Saturday, July 28, 2007

Dating Old Photographs :: Becky's Mystery Photograph #9

A lady said she wished to be taken two ways, "standing in her hat and sitting in her cap." As you please, but it is not usual for ladies to stand in their bonnets, and it would ruin your cap to sit in it.

- Abraham Bogardus, Photographer 1895

Here is a dating analysis of the photograph that Becky at kinexxions has listed as Mystery Photo #9. Note: I wanted to practice on a photograph I was not familiar with as the subject of my analysis.

News Flash! Becky has added a color scan of Mystery Photo #9 and card attributes in the comments section of this post. Thanks Becky!


What is known about the photograph?

Card Measures - 2 3/8 x 4 1/16
The corners of the card are rounded
Photographer – J. E. Walton, Vevay, Ind.
No tax stamp on back
Color of card is unknown
Imprint on back
Portrait – Standing young woman
Prop - column
Hairstyle - Bangs – slightly curly with Chignon
Costume – description below


Category: Photographer

J. E. Walton, Vevay, Ind.


Need to check directories for Walton, photographer. No source found online.

1870 Census – Switzerland County, Indiana
J. E., Joe E., Joseph C., or Joseph E. Walton – Photographer - None found.

1880 Census – Switzerland County, Indiana
Joe E. Walton – photographer

1900 Census - Switzerland County, Indiana
Joseph C. Walton – photographer

1910 Census – Switzerland County, Indiana
Joseph E. Walton – photographer, own studio


-Not listed 1870 census – census taken June 1870
-Listed as a photographer 1880 census - census taken 8 June 1880

The dates Walton became a photographer in Vevay, Indiana could have been sometime after June 1870 – and on or before 8 June 1880.


Category: Card Measurement

2 3/8 x 4 1/16


Carte-de-Visite's, or CdV's, an albumen print measuring 2 ½ by 3 ½ mounted to a card measuring 2 ½ by 4 1/2. Introduced in the mid-1850's, popular in America and Europe from 1860 until almost the turn of the century.


This is a CdV. Date at least mid-1850’s.


Category: Card Thickness

1858 to 1869 - .010 to .020 inches (.5mm or less)

1869 to 1887 - .020 to .030 inches (.5mm)

1880 to 1900 -.030 to .040 inches (.75mm)

1890 to 1910 Greater than .040 inches (1mm)


Card needs to be measured with caliper.


No conclusion

If you don't have a caliper Andrew J. Morris has an alternative method for measuring using 20 lb. bond. It can be found here.


Category: Corners

The corners of the card are rounded


William C. Darrah in Cartes De Visite In Nineteenth Century Photography suggests:

1858 - 1871 square corners generally
1871 – 1910 rounded corners were generally used
1902 – 1910 rounded corners again in fashion


Here rounded corners – most likely 1871 – 1910.


Category: Color of Card




1858 - 1869 white cards (can be darker or yellow due to age)

1871-74 white on thicker card stock

1861-66 Gray or tan card stock

1869-74 Yellow

1872-80 Gray on thicker card stock

1902-1910 Soft gray on very thick card stock


No determination - color not conclusive.


Category: Framing Motif

Front of card is plain lacking ornamentation.


Some early CDV's have one or more narrow lines around the front edges that frame the area where the picture is pasted on the card stock.

Darrah discusses four types of framing motif:

Simple oval frame of one or more lines
Oval frame with decorative elements
Oval frame with hanging tassels and cord
Ornate rectangular frame


No framing motif


Category: Tax Stamp

No tax stamp


Aug 1864 - 1 Aug 1866 stamps required for photographs sent through the mail.
Stamp determined by the cost of the card. 2 cents for cards costing less than a quarter; 3 cents for cards costing 26 cents - 50 cents; and 5 cents for cards costing 51 cents - a dollar.
March 1865 one-cent stamp for cards costing 10 cents or less
March 1865 - 1 Aug 1866 one-cent stamp


No stamp, can't determine if 1864 – 1866, only positive of date if mailed.


