I cannot lay claim to the title “photographic archivist” nor really say that I’m a collector of old photographs. I can say that vintage and antique photographs have accumulated in my house throughout the years. Once in awhile, usually during a particularly cold, damp day, I go through old stuff I’ve bought or been given.
Yesterday, I stumbled across a neglected box of books and trinkets that were given to me by a friend who moved to North Dakota because he wanted to lighten his load. One of the items that stands out is an antique photo album. It’s bulky and fancy. Each page has an insert to hold one picture. The most distinctive feature is its cover.
The front of the album is a portrait of President William McKinley that has been decoupaged onto the surface of the cover. The McKinley photograph helped me determine the age of the album and the half-dozen photographs that are mounted on some of the pages. President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, so any commemorative products would have been marketed around 1901 to 1902. Hence, the book and the photos probably date from the very early 1900s.
None of the photographs are Daguerreotypes nor calotypes. All of them were printed on familiar dry-gel papers, probably from glass plate negatives. The prints are all mounted on cardboard backings; some of which display the photographers’ logos.
The images that remain in the pages are those of a family that apparently moved to Beemer, in Northeast Nebraska from their original home in Ohio. I could not find a surname on any of the pictures. One singular portrait of an adolescent boy had the name “Edward” penciled in cursive on the back. The parents were evidently proud of their sons, because most of the album’s photos are of them.
The box also contained an envelope of loose photographs that may or may not have come from the household who owned the album. My friend had acquired them from the same farm auction, so it’s probably safe to say they probably are.
The image of the two young women was printed onto a postcard. The word “friends” was penciled lightly on the reverse. Their hats could put Carmen Miranda’s fruit hats to shame. As is typical of old photographic portraits, the poses are stiff. The ladies managed to pull off relatively relaxed expressions.
I’m not skilled at identifying the makes and models of very early automobiles, so I don’t know who manufactured this quaint roadster. Aside from the photograph being very visually interesting, it did provide a clue about where the family may have lived.
In a style of cursive that is different from the others is the pencilled notation, on the back, “Richard Lapham — Painesville, Ohio with owner of car”. I wonder if Lapham was a friend of the family or a friend of just one of the sons.
Aside from the printed name of the photographer and his location, there is no other clue about the boy with his bicycle. Was he a grandson, a nephew, or the son of a family friend? The use of the bicycle as a steadying crutch, enabled the youngster to express a fairly relaxed pose.
The amusing poses of the two young men in the photograph taken in Wayne, Nebraska are interesting for reasons aside from their oddity. The two males may have been cast members in a college play. The present day Wayne State College was called “Nebraska Normal College” or “Nebraska State Normal College” in the early 1900s. Theatre and drama have long been important at that school.
Upon careful examination and comparison of this image and the photograph of the four brothers, I think there is a strong possibility that the student on the left in this picture is the same young man as the individual standing in the upper right of the brothers photo. I don’t see any resemblance of any other brothers so far as the young man with the bottle is concerned. His cheekbones are different.
There are several other photographs in the pile, but these were the most interesting of the batch.
The Blue Jay of Happiness asks these questions when sorting through old photographs: Who are these people? Why were they being photographed? What were their dreams and goals? What was their fate?