Tag Archives: tintype

Donning a Daycap for a Tintype Portrait

This woman, born perhaps in the first decade of the nineteenth century, likely lived to witness the Civil War. As inexpensive tintype photographs gained popularity, so did ornate albums where families could collect photographs of loved ones and famous folk alike.1 This tintype, measuring 1.5 x 2 inches, is closest in size to what was considered a sixteenth plate. The embossed paper sleeve in which it was placed brings the size to that of a carte de visite, allowing the tintype to be slipped easily into a slot in an album.2 Paper sleeves such as these were common in the 1860s; while this example doesn’t have a patriotic design that would directly suggest a date during the Civil War, it nevertheless seems probable that it is of that same era.

The woman’s dress has full sleeves, a high collar with possible tatted detail, and a row of fabric-covered buttons down the bodice. Her hair has a center part and is covered by a frilly, old-fashioned daycap with long ribbons that, left untied, frame her face.3 Although her mouth is turned downward, her expression seems kind as she gazes directly at the camera with large, light-colored eyes, her head tilted gently to the side.

Scanned Image 33

Unidentified woman wearing a daycap, possibly Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa, ca. 1860-1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

I can’t imagine that the woman is younger than fifty years of age; depending on how strenuous her experiences in life may have been, she could also be significantly older but in comparatively good health. She has pleasant features, and, though slim, she doesn’t appear terribly frail. However, her age is apparent as her face and neck are lined and her eyes are deeply set. Daycaps, such as the one she wears, were popular with conservative, older women during this decade.4

This unidentified photograph comes from an album linked to the family of Civil War veteran Jesse M. Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry, Iowa.5 If I were to attempt to identify the woman in a related family tree, I would look for a woman born circa 1800-1810, perhaps a grandmother or aunt who may have been close to the family. Although paper sleeves made it easier to label tintypes with the names of loved ones – as did photograph albums – perhaps this woman’s identity was so well known to the family that they saw no reason to record her name.

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A Prayer Book from Home

Before Joseph Lutz left his home village, he carefully inscribed his name inside a leather-bound prayer book, small enough to be tucked inside a coat pocket. “This book belongs to me, Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf,” he penned in French. The book, however, was printed in German; Joseph spoke both languages, having grown up in an area that was the subject of dispute between France and Germany.1

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Joseph Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

Joseph Lutz of Sondersdorf, Haut Rhin, Alsace, France, the son of François Joseph and Marguerite (Meister) Lutz, was baptized on 31 May 1844.2 He left his homeland following  the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. It was said that he had been injured during his time of service, which may have limited his opportunities for occupation, and, furthermore, he did not wish to live under Prussian rule.3 Thus, like many of his relatives, he set his sights on Minnesota.

Once settled, Joseph may have read from his prayer book with his wife, a Polish immigrant who also spoke German, as they began their life together.4 Perhaps it inspired his generosity during his career as a butcher, when he was said to have provided gifts of meat to struggling immigrants. When he later became a saloon keeper, it may have given him the strength to avoid the temptation of alcohol, a quality appreciated by his wife.5 Perhaps the prayer book brought him peace as he suffered from tuberculosis, an illness that claimed his life on 3 May 1887 when he was forty-two years old.6

Joseph_Lutz

Joseph Lutz prayer book, Adam Family Collection; privately held by Brian Adam (personal information withheld), 2014.

Joseph was said to have been buried in Danville, Blue Earth County, Minnesota, and though a wooden cross once marked his grave, it is no more.7 His well-worn prayer book was passed down to his daughters, who kept his tintype – his only known photograph – tucked inside to ensure its safety. These items may have been their sole mementos of their father, a slim man with a handlebar mustache, a Catholic, a veteran, and a businessman who hailed from the border of France and Switzerland.

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A Little French Boy

An American by birth, Henry Joseph Adam spoke French until he started school.1 He was born in Indian Orchard, Hampden County, Massachusetts, on 5 August 1881, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, both of French Canadian heritage.2 His father had been born in Quebec, while his mother had been born in upstate New York.3 Regardless of their nationality, their roots ran deep, and the French language likely remained more familiar to them than English.

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Henry Joseph Adam, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, ca. 1886-87; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2014.

Pictured here circa 1886-87, when he was about five years old, Henry is simply but neatly dressed. He wears breeches with high patterned stockings, and a white or light-colored shirt with a contrasting bow-tie. His boots, perhaps hand-me-downs from an older brother, have been polished till they shine. He may hold a cap in his left hand, although it is indistinct due to the quality of this tintype. Despite the fact that cabinet cards grew in popularity during this decade, tintypes were still certainly not unusual. The faintest blush of pink is visible on Henry’s cheeks from a painted accent.

The studio setup is interesting and not particularly professional. Henry stands upon a small stool, and leans against a piece of furniture covered with heavy fabric. The painted backdrop behind him depicts a scene of a house, fields, and a tree, which doesn’t tie in well with the wood floor in the foreground. I suspect that this photograph may have been taken in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa; the Adam family moved here sometime in the mid-1880s, perhaps because of its proximity to the large French Canadian community in nearby Jefferson, Union County, South Dakota.4 Thus, this little French boy remained in good company; he may have learned English at school, but he would not have forgotten his French!

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Identifying Photographs of the Civil War Era

Antique photographs can come with unique distinctions that suggest that they were made during the Civil War era. Neither of these photographs has been identified, but both come from a photograph album, purchased at an antique shop, with ties to the family of Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith of Mount Pleasant, Henry County, Iowa.1 Both provide excellent examples of the ways in which Civil War era photographs might be marked or otherwise adorned.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified tintype of woman and child, ca. 1865; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

The first image in the album, which features a woman and, presumably, her young daughter, is set inside an embossed white paper mat with a patriotic pattern of stars. An embossed notation on the side of this mat states that it was patented 7 March 1865, suggesting that the tintype was made shortly thereafter.2 The woman has crimped her hair at the temples in a manner that was popular in the latter half of the decade,3 and the young girl, perhaps six years old, wears her hair long and loosely curled. While the mother is corseted and in a fine gown supported by a hoop skirt, the daughter is dressed in a much looser – and more comfortable – style, though she also wears jewelry as well as what appears to be flowers or decorative combs in her hair.

The name “Laura” is handwritten in pencil near the top of the mat. Unfortunately, the only Laura that I could find directly related to the couple associated with this album was not born until 1867.4 Perhaps there was another Laura in the extended family, or perhaps it was labeled as such simply because it came from “Laura’s side of the family,” as opposed to, for example, the family of her spouse. Regardless, the relationship between the mother and daughter pictured here, dressed in their best during a tumultuous period in American history, can still be appreciated today.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Tax revenue stamp of unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Unidentified photograph of couple, 1866; digital image 2012, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Another photograph with a distinct Civil War flavor comes with a helpful clue.  The couple in the photograph above appears impeccably dressed. The bearded man wears a typically roomy sack-cut coat,5 accented with a dark plaid vest, and the woman, whose hair is held back with combs in a style that was common at the time,6 wears a solid-colored gown with elegant puffed sleeves and buttons adorning the bodice. Affixed to the back of this carte de visite is an orange two-cent stamp. This stamp, which features George Washington, was a tax revenue stamp. It is canceled with the photographer’s initials, along with the date: 1866. As it turns out, this photograph was taxed near the tail end of the period during which photographs were subject to a tax; the period of taxation lasted only from 1 September 1864 to 1 August 1866.7

This photograph has tack holes in each of its four corners, suggesting that it was put on display at one time, tacked up perhaps on the wall of a home or on a writing desk. Evidently, in the years before it made its way into an album and was subsequently forgotten, this photograph was important enough to someone that he or she wished to look upon it every day. Today, we are left to wonder what became of the couple pictured within, and why they chose to have their photograph taken on this day in 1866, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War.

What signs of the Civil War era have you spotted in a photograph?



SOURCES
1 Jesse M. and Elizabeth Jane (Baker) Smith Album, ca. 1860-1920; privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.
2 “What Do You Know About Tintypes?,” Ohio Historical Society Collections Blog, 5 August 2011 (http://ohiohistory.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/what-do-you-know-about-tintypes/ : accessed 13 September 2013).
3 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press), 206.
4 1870 U.S. census, Henry County, Iowa, population schedule, Center, p. 14, dwelling 109, family 109, Laura B. Smith; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 395.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 209.
6 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 206.
7 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 54-55.

