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July 14, 2015

If You Need Help Dating Early Photographs, You'll Want to Read This

If You Need Help Dating Early Photographs, You'll Want to Read This
From personal collection of L. Massey
I am fascinated by the customs and traditions that women followed during the time period of the Civil War. Their clothing, their hairstyle, jewelry and even their poses reflect the social nuances of the times. Children’s portraits of this time period also intrigue me, as during the Civil War era they were dressed as miniature adults.

All these fashion clues can help us to date an early photograph. 
One of my most unique finds is a CDV (Cartes de Visite) of a young child with his rocking horse. It is rare to find portraits of children with their toys or familiar objects, for they were expected to behave as adults and stand or sit very still during their sitting for the photographer. 
There are few casual photographs and people were most often posed formally for their photos. Often women hold an actual CDV Civil War album, or a book. But rarely is it a personal item with meaning to the individual
This is an early CDV (Cartes de Visite) of a young boy on his rocking horse. Even though he is in a dress we can tell he is a boy because of the side part in the hair. Girls' hair was parted in the middle. We can also estimate his age, since dresses and skirts were only put on boys who were not yet toilet trained. Training generally began around age 2.

If this were a photo of your ancestor and you knew the year it was taken you could estimate his year of birth from the clues above.
To date this CDV we could look at the edges. If it has square corners it is before 1872. Rounded corners were made after 1872. Sometimes a CDV has its corners cut to fit into an album slot and then it can be difficult to determine what the original shape was.

There are many ways to date an early Carte de visite and other photographs.  See Lost Faces page on dating early photographs for more help. Be sure to check out my YouTube Video Five Types of Early 19th Century Photographs


Dana Leeds said...

Thanks for the tips! And, what a beautiful photograph!

Anna Matthews said...

That rocking horse is amazing! I love this photo. And thank you for those tips.