My great-grandfather, Robert Minor (1869-1943), was brought up on the family farm just outside the village of Garards Fort, Pennsylvania. Just down the red-dog Ceylon Lane stood the sturdy brick home of his Uncle Samuel (1825-1909) and Aunt Louisa (1832-1917) Minor. Sam and Robert’s dad, Marion Minor, were two of John P. and Isabella Minor’s sons, farming land purchased in the 1820s from the Myers and McClelland families.
Sam and Louisa were married in 1852. In the next eighteen years, Louisa gave birth to eight children, three girls and five boys. Their eldest daughter, Isabella, died in childhood. But the rest lived to thrive into adulthood. At the time of this studio work, two boys, Jesse and John, had migrated to Taylor County, Iowa, where they settled among many other Greene County transplants. Three boys, Friend, Sam, and William, were finding their way in and around the farm, and the two girls, Mary Euna and Della, were still living at home. A teenage Robert would have known those cousins well, and would certainly have recognized Sam and Louisa as they are captured here in this set of 1885 portraits by Thomas W. Rogers of Carmichaels.
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.
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?
Florence McClure Titus, Thomas W. Rogers, photographer, Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, about 1892. The Minor Family Album, page 22: Author’s Collection.
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?
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.
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.
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…