Monday, February 20, 2012

Mystery Monday – Photographic Clues

“Lucy, you have some esplainin’ to do.” Ricky Ricardo used to say on the I Love Lucy show.**

 I thought about that when I decided to write a post explaining the provenance and details of this photograph. Because of the time period in which it was likely taken, I have thought that this may be a picture of Mary Brizendine who was mentioned as Ancestor No. 19 in my previous post. This is only a tentative identification, though, and it really remains a mystery.

According to notes I took many years ago, this item was found among the photographs originally owned by my grandparents, Cephas Bryant and Amy Leora (Hardy) Watts. This is very important to know and I’m glad I wrote it down back then. (Memory has a way of fading after a while.) If I had traced the provenance of this photograph back to those that had come from my dad’s cousin Norman, my original theory of it being my grandfather’s grandmother, Mary Brizendine, would be dead in the water. Norman and I only share the Hardy lineage; he is not related on my grandfather’s side.

The original photograph is a tintype about 2 x 3 inches in size.  The American Tintype by Floyd Rinhart, Marion Rinhart and Robert W. Wagner includes an appendix that gives a list of plate sizes and their period of popularity. This size was called a sixth-plate usually housed in a miniature case (made of leather-covered wood, papier-mache and plastic) and was popular from about 1856-1870.

I wrote a fairly detailed description which I will include here. I am a firm believer that details like this can help in identification as well. It is one-half of a double black leather case that was closed using a single hook and eye clasp. The other half was never found.  This half has the hook on the side. To reiterate the importance of details, if I found an identical case half with a single eye on the side and it was identified – that would go a long way in identifying this one. I know it doesn’t match with other case halves I have based on several reasons including the fact that those other case halves used a double hook and eye clasp instead of a single one. 

The Rinharts also wrote American Miniature Case Art which provides details about these types of cases. In figure 8 of page 22, the book shows popular mat styles for the miniature case including the oval which is the mat used for this particular photograph. Other styles include the elliptical, nonpareil, double elliptical, ornate elliptical and octagon. The authors noted that the plain octagon was the favored mat in the 1840s and the ornate border became the range later in the 1850s. My oval mat has a floral design. The photograph of the Thomas Hutchinson Spencer on Sunday’s post has a nonpareil mat.

Examples of the outside case designs are discussed in the book as well. Unfortunately, there was no description of the case design that holds this particular photograph. I own a photograph of a civil war soldier in a smaller case that the book calls a “Picture Frame Motif.” According to the book, this design was made ca. 1865 and considered uncommon. I was able to match another case design I own called the “Romanesque Urn” dated ca. 1857 which was “produced in large quantity and a number of variants.” The photographs housed in my Romanesque Urn case are ambrotypes which are one-of-a-kind photographs on glass. 

As stated previously, this is a tintype photograph, but with more of an unusual brown and white tint to it as opposed to other tintypes I own. The image appears to be a coating on the plate. The image on the metal is also an oval shape, not on the whole metal plate. Near the upper right edge the white coating has flaked off from the metal. There are some pink tinting to the cheeks and the flower in her hair. Could this be a copy of an earlier photograph? It has “No. 4” written in ink on the top left corner. On the back of the plate is a remnant of paper glued unevenly and somewhat wrinkled on the back. There is a hint of cursive writing in pencil though not enough for legibility. The paper backing has only bits of original typeset letters that look like “P  S----- Co.” “Lot No.” and parts of the word “instruction.” Perhaps it was a studio’s paper backing indicating when the copy was made. I have another tintype photo in my collection that has stamped clearly on the back “Acme Copying, Chicago, Lot No. 06.”

The subject appears to have her arms cross resting on a fringed cushion, although that part of the image is unclear and cut off in the oval shape. She is a young woman (early 20s?) with what seems to be a dark lace veil situated on the back of her head. (Is this a wedding photo?) Her ears are showing (which from other research may indicate a date of 1863-1865). It appears that she also wears hanging earrings. Her hair is parted in the middle in a chignon and curls on the top. She wears a flower on the left side of her hair near the top. The sleeves of her dress appear to be puffed and ruffled at the elbow and maybe go straight down from there. Her outfit is a white and dark contrast that is not very clear. It appears that perhaps there is white material underneath with a darker (lacy?) material over it. The dark part might be made of some kind of shiny material. She also wears what looks like a white lace collar with a thick ribbon of material with a pattern of a flower and leaf around her neck secured with a brooch. The brooch and the earrings are tinted with gold gilding. The light and dark shadowing across the face are inherent in the image, with other spots in the lower left hand corner. She is of slim to medium build with thin lips and dark eyes. Her right eye might even be what’s called a “lazy” eye, but I can’t say for sure.

Basically my reason for thinking it might be Mary is because it was taken in the time period of when she was married (1865) and because of her dress, I’ve thought it might be a wedding photograph.  Finally, although it may be wishful thinking, I think there may be a resemblance between the woman in this photograph and one of Ollie Spencer Watts.

Ollie Spencer Watts 1866-1925 Christian Co, KY

I sure hope Ricky would be satisfied with all my esplainin’ about this photograph!

**Lucille Ball is honored with a museum at her birthplace in nearby Jamestown, New York.  

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