Tag Archives: carte de visite

A Danish Family Portrait

The Schmidt family left Denmark for America in 1870, when Jens Madsen Schmidt was thirty-five years old and his wife, Anna (Bramsen) Schmidt, was thirty-seven.1 With them were their two young daughters, Inger Marie, who was not yet three, and Christine, who was just twenty months old.2 Jens and Anna had married in 1866, not long after Jens was discharged from military service following the Second Schleswig War.3

Jens Madsen Schmidt, Anna [Bramsen] Schmidt, and daughters Inger Marie and Christine, ca. 1869-70; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2018. Image courtesy of Alvie Jorgensen as printed in A Few of my Grandchildren’s Ancestors (Massachusetts: Alvie Jorgensen, 1989).

This is the oldest known photograph of the Schmidt family, believed to have been taken shortly before they departed Denmark or soon after their arrival in America. Dated circa 1869-70, it is quite possibly a carte de visite, a small card-mounted photograph popular before the larger cabinet card format became more common in the 1880s.4 The family may have wanted to share copies with their family members at home; while Anna’s parents would later follow them to Dakota Territory, Jens’s parents would not.

In the photograph, Jens and Anna sit side by side in a carpeted studio, their daughters perched on their laps. Jens is heavily bearded, although his upper lip is clean-shaven. His hair is brushed back from his forehead and he wears loose trousers in a lighter color than his jacket, a similarly dark shirt buttoned underneath. Anna’s hair has a center part and is pulled back, although it seems that it may be looped over her ears. Her headwear looks vaguely medieval in appearance, something like a circular roll with a scarf at the back, although its true style is unclear as well. Additionally, few details can be distinguished of her dress, which is obscured by the child on her lap. The silhouette of the full sleeves gives the suggestion of Bishop sleeves, which would have been gathered at the cuff.5 There appears to be some detail at the neckline of the dress—perhaps a white collar with a bow tied above—and the skirt is long and full. Her attire, with the exception of her headwear, appears relatively modern and less like one tends to think of as traditional Danish folk attire.

Fair-haired Inger Marie and Christine appear to wear tot-sized versions of their mother’s overall style of dress. The scalloped hem of a petticoat peeks out from under Inger Marie’s skirt; Christine’s petticoat has a straight hem. Both wear stockings and shoes. It is possible that their dresses are made of matching fabric; less than thirteen months apart in age, the girls could almost appear to be twins.

This photograph appears in a spiral-bound volume entitled A Few of My Grandchildren’s Ancestors, researched and compiled by late Schmidt descendant Alvie Jorgensen nearly thirty years ago, as well as in the Yankton County Historical Society’s 1987 publication History of Yankton County, South Dakota.6 It would be exciting to view a high resolution scan of the image to observe more details and, perhaps, even learn the exact location that it was taken. The next known photograph of the Schmidt family was taken nearly twenty years later at their homestead in what is today Bon Homme County, South Dakota. Although they were by that time young women, Inger Marie and Christine wore matching dresses.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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Herman and Augusta Rice, “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age”

Headlined as “The Musical Midgets,” Herman and Augusta Rice were deemed in one newspaper advertisement to be “the most interesting little people now before the public.”1 Another called them “German Midgets” and noted that they were “The Most Extraordinary Dwarfs of the Age.”2 This carte de visite of Herman and Augusta Rice, like that of the sideshow performer Ada Zingara, was found in an antique album that once belonged to an unidentified family of Kaukauna, Wisconsin.3

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Herman and Augusta Rice photograph, ca. 1880s, New York, New York; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Herman and Augusta Rice appear dressed in fine Victorian fashion and stand next to pillars to emphasize their short stature. Augusta’s hairstyle is particularly striking; a flat bow adorns the top of her head, and small curls are arranged across her forehead in such a way that it almost seems as though they could be part of a hairpiece. The bow and flattened style of her bangs were fashionable in the late 1870s.4 She wears a carefully fitted gown with a train and no shortage of flounces, ruffles, and lace trim. With a locket or pendant necklace and a bracelet setting off her ensemble, Augusta appears to be dressed very well indeed. Herman looks equally sharp in a formal fitted dinner jacket with a pocket watch and freshly shined shoes.

SCAN0916The photograph was taken by Charles Eisenmann, a photographer in the rough-and-tumble Bowery district of New York City who frequently photographed performers such as these.5 Although he was employed as a photographer in the city as early as 1876,6 he didn’t make the move to 229 Bowery, the address stamped on the back of this photograph, until 1879 or 1880.7 Eisenmann remained at this location at least until 1883.8

Herman and Augusta Rice, an alleged brother-sister pair, appeared at Harris’ Mammoth Museum in Cincinnati in 1883,9 were affiliated with Keith and Batcheller’s Mammoth Museum in Boston in 1884,10 and were showcased as curiosities at Forepaugh’s Dime Museum in Philadelphia in 1885.11 They had toured with P. T. Barnum in 1877, at which time they, along with a third sibling, Johanna, used the more Germanic surname Reis.12 One wonders, however, whether these names were merely a part of their identities as performers.

Who were they, and what became of them when their dime show days were over?

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