Category: Card Back

Three lines
Three different type fonts
Decorative enclosure for the word photographer


Simple – length-wise
J. E. Walton
Vevay, Ind.


Simple imprints on the back of the card, consisting of small typeset characters were used from 1860 to 1867.

1860-62 single line imprint
1861-66 two or three lines
These two or three line imprints usually have statements such as "Duplicates can be had" or "negatives preserved"
1861-62 the above statements are missing
1863-67 three or more lines, with larger type characters additional information
1863-65 curved lines of text with curved lines and curlicues between and around them
1868-82 larger simple imprints, usually lengthwise on the back of the card (parallel to the longer edge, often one line of print at an angle to that line)
1870-1900 Typeset imprints with fancier font-types, and often-different fonts for each line, and sometimes a few curlicue lines between or below the text lines


Simple imprint 1870-1900.


Category: Portrait



1860 – 1890 standing (least reliable method of dating)


May be 1860 – 1890


Category: Background/Props:



1860-70 or later - standing figure with balustrades or steps in the background (may include columns). Darrah suggests that a drape or column behind a standing figure yields a range of 1860-68. The use of the prop probably continued much later. Here the subject leans on the column.


May be 1860 – 1870 or much later


Category: Hairstyle

Bangs – slightly curly


Hairstyle worn in the 1880’s


Fashion and hair are not always reliable.
Time Period 1880 - 1890


Category: Costume

Suit composed of a fitted jacket with velvet front piece over a draped overskirt. Jacket fitted, slight V-shape in the front. Draped apron overskirt, gathered high and puffed at the back into the extreme supported bustle shape, corset. Small buttons in the front on velvet.

Sleeves are set high on the shoulder and tight on the arm. Short at the wrist, where velvet cuffs extend to the wrist.


Clothing follows the fashion found in 1880’s.

Children – Young Women:
The 1880’s - Up to 12 yrs. skirts worn short (below the knee)
– 12 yrs. skirt reached boot top
– 14 or 15 yrs. reached the same length as adult women
– 16 yrs. tightly fitted boned garment full length.


Clothing worn in the style of the 1880’s. Subject at least 16 years old as this is a fitted boned garment that appears to be full length.

Fashion and hair are not always reliable, but here consistent with 1880 - 1890.


Category: Jewelry

No wedding ring
Brooch at the throat (perhaps initial)
Light colored cord at the throat with cameo or photo locket and tassels.


Corded jewelry – 1880’s


No ring:
Susanna – married 1882
Elizabeth – married 1895

Other jewelry consistent with time period 1880 – 1890.


Who’s In The Photograph? Susanna or Elizabeth

Note: More precise card and photographer information is needed.

Susanna Wiseman

Born August 2, 1850
Married April 8, 1882 (age 32 when married)
Elizabeth Detraz
Born June 27, 1871
Married December 23, 1895 (age 24 when married)


1866 - 16 yrs. old (clothing analysis of children)
1870 – 20 yrs. old (Photographer in business after June 1870 on or before 8 June 1880)
1880 - 30 yrs. old (hairstyle & clothing 1880’s)
1882 – 32 yrs. old (date of marriage – wear ring after this date)


1870 – Not born (Photographer in business after June 1870 on or before 8 June 1880)
1880 - 9 yrs. old (would have been wearing children’s clothing)
1887 – 16 yrs. old (clothing analysis of children)
1895 – 24 yrs. old (date of marriage – wear ring after this date)


Analysis of the information I have for the card itself is consistent with either Susanna or Elizabeth being the subject of the portrait.

Age requirements of the subject of the portrait are that she must be at least 16 yrs. of age to be consistent with clothing analysis for young women (tightly fitted boned garmet - 16 yrs. of age). Susanna was 16 yrs. old in 1866 and Elizabeth was 16 yrs. old in 1887.

However, the clothing, hairstyle, and jewelry are consistent with 1880's.

Therefore, Susanna could only be the subject of the photograph from 1880 - 1882 as she was married in 1882 (no wedding ring in photograph). Susanna would have been 30 yrs. old in 1880, 31 yrs. old in 1881, and 32 yrs. old in 1882. Subject of the photograph does not appear to be 30 - 31 years old. Probably not a photograph of Susanna.

