As We Were: A New Series About 19th Century Photography, Fashion, and Fun
Today is the start of a new series As We Were, a look into 19th Century photography, fashion, and culture. The idea came from my box of ghosts, or that is the many boxes I have full of 19th Century photos that need to be shared.
My regular readers will recognize some of the images, but there are many many many more that haven’t been seen for a long time.
Each 1st and 4th Wednesday I’ll
ramble share my photos, along with stories, thoughts on fashion like how bustles and hoop skirts really work, society, and other related subjects. See the list at the end of the post for a better idea of what I’m up to here.
My term box of ghosts comes from the fact that if your turn a daguerreotype image you see the negative form and it looks like a ghost. That is also why these images are extremely difficult to photograph with my iPhone.
Ambrotypes, and later paper photographs are easier to photograph due to the fact they don’t have the negative reflection.
The Beginning – 1840’s and Early Photographic Portraits
Between 1845 and 1850, Texas and California became part of the Union, along with Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
In the 1840’s Edgar Allen Poe wrote his most famous works, James Marshal discovered gold in California, Mormons founded Salt Lake City, the Donner Party spent a winter near Lake Tahoe, Baseball became a national passion, Samuel Morse invented the telegraph, and the 1st Women’s Rights Convention was led by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
If that wasn’t exciting enough, photography became part of our lives. Anyone could have their portrait instantly taken. American culture would never be the same.
In 1839 the daguerreotype was brought to the United States. The artistic and innovated immediately set up studios so that anyone could have their real likeness captured with a depth and clarity that matched the real world. It was an exact image. It was like magic.
Now it wasn’t just the rich who had their portraits to share to the world. Almost everyone could afford to have their portrait taken.
The expressions on their faces was serious, apprehensive, guarded, or a shy joy. Popular opinion says they did not smile but we know that isn’t true. Smiling in portraits wasn’t always the popular thing to do, and with the long exposure times not always the easiest for the often uncomfortable sitters. After all, sitters were sometimes in an uncomfortable head brace that kept them motionless for the exposure time of 3-5 minutes.
Unlike paper photographs, there were no negatives daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. There was one take. No copies. Each piece was a precious original.
The daguerreotype took us from being anonymous to being forever smiling shyly, in an expression captured forever. We would never be forgotten.
Photography changed society and the way we view ourselves.
Below are examples of early daguerreotypes and ambrotypes from my collection. Most were taken in the 1840’s, with the exception of a few taken in the early 1850’s.
For an enlarged view click on the image.
In future posts I’ll include other subject matters including animals. Even early on cats, pornography, and photography as art caught on. Cat memes are nothing new. Though many early portraits with cats are blurry due to the fact that cats don’t always listen to the photographer.
The Basics Types of 19thCentury Photos
A daguerreotype is a picture produced on a silver coated copper or silvered glass plate. A sensitizing agent of iodine and a developing agent of mercury is used to make the image come alive. I’m not sure how the chemistry works but it does, and it does it with great beauty. The first commercial daguerreotype was introduced in 1839. They became popular in the 1840’s and 50’s. They were last made in the mid-1860’s as paper photos became popular.
The ambrotype was created by a negative image produced on a glass plate. The image views positive by the addition of a black backing. Unlike a daguerreotype ambrotypes are not reflective. The photo below is an abrotype you might recognize as Randolpho wearing one of his famous hats.
Ambrotypes were introduced in 1854 and more or less stopped production in 1865.
Tintypes (also know as melainotype and ferrotype)
Tintypes are negative images produced on a thin iron plate then made positive when a think undercoating of black Japan varnish is applied. The wonderful thing about tintypes is that they do not break when dropped. Tintypes are often dark.
Tintypes were introduced in 1856 and continued to be produced until around 1930. You’ll often find tintypes of vacation spots such as in swimsuits or posed casually with friends. The portrait I use for my blog is a tintype.
Cartes de Vistite or CDV
CDVs were introduced in 1854 and are PAPER photographs. These are small 2.5 x 3.5 inch photos mounted on 2.5 x 3” cards. These were extremely popular, especially during the Civil War era. People liked CDVs because they were small like calling cards and easy to hand out to friends and family.
When most people think of old photos they think of cabinet cards. Cabinet cards are paper photographic prints measuring 4” x 5.5 inches mounted on a 4.25 x 6.5 inch cardboard backing. These were introduced in 1863 and pretty much stopped production around 1920. Some people collect cabinet cards with fabulous back designs advertising the photographer.
Future posts will include:
- Civil War Era Fashion including the hoop skirt
- California portraits
- Bustle Dresses
- Hoop Skirts
- Many many posts on fashions of the 1840’s – 90’s
- Big hair
- Parents and children
- 19thCentury Teens
- Dogs and Cats
- Weddings, graduations, and other special occasions
- Children and toys
- Tinted images
- Big hats
- Having fun
- Extreme Fashion
- Beautifully unattractive portraits
- Vampires, Ghosts, and other paranormal issues, with help from Nigel
- Fabulous Hats
- Cabinet Card Backs
- RPPC – Real Picture Post Cards
- Hot Victorian Guys
- And more
Post Mortem and Erotic photographic images from the 19th Century are popular among collectors and online discussion groups. While there are many interesting and beautiful examples in both genres, I do not collect either of these types of photos and will not be featuring either one in my future posts.
Remember to come back every 2nd and 4th Wednesday of the month for another fun installment of As We Were.
If you would like to go back to previous posts (when I have them) there will be a link on the left side blog menu.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. I’d love to hear from you.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman