Tiny Bookworm


I have pointed out in previous posts that from the beginnings of studio photography, the convention of using a book as a prop was a way to signal that the subject was serious-minded and interested in knowledge; at a time when a classical education was unusual even for females whose families could afford it, we see photos of young girls and women of all ages holding a book (though in some instances it was a bible and was meant to indicate piety). Certainly this was not always a pretension, but what intrigued and amused me here is that I had never seen it employed in a photo of someone so young, so I imagined the following explanation by her fond parents:

"Yes, our little Myrtle was never one for toys, even as a baby. She began reading at 5 months and by the time this photograph was taken it was not the normal doll or toy animal for her, no, she lugged her usual hefty tome along to the studio. No, I don't remember what she was reading, but we should have warned the photographer; he really didn't understand the situation, so when he decided to take the book away from her to get a more conventional childlike pose, she bit him! No, she actually bit him on the hand! She was really a very sweet child but you would never want to come between her and her book. It was unfortunate. The atmosphere was somewhat testy after that, so this was the only photo we got that day. It's not a bad likeness though; she always was a serious child."

Absurd, of course. No one will know why she had the book or why the photographer thought she should be holding something. Maybe she really was a difficult child. It's one for the collection though, don't you think?

Taken by T. A. Dunlap, Bloomfield, Iowa. The tiny bookworm is Myrtle Abernathy.


Woman With Roses

Clearly a lot of thought went into this portrait and yet it somehow escapes the triviality that is often the fate of planned exercises of this kind. The pose and lighting are masterful and much of what I might say about it has been said in a former posting (Chiaroscuro Perfection), though the composition is entirely different – the vase and flowers and centered profile are Victorian subjects but reminiscent of 17th century Dutch paintings, yet I think it is early 20th century because the vase is Arts and Crafts period (worth a small fortune if it has survived).

The photograph is quite dark, sepia toned, wonderfully sharp; fortunately, but surprisingly, it remained in its Art Deco folder, protected from light, air and dirt. It would be difficult to imagine that it was kept hidden away, so perhaps there were other prints. There is no identification or attribution but I am glad that anyone who comes upon it may enjoy this lovely and entirely successful period effort. 


The Latchams and The Williams, 1860s

It is often interesting what people think to write on the backs of CDVs, and what they omit. The couple above are identified, in the same hand, as the Latchams, his name is not given on either card, her name is Susan (nee. Williams), and the child's name is not given at all. There is no date for the left portrait (by Mr. Thredders Royal Photographic Institution at Weymouth, England), the right portrait, obviously taken not many months later, is dated London, Thursday, November 15, 1866 (by Winter Thompson, Photographer, 137 Edgeware Road, Opposite the Music Hall). We'll never know why Susan is not in the second image. The information was likely added for family records later in the 19th century judging by the penmanship, so it is possible that the child did not live to adulthood and so was either not known or not considered of genealogical interest.

Below are CDVs from the same period of Susan's father, Thomas Williams (by Angel Photographist, Exeter) and her older sister, Mrs. Ann Berry (by W. Haddy, Brixham). The writer adds that Mr. Williams lived in Broadhampston near Totnes and was 84 years old when he died; and Susan is Cousin (Coz.) Susan, so we may safely assume a greater interest in Williams family connections. Note Mr. Williams spats.

Albumen prints of the period often lacked detail in the highlights areas. 


What Kind Of Woman Do You Think I Am?

"Nope. Sorry. Just because I married you doesn't mean I am going to put my hand on your arm – and I am not going to hold your hand! I have my reputation to think of and I will not spoil this happy, happy day."

She can barely control her joy on this august occasion. My how times have changed!


Harvest Time, York, Pennsylvania, 1880s

From York, Pennsylvania, a small cabinet card of a harvest scene when the men are taking a break (there is no steam up and the drive belt is not in motion). The tractor is a very nice early model with a diamond stack and full canopy; a young boy stands on it and an auxiliary water tank wagon sits on the right. The lens, even on a bright day when a small aperture is being used, affords sharp focus only in the center of the photograph.