Elizabeth could only be the subject of the photograph from 1887 - 1895 as she was 16 yrs. old in 1887 and married in 1895 (no wedding ring in photograph). Subject of the photograph could be 16 - 24 yrs. old. More likely a photograph of Elizabeth.

Note: This analysis includes some assumptions. The subject is either Susanna or Elizabeth and not someone else. As married women they received a wedding ring.


Darrah, William Culp. Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: William C. Darrah, 1981.

Doyle, Marian. An Illustrated History of Hairstyles 1830-1930. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2003.

Gersheim, Alison. Victorian and Edwardian Fashion, A Photographic Survey. New York, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981.

Mace, O. Henry. Collector's Guide to Early Photographs. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications, 1999.

McCulloch, Lou W. Card Photographs, A Guide to Their History and Value. Exton, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1981.

Moorshead, Halvor (Editor), and Jeff Chapman (Editor). Dating Old Photographs 1840-1929. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Family Chronicle, 2000.

Pols, Robert. Family Photographs, 1860-1945: A Guide to Researching, Dating and Contextuallising Family Photographs. Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK: Public Record Office Publications, 2002.

Setnik, Linda. Victorian Costume for Ladies. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2000.

Severa, Joan. Dressed for the Photographer. Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840 -1900. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995.

Taylor, Maureen A. Uncovering Your Ancestry Through Family Photographs. Cincinnati, Ohio: Family Tree Books, 2005.

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Blogger Miriam Robbins said...

Great job, Maven! Any time you want to practice more analysis, come on over to the unidentified photos in the photo album of Martha Ann "Mattie" Midkiff! In fact, you've given me a great idea...I should be analyzing these as well!

July 29, 2007 at 7:57 AM  
Blogger Jasia said...

Wow! I'm impressed. Great analysis. Do you actually own all those books you used or did you spend a day at the library?

I have a couple photos you can practice on the next time you feel the urge ;-)

July 29, 2007 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Thanks you two!

I want to work through several photos unknown to me (I have too many preconceived ideas about my own) and create a form or database from the category areas. Then I will just fill in the form for dating and adding to my database.

And yes, I own all those books and more for a project on Washington State and Territory photographers.

I also collect in three categories of collectable photographs.


July 29, 2007 at 9:35 AM  
Blogger Becky Wiseman said...

fM, Wow, this is Great! Thank you so much. I'm so glad you chose one of my pictures for practice!

The original post has been updated to provide a link to this post and I've also added "color" scans of the picture.

Additional information on the photo:
Category: Card Measurement ~ the picture is 2 5/16 x 3 11/16 and the card is 2 1/2 x 4 1/8

Category: Card Thickness ~ No calipers on hand ;-) but using the method you suggested the thickness of the card was 8 sheets of 20 bond paper or .032 inches thick, which puts it into the 1880-1900 date range.

Category: Color of Card ~ The front of the card is off white/light tan with a hint of yellow, probably from fading. The background of the image is a bit darker than the card itself. The back of the card is white, not a bright white, but definitely white.

Once again, thank you for providing an awesome resource!

July 29, 2007 at 10:36 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Thanks for allowing me to use your photograph and you are certainly welcome! I will be working a few of the bugs out of my process and will let you know when I do.

My husband gave me a digital caliper as a gift. Is he good or what?

On my wish list - finding the manufacturers of the original cards and one of their old catalogs would be heaven. Then I could really date the card stock. I'm searching here in the University photo collections and archives.

Darrah is a terrific resource as are all the books I listed.


July 29, 2007 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger Chery Kinnick said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

July 31, 2007 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Chery Kinnick said...

Beautiful, beautiful analysis! I tend to do things intuitively, and it is a great help to see your detailed reasoning (a lesson to us all...) I am a footnoteMaven fan!

July 31, 2007 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Janice said...

>>>footnoteMaven n: someone who is dazzlingly skilled

And you ARE! :)


August 2, 2007 at 5:04 AM  

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