That High Wheel Bike!

I can find no information on W.H. Warne's business or location (there was a W.H. Warne who came from Canada to South Dakota about 1862). The building suggests a successful enterprise, as odd as furniture and undertaking may seem to contemporary minds. The stove pipe hat and high-crowned bowlers may suggest a date of 1880s - 1890s; the long coats of the gentlemen in the doorway may suggest the funeral part of the business. But the prominent feature of this photograph is the young man with the high wheel bicycle.

Which brings me to a question that has always plagued me: how does one get on and off of a high wheel bike? Was a rider viewed as a sportsman or as some sort of amateur circus performer? I have never seen anyone ride one, but – without being unnecessarily graphic – it has always looked to me like a risky and potentially painful undertaking for the male of the species! The advent of the standard two-wheel bike of more down-to-earth proportions must have been greeted with some relief as a truly useful object of transportation and leisure entertainment and less a medieval torture device.

On a related note, I tended to think of photograph collectors as being essentially prosaic until I encountered the prices that are paid for any antique print, in any condition, of a high wheel bike or motorcycle – I might now have reason to wonder if I am at risk of a serious mental deficiency except that I was able to afford this image because it failed to mention the bike in the description, and I didn’t buy it for the bike (at least that is what I keep telling myself).


Split Fashionality

Another interesting portrait, about 10 years later than the previous posting (Study In Platinum). Her expression, just shy of a true smile, indicates her relaxed attitude. Her clothes seem at odds: the fashionably large hat is in keeping with her hair and bows, yet the dress doesn't quite complete the statement – and the shoes and slightly sagging stockings are downright amusing. Cover her ensemble with your hand, exposing only her face and hat, and you may see what I mean. Then do the opposite. Makes you smile doesn't it? But she is quite the charming little lady all the same!

The fancy upholstered chair is definitely made for a child.


Study In Platinum

An unusual portrait in composition, expression and mood, it owes something to the Pre-Raphaelites of the decades before (I place this about 1895 based on the softer sleeve which succeeded the more flamboyant mutton leg treatment several years earlier). I cannot decide if this is mother/daughter or sister/sister. Here the elegance is all in the fabric and trim and spare use of jewelry or adornment; the platinum tones suit it perfectly. The look the older woman gives the camera is interesting in contrast to the averted gaze of the younger woman. This portrait is slightly ahead of its time photographically; taken by Lee Brothers of Minneapolis.


Erie & Wyoming Valley 4-4-0 Camelback, 1880s

This lovely little 4-4-0 Camelback engine, No. 14, of the Erie & Wyoming Valley Railroad is the first antique photo I ever bought nearly 40 years ago, a large mounted cabinet print in its original frame; likely a professional company photo, it is in pristine condition. It sits on the turntable at a large roundhouse, but I have not yet discovered where that was located.

It took me several years to discover that E&WV was the Erie & Wyoming Valley RR which superseded a gravity line when it was converted to steam by the Pennsylvania Coal Company, chartered under that name as early as 1864, but not completed until perhaps 1884 (?). It was primarily an anthracite coal hauling line into Pennsylvania's coalfields, but it also ran express passenger trains on parts of the division every day of the week except Sunday. History on the web for this company is sketchy at best, but it was purchased by the Erie Railroad in 1901, yet it had always had a connection as an extension of the Erie's far-reaching lines which eventually went to Chicago (railroad history is convoluted at best).

I have seen one other photo of an E&WV camelback, No. 16, but it was a 4-6-0 configuration which was more common to coal hauling, so I think this smaller one was early and may have been for passenger service. The camelback is one of my favorite engine configurations (in the late 1970s I scratch-built my own running 4-4-0 camelback model engine based on this photo because it wasn't available on the market, most model examples being 4-6-0).


Maybe Not Such A Good Experience!

In direct contrast with the most recent post (It Was A Good Experience!) this brother and sister, while not terrified, probably aren't going to say, "Wow, Mom, may we do that again!" The photographer may not have engaged with them, or they may not have been naturally adventuresome children, but whatever the reasons, we may not be engaged by what we see here either. Technically it is a very good print of an unsuccessful portrait, unless you are charmed by children with concerned, doubtful expressions – as I certainly was in another recent post, Why So Sad, Heart's Darling? It is difficult not to empathize with children. And with the photographers who must photograph them!

Siegel Cooke & Co of New York might agree that this isn't their best work; they can't all be winners. Early 20th century.