A Tintype Wedding Portrait

One of my favorite aspects of genealogical research is photograph analysis. I can never take just one glance at an old photograph, as I love to detect clues about the eras, lifestyles, and relationships depicted within. I hope to share a photograph and analysis on a weekly or monthly basis, including both photographs from my family’s collection, as well as photographs, unidentified or not, that I’ve come across in antique stores.

Timothy Adam and Odile Millette photograph, 1867, Springfield, Massachusetts; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

Timothy Adam and Odile Millette photograph, 1867, Springfield, Massachusetts; digital image 2013, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2013.

This is a scan of a tintype of my third great grandparents, Timothy Adam and Odile Millette of Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts, who were married on 22 September 1867.1 At the time of their marriage, Timothy and Odile, both of French Canadian heritage, were twenty years old. Timothy worked as a dresser at a cotton mill; prior to their marriage, it seems likely that Odile would have worked at a mill as well.

This tintype has several features worth noting. Smaller than my hand, the original has hand painted pink accents on the cheeks of the couple. The corner of the tintype has been bent, but the overall quality of the image is good.

Was this tintype made at the time of the couple’s marriage? First of all, we know that tintypes were in use from 1856-1930. They gained popularity in the 1860s as they were inexpensive to produce – Timothy and Odile may have paid only a few cents for this image at a local studio.2

In the image, Odile stands at Timothy’s side while he sits in a chair. His feet are planted firmly on the ground, and Odile rests her hand on his shoulder. Timothy’s gaze focuses directly on the camera, while Odile gazes slightly above. Their expressions are serious, but not unpleasant.

Timothy wears a three-piece suit for the occasion. He appears to be a slight young man, and his dark suit is somewhat loose fitting – perhaps it was not brand new, as closer fitted, ready-made styles became popular in this decade.3 There is trim at the borders and cuffs of his suit, which he wears with a white collar, a cravat, appropriate for a formal occasion, and what may be a pocket watch at the lapel.4 Timothy’s hair is parted on the side, and he sports a faint mustache.

Odile wears a skirt and waist style of dress, the simple waist accented by jet buttons. Over this, she wears a Spanish jacket in a contrasting color with a bold trim.5 Her otherwise plain skirt features a belt or sash and a wide hoop, which is compressed slightly by her position against her husband’s chair. Her dark hair has a center part and is pulled back into a plain snood, or hair net, in an everyday style. She wears earrings, and a brooch adorns her high collar.

Odile’s style of dress reflects a fashion seen in the 1860s. In May 1863, Peterson’s printed the following:

“[…] All the thin summer goods are very much risen in price, so that the present fashion of wearing old skirts, with Spanish and Zouave jackets, is a most convenient one […] pretty jackets in velvet, silk, and cloth […] very useful for wearing with old skirts, the bodices of which are worn out.”6

Furthermore, in June 1866, Godey’s noted “a charming assortment of fancy jackets” worn by women.7 Though the high prices of fabric reported in 1863 were most likely a result of the Civil War, which concluded two years prior to Odile’s wedding day, as she was a young millworker of limited means, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that she might have remade an old dress in an economical fashion for the occasion. With her dark complexion, a Spanish jacket proved an attractive choice.

The clothing and hairstyles worn by the couple indicates that the image was made in the 1860s, and the apparent age of the couple suggests that it was made in the latter half of the decade. It therefore seems likely that this was indeed a wedding portrait of Timothy Adam and Odile Millette, who would have had their picture made on or around 22 September 1867 in Springfield, Hampden, Massachusetts. It provides a unique glimpse into an important day in the lives of two young people of French Canadian heritage, who sought opportunity in the textile mills of New England in the years following the Civil War.

Do you have any tintypes in your family collection?



SOURCES
1 “Massachusetts, Marriages, 1841-1915,” digital image, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 30 Aug 2013), Timothy Adams and Julia Mellett, 22 September 1867, Springfield. Odile Millette used the name Julia early in her life.
2 Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective (Cincinnati: Family Tree Books, 2013), 37.
3 Joan Severa, Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995), 259.
4 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 209.
5 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 277.
6 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 241.
7 Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 277.