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by Maureen A. Taylor

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# Sunday, July 06, 2014
Old Family Photos on Cloth
Posted by Maureen

Jeff Fee wrote and asked if I'd ever seen a photograph like this before—it's on silk. 

The answer is yes. I actually own one, of my paternal grandmother. Based on my grandmother's birth year of 1892 and her approximate age in the photo, it was made circa 1910. It's a head and shoulders view of her in a gorgeous dress. 

The picture Jeff submitted is a full view of a man in work clothes:

FeeSilk .jpg

Photographs on silk debuted in 1879, when a silk manufacturer in Lyon, France, coated silk with light-sensitive salts of silver. According to the Oregon State Journal dated January 18, 1879, the firm displayed various sized silk pictures including copies of "old master" paintings.

Photographic fads took many forms from those little gem tintypes no larger than a thumbnail (thus giving them a nickname) to these lovely images on cloth. You're probably familiar with photographs on metal (daguerreotypes and tintypes), glass ambrotypes and of course, paper-based prints. Photo chemicals applied to a variety of surfaces could result in an image. For instance, I own a set of china teacups with a little girl's picture on them.  In Jeff's case, his photo is on a piece of silk.

Jeff has questions relating to his picture:
  • Who's depicted?  The man is Jeff's great grandfather, John Henry Ruble (1863-1940) He lived in Wood County, West Virginia before moving to Haydenville, Ohio in the 1920s.
His work clothes could date from the late  19th century to the early 20th. He wears a collared work shirt, rolled-up jeans and a hat to shield his face from the sun
If you examine the left side of the picture, there seems to be someone standing there. This suggests that this picture is a copy of a section of a larger photograph.  It's possible that this is a work photo where he stood with several co-workers.  he worked at a sawmill circa 1900.
  • Why was it made? It's 5 inches by 14 inches in size—not a standard size for a picture. It's difficult to know why this image was copied. Jeff surmised that perhaps it was for the man's funeral. That's possible. It's also possible it was made as a 25th anniversary present in 1913 
  • When was it made? Images on silk were commonly available in the early 20th century, which is likely when this photograph was produced. 
  • Who made it? Many of Jeff's relatives frequented Loomis Photographers in Parkersburg, West Virginia.  It's possible the studio advertised this photographic method in newspapers or a city directory. A local historical society may have other examples of this type of picture.

Jeff's image already has started to fade. If this is an important part of his family heritage, it would be worth seeking out a professional photo conservator with experience working with images on cloth to see if the fading can be stabilized. An online directory of conservators is on the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.


Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | occupational | preserving photos | unusual surfaces
    Sunday, July 06, 2014 3:33:01 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, February 13, 2012
    Photographs on Who Do You Think You Are?
    Posted by Maureen

    Every so often, the cameras for Who Do You Think You Are pan across a family photo. Last week, there were two images of Marisa Tomei's ancestors. Instead of being in a family album, they were on a tombstone in Italy.  

    How unusual was the practice of putting photographs on tombstones?

    Not very. In fact, the first US patent for including photographs on headstones dates from March 11, 1851. It was issued to Solon Jenkins, Jr. of West Cambridge, Mass., for "Securing Daguerreotypes on Monumental Stones" (U.S. Patent No. 7,974). You can view the whole patent file on Google through the Patent database.

    If your ancestral headstone once had a daguerreotype it's likely no longer there. Unfortunately, most were pried out of the stones. 

    Jay Ruby's book Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America (MIT Press, 1995) includes a chapter on memorial photography as it pertains to pictures on gravestones.

    If anyone knows of a photographic headstone shown on Findagrave.com, please post the link in the comments below. I'd love to see it.

    You can watch the entire Tomei episode online to catch another glimpse of the 20th century photographic headstones. I just wish the series would linger on the pictures for more than a few seconds. As a reader of this column, you know that a picture can contain a lot of family history information!

    Next week, I leave for London for the Who Do You Think You Are? Live! event. If you're going to be there, stop by the photo gallery on the second floor and say hi. This will be my fourth year there. I'll report on any interesting photo items upon my return. Cheerio!


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • unusual photos | unusual surfaces | Videos
    Monday, February 13, 2012 6:24:29 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #  Comments [11]
    # Monday, May 23, 2011
    Scenic Assistance
    Posted by Maureen

    Thank you to everyone that attended last week's Photo Detective Live! webinar. Don't worry if you missed it. You can still watch and listen to it online. There's even a free PDF download to go with it.

    This week's photo was submitted as part of our call for images for the contest that accompanies the webinar. (The Photo Mysteries contest concludes this Friday, May 27—here's how to enter.) I'll be featuring these photos and questions in the next few weeks.

    Sharon Woodsum sent in a great set of images. Her family called this photo "Roberts on the Cliff" and believed that it was taken in Wales, home to her husband's grandfather of that surname.



    That's until Sharon spotted this postcard of the exact location.


    Notice the similarities in the background. You can see the lighthouse and the other buildings on the cliff. Now Sharon thinks the family is actually the Emersons of Portland, Maine. It's possible that her grandfather Anthony E. Roberts is in the picture. I'll fill you in on that comparison next week.

    So why did the family go to Nubble Light? It's a beautiful lighthouse and has been in that location since 1879. If this is the Emerson family, they could be on a day-trip to York, Maine, but since it's more than 40 miles from Portland to York and the lighthouse, perhaps the family is on vacation in the area. The date for the photo of this group on the rocks is circa 1900.

    Sharon was lucky to find a postcard view that confirmed the location of the first photo. It yielded a clue that is helping her sort out the evidence in the group portrait.


    Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album

  • 1900-1910 photos | group photos | photo backgrounds | unusual surfaces
    Monday, May 23, 2011 6:56:22 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Tuesday, July 07, 2009
    Scanning Photos: Convex Images
    Posted by Maureen

    An integral part of the FamilyTreeMagazine.com web site is the reader forum. Did you know there's one called Photo Detective? Anyone can post, all you have to do is register. Last week, someone posted a question that deserves a whole blog column. K. Pherson wrote
    I have a photo of an ancestor in its original old oval wall frame, which has a convex (outwardly-rounded) glass over it. It's large (approximately 18 by 24 inches) and the photo itself is convex. I have a similar empty frame, and I'd like to copy another picture to put in this frame, but no photo lab in my area seems to know how to duplicate a photo so that it looks good on a rounded surface. The photo becomes distorted.
    Click here to see an explanation of how these convex images, popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were created, and what they look like.

    This is actually a two-part response. I want to talk first about scanning those convex images, then offer advice on how to create a print to place in one of those frames.

    Copying a Convex Image
    If you have a convex image (glass or tin) and have tried to scan it, you know how difficult it is. If you can find a photo business in your area that has a 3D scanner, getting a copy will be easy. These specialty 3D scanners cost in excess of $2,000. They're cool devices—Jay Leno has one to photograph cars and they've been featured on the show "Mythbusters." A company called NextEngine manufactures them; its Web site is full of fascinating examples and a demo video.

    For the rest of us, duplicating a convex image is a challenge. My usual method is to take photograph. Scanning such an image in sections and "stitching" them together using photo editing software might work, but I haven't tried it. If any reader has a successful way to duplicate a convex image, please comment on this article.

    Removing a Picture from a Conves Frame
    Be extremely cautious if you want to remove an image from one of these convex frames. These images are often stuck to the glass and trying to remove them will destroy the picture. If you're in doubt, consult a professional photo conservator.

    Creating a Convex Effect
    To create that curved effect for a flat image so it looks nice in his empty frame, K. Pherson doesn't need a photo lab. It's possible to do it using Adobe PhotoShop. I found a couple of online tutorials to help: The first is a step-by-step video by Luv2Help.com. ShapeShed also has written and video instructions.

    If you'd like to create that effect but you don't own PhotoShop, try contacting a digital photo restorer in your area. I hope this helps!


    preserving photos | unusual surfaces
    Tuesday, July 07, 2009 6:27:33 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [1]
    # Friday, May 09, 2008
    Fraternal Membership Clue
    Posted by Maureen

    David Farmer wrote asking about a photo of his paternal grandfather. It's on metal and depicts Charles Birchfield Farmer in his work clothes.

    051208b.jpg

    Charlie Birchfield Farmer was a farmer. He stands in front of a barn and an old wheel. Tucked into his overalls is a pistol, and slung across his chest is a canteen for when he got thirsty working in the fields. 

    Farmer was born in 1885 in northeast Tennessee and lived in southwest Virginia. This image depicts him in the early part of the 20th century. as a young man, so I'd estimate this was taken before 1910. Any gun experts out there want to take a look at his pistol?  That could narrow the time frame even further.

    Photographs could appear on any type of surface that could be coated with light-sensitive chemicals, such as metal, leather, fabric and porcelain. In this case, it's a metal frame.



    The most unusual part of the image wasn't its setting, but the letters and symbols surrounding Farmer's portrait. David wants to know what the letters FLT mean.

    The interlocking three rings at the top of the frame indicate Farmer was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and the FLT—that stands for the group's slogan, "Friendship, Love, Truth."

    If you have an image of an ancestor in a fraternal costume, send it in. I'll feature it in an upcoming column.

    1900-1910 photos | men | unusual surfaces
    Friday, May 09, 2008 3:30:57 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]
    # Monday, June 04, 2007
    Porcelain Complexion (Literally!)
    Posted by Maureen

    I own a pillow case with a photograph of my grandmother taken in about 1910. You’re probably thinking it’s an unusual picture format, but it’s actually not.

    In the early days of photography, daguerreotype buttons and jewelry were common. Once paper prints and light-sensitive chemicals became readily available, photographers could develop pictures on anything you could apply the chemicals to: leather, wood, paper, cloth and like this week’s photo submission, a piece of porcelain.


    This photo’s size, 3 x 4 inches, and hand coloring give it the appearance of an 18th century painted portrait miniature. It’s really a photo enhanced with color to make it look like a painting. When Diana Truxell showed this picture to a friend who likes old photographs, the friends didn’t recognize it either, and suggested Truxell send it to me. Thank you! I’m always on the lookout for photographs on items other than cardboard.

    Truxell is also trying to figure out who’s in the picture. This is one of those queries that make me feel like I’m playing a game show with a choice of answers. Is it her husband’s grandmother Mary Ditner (Martin) Truxell (born 1891)? Or Mary’s mother (born 1863)?

    The woman’s high-necked dress, prominent buttons and contrasting trim date the picture to about 1883 to 1888. This is likely Mary’s mother, who would be between 20 and 25 years old in this picture. Oral traditions and provenance (the chain of ownership) can confirm the ID.

    Truxell had one final question: Does the unique surface indicate this woman lived anywhere in particular? No, photographers across the country, even in rural areas, had access to materials that allowed them to creatively present family pictures. The careful coloring of this photo wasn’t done by an amateur though. Professional photographers often employed artists to handle such intricate jobs.

    Case solved!


    unusual surfaces | women | 1880s photos
    Monday, June 04, 2007 7:26:52 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #  Comments [0]