Sunday, November 18, 2012
Unknown Family Portrait
Estimated Date: 1870-1880
Notes: Unfortunately I know very little of this photograph because there is no photographer or studio stamp on the front or the back of the card. This leads me me think that the photograph was taken during the earlier years of cabinet card photography. However, the overall quality of the photograph as well as the outfits worn by the subjects suggests that this photograph was taken in the later half of the late 1800s. It is possible that the photographer was an amateur or simply unable to afford producing higher-end, stamped cards. Typically, when I'm rummaging through old photographs at antique stores, I gravitate towards engraved cards because I like to be able to do some research to find out more about the photograph in question. However, despite the missing stamp, I couldn't resist buying this card for a couple of reasons:
For one, there is a hand-written name on the back of the card. It's not easy to make out the name, but it looks like it says "Will Stealdman". A quick google search, however, indicates that "Stealdman" is not actually a last name - if it is, there is no historical reference of anyone with that last name on the internet. The person who wrote the name on the back of this card did not have the most legible handwriting, which makes it likely that the name is actually "Will Steadman", without the "l". Surprisingly enough, Ancestry.com displays an overwhelming number of Will Steadman's living in the United States during the late 1800's, any of whom could be the in the photograph. Further research looking into which of those Will Steadman's had a wife and three kids may narrow down the possibilities. It is also possible, although unlikely, that Mr. Steadman was the photographer.
The second thing that intrigued me about this card was the photograph itself - notice how the mans (Will?) right palm is facing towards the ceiling. I don't think that this gesture symbolizes anything in particular, although it does make the photograph rather interesting. A closer look at the photograph shows that the right hand of the infant in the mans lap seems to be blurry in comparison to the rest of the picture... perhaps initially her hand was placed on top of her father's open palm, but she moved it just as the photograph was taken, leaving her father's hand in a rather awkward position. Looking at the photograph now, in 2012, the open palm is almost eerie, as though the man in the chair has been waiting for over a century for someone to put something in his hand.