13 January 2012

How to Date a Photograph- Part II

The last post covered how one dates a photograph by the method and type of the photograph. We've got a starting point, since photos started in 1839, the photo certainly can't be older than that! Our next step is to use the image itself to date a photo. I've got a few examples we'll go through together. Now, it should be noted I'm no expert and that we all get better the more we look at photographs. These are just some examples with a load of guesswork involved to show what a layman can find out.

 First photo we'll try is this one of a young woman. Now, there are no names or dates on the photo itself, so I'm doing a bit of research and guessing. This photo is a 4" x 6" in an oval mount. That size was popular 1860's to 1920's The card stock is light. The back is a grey color. Popular 1890's. The studio "The Lloyd Studio, Troy, N.Y." is stamped at the bottom.

First thing, let's google that studio! Lloyd Studio, Ltd. has been around since 1880... okay, that's narrowing our search a bit isn't it? Card colours were different front and back during 1880-1890... still good. 1880's were light card stocks.... still within that decade, good, good.
Now the girl! Head and shoulders only, popular in 1889. Her clothes don't tell us much, but the sleeves seem loose. Hair is pulled up and to the sides.... and that seems to be popular late 1880's to early 1890's. Well, I think it's pretty obvious we've got a late 1880's photo on our hands!

Another 4" x 6". This handsome gentleman is on a heavier stock. Still no name or date. Worse yet, no photographer! Well there is in the corner, but it's faded and I can't seem to use the embossed lettering to make a rubbing with a piece of paper and a pencil (little detective tip, that). Too faded to make an accurate guess at least. Different color backing still, so that helps narrow it down. That became popular 1890's. Embossing still puts it as 1890's and on......
 Okay, now on to our fella. Let's start with coat. Buttons, lapel and pin striping all hold clues for us.... Now, men's fashions don't change as radically as women's, but when taken as a whole you can get a good guess going. Okay, so suits as we know them started sometime in the 1870's. Stripes were also fashionable on and off since the start. However, the rounded lapel looks like it fits more with 1910's. The necktie would've been popular late 1900's to 1910's. The short hair with a side part became popular right before WWI for the most part.... but his waistcoat isn't high enough for the 1920's. So we're back to 1910's or so. I'd feel comfortable with a decade of 1900-1910 and if I knew more about this one, I might be able to pin him down a bit more.

 Now this next one is a cabinet card on heavy stock. I only took the one copy of this one, but the card stock is light front and back. The bottom is ornate with "J. Penna, Brazil, Ind." A Google search didn't bring up a quick answer, but a newspaper article from 1935 mentioned J. Penna moving his photo studio. Now, obviously this photo wasn't made in 1935, but he was in business for a while it would seem. Still a 4" x 6" photo. Full body photo's were popular in the 1860's, but I think we're back in that 1880-1890 time period. Why? The hairstyle is severe and pulled back; the dresses have pleats; the sleeves are tight. That would seem to put itself late 1880's, early 1890's. All in all, I'd place this late 1880's. Now, it could be off by a few years depending on if these ladies were at the height of fashion, or lagging a bit behind.


Now this last one is from my own personal stock. This is the family Brown (my maternal Grandmother's line). After talking to Grandma, I know she is the baby being held on the right. That makes this photo early 1930's. Of course, if I knew it was Grandma, but didn't know her birth, I could still use the mode of dress (of which there are a plethora of examples) to date this photo and narrow her birth date down! Short hair on women came into vogue in the 1920's. And a quick google search of images of dresses and men's ties can give me a healthy example of different styles popular from 1920-1940 to narrow it down more. A quick search of children's fashion can also give me some clues.

And that's it! Just like that, we've checked out four photographs and got a pretty good idea when they were taken. With more information on the subjects, we can narrow these dates down even more. And it really only takes one person in a group shot to make it easier to date the rest. Knowing Grandma's birthday and which one she is in this photo lets me pick out her mother (holding her), her father (behind), her half-brother from her father's first marriage (behind right), her half siblings from her mother's first marriage (boy and girl in front, right), brother (in the middle of half-siblings, front). Her Uncles, front left with two of her cousins. Her paternal grandmother, middle. Possible aunt behind grandmother. Just look how fast the picture gets identified!

Again, I'm no expert. And there are people who will, for a fee, find out when the photo was taken. But just look what we were able to accomplish on our own! That should give you at least some hope that you can do a lot of the leg work on your own. At the bottom here I've put the sources I've used to date these (and other) photos in my collections. Practice makes perfect so I always try to narrow dates on new photos as I come across them. One last note: Try to use as many sources for your references as possible. I'm a big fan of wikipedia; not for accuracy, but for the sources of their articles. ALWAYS check the source of your source if it's a blog or online community. Don't want someone blowing smoke up your kilt!


Fashion History
Costume Gallery
Dating a Photo

No comments:

Post a Comment