discomfort of such stillness couldn’t keep an impish grin from her face.  Woman in a Day Cap’s identity and relationship to my family has been lost. Her photograph, however, can serve now as a mid-nineteenth century fashion plate, evidence of what a mature woman wore out and about on a cold day.

LOOK WITH ME

A white cap covers the woman’s gray-streaked hair, framing her face with its starched ruffles.  A white ribbon is tied under her chin, ensuring the cap’s place come wind or rain.  At her throat, the woman wears a white cotton collar, one to three inches wide, with scalloped tatted edges decoratively set off by the dark material underneath.  The woolen wrap is worn draped across the front, gathered and fastened on the upper left arm–not at the throat like other coats and cloaks of the 1840s and 1850s.  Her hands are tucked inside a white fur muff, likely made of ermine.

Even if I don’t know how this woman is related to my Minor family, I take great delight in the inclusion of her photograph.  As always, digging in the Minor Family Album reveals treasures.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author's collection. 2014.

Smiling Woman Wearing Day Cap. Cabinet card (1885-1895) of original daguerreotype (1845-1855). Minor Family Album, p. 17; author’s collection. 2014.

Robert Minor Showcased in the Minor Family Album

Sometime between 1888 and 1890, my great-grandfather, Robert Minor, strolled into the photographic studio of Thomas W. Rogers (Carmichaels, PA) and struck a pose.  He wore a well-ironed wool suit, the jacket buttoned so high that the full Windsor knot is all one sees of his dapper tie. His eyes belie the confident stance–Robert is on the cusp of adulthood, almost ready to marry, almost ready to manage the family farm.  Almost.

Little wonder that his mother, Mary Jane Minor, included this moment in time within the pages of the Minor Family Album.

Robert Minor, circa 1888-1890, in TW Rogers studio, Carmichaels (PA)

Robert Minor (1869-1943), portrait taken by Thomas W. Rogers in his photographic studio in Carmichaels (PA), circa 1888-1890.

Brother John P. Minor

 

 

John Pierson Minor, (1852-1922),

Photograph by Thomas W. Rogers, 1888-1890. From the Minor Family Album, archives of the author.

Page fifteen of the Minor Family Album holds this photograph of a middle-aged man.  Shot sometime between 1888 and 1890, this portrait is yet one more mystery.  An 1874 family photograph, however, has a person that is eerily similar to this guy, and on that bit of evidence I advance the likely identification of John Pierson Minor.

John was born seventeen years before my great-grandfather, Robert, in 1852, to Marion and Mary Jane Guynn Minor, just outside the village of Garards Fort (Pennsylvania).  Folks in the surrounding hills admired and respected the stock driving, enterprising man for whom he was named–grandpa John Pierson Minor.  And by the time this photograph was taken, young John had established his own reputation as a cattle dealer and farmer.  What is most fascinating about this artifact is what is NOT there…his wife and baby.

John P. had married Elizabeth “Lizzie” Garard (1852-1922) in 1876 and the couple remained in the Minor corridor of Ceylon Road.  Nine years passed before a son, Ary L., was born.  Perhaps this photograph is just one of a series, and the portraits of Lizzie and Ary were not included in this collection.  Or maybe those faces await me in the final pages of the Minor Album…

Reassembling the Past

Cousinly Review Prompts a Re-view (updated 27 August 2014)

Shortly after posting this piece, I received an email from reader and cousin, Linda Bell. My colleague strongly suspected that the face was familiar, not just family-like, as if she had seen the photograph before.  Perhaps, Linda suggested, this face appears in Bates’ History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (©1888) which can be read online at the Internet Archive.  And yes, he was there…This post has been updated to reflect the new information.  Portions of the original post have, therefore, been deleted. 

I have stared at the last half of the Minor Family Album for a month now, confounded by more than one photograph.  None are annotated with given names, or family names, or even a hint of a date.  I look at the next cabinet card with a hand lens. I scan it into my hard drive, enhance the clarity and then look again, with the computer as hand lens.  The paper photo drops crumbs of information, which I collect and line up, willing a trail to appear.

tw rogers trademark back 1870 est

The photograph was produced by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, on ivory colored cardstock with rounded corners, and the simple, red-ink trademark on the back.  The photograph, whether original or a copy, was made most likely between the late 1860s and early 1870s, early in TW Rogers photographic career.

Mr. Clean-shaven is between 50-65 years old, with thick wavy hair worn in a conservative above-the-collar fashion.  The white mane sweeps from right to left above his bushy salt-and-pepper eyebrows. Puffy half-moons beneath  light-colored eyes cushion his intensity; this is a busy man with little patience for sleep.  The gaze, the wavy hair, the Roman nose, the bushy brow…features shared with other Minor family members.

My wavy-haired gentleman is wearing a starched white shirt, with a heavily starched, detachable collar. He has tied a black silk cravat into a flat bow tie at his throat.  Over this he wears a black, collarless, single-breasted vest, trimmed in braid fashionable in the late 1860s. All of the buttons are fastened, without any evidence of a watchchain. The double-breasted sack coat is also made of black wool and trimmed in braid.  The buttons and button holes go very high into the lapel, which is notched quite deeply, the lower portion much wider than the upper portion at the neck.  The fit is quite generous, particularly at the sleeves, which sit on the shoulder, a style worn in the late 1860s-early 1870s.

This clean-shaven man had his portrait taken at the height of his career, when he was about 55 years, between 1868-1872.  Fortunately, Samuel Bates included an illustration based on this very photograph in his History of Greene County, Pennsylvania (1888), which accompanied a biographical sketch of a very prominent Baptist minister–Charles W. Tilton.
Abia Minor, cabinet card 1866-1873Born  to New Jersey residents Enoch and Elizabeth Tilton in 1815, Charles spent his childhood on the family’s farms.  The youngster attended local subscription schools in western Pennsylvania and Frankfort Academy in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.  Tilton’s first vocation was as a teacher, but he was called to the ministry.  In 1843 Teacher Tilton was ordained a Baptist preacher, and began a life of service inside the Ten Mile Baptist Association, Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Reverend Tilton filled the pulpit at several Ten Mile churches, at times perhaps simultaneously, including Goshen Baptist in Garards Fort, home church to my Minor ancestors.

Pastor Charles was a reknowned revival leader during the post-war years, leading congregants to a healing place after the horrific losses and community ruptures of the Civil War. (Greene County was a Democratic Party stronghold, fiercely opposed to the concept of emancipation.) This photograph was taken during this time.  As a revival preacher, Sabbath School leader, and a higher education advocate, Charles W. Tilton was famous among the Baptists of Greene County, and probably well acquainted with the Minors of Ceylon Lane.

Little wonder that the man’s photograph was sought by my great-great-grandmother, and later displayed, among family, for posterity.