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Dee Burris Blakley ([personal profile] dee_burris) wrote2011-04-16 01:16 pm

Sepia Saturday: Dating some photos from the Williams family album...

Being unwilling to continue to tear my hair out to at least date these unlabeled photos, I was very intrigued by this post in Katherine's blog, Atlantic Roots.

So I ordered my very own copy of Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion, 1840-1900, by Joan Severa.

It arrived yesterday.

So you know how I spent my Friday night.

I think I have much closer dates for two photos, after studying the photos in the book, as well as the excellent narrative Severa gives about other fashion clues, such as hairstyles.


This is my great-grandmother, Maxie Leah (Meek) Williams. I'm going to date this photo about 1886 (she married on 11 Feb 1886) due to the rounded bodice of the dress, as well as the collar, and the hint of the bustle on the back of the dress.

Many bodices of this period had tight sleeves cut short on the forearm and featuring cuffs or half-cuffs. (Source: Dressed for the Photographer, at page 378.)

Severa goes on to say, In eighties photographs all bodices appear corset-fitted, many with very high standing collars. Similarly, sleeves are set very high, with the armscye cut somewhat in from the point of the shoulder in back, and are extremely tight... (Id., at page 379.)

There are also dating clues in the way she wore her hair. ...In the matter of coifure, the hair will be worn a good deal lower on the neck than it has been for some two seasons past...The style of dressing the front hair remains unchanged [in curled bangs]. (Id., at page 385.)

The puff sleeves on the dress and much shorter and tightly curled bangs make me think this photo was taken in the very late 1890's, and that theory is supported by the listing of the photographer, Jno H Ganner of Russellville, in the 1900 Arkansas Business Directory.

I believe this is still Maxie Leah, but do not have a clue as to the identity of her younger companion.


This book is making a formerly dreaded chore much more fun.

This is a Sepia Saturday post.

(Anonymous) 2011-04-16 08:00 pm (UTC)(link)
Wonderful photos! Can you imagine having to wear the corset that made her waist so skinny. Uck.

Have a wonderful week,

Kathy Matthews
Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy

[identity profile] 2011-04-16 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)
The format of the second photograph you've posted looks very much like the mounts employed for photographs produced from the roll film used in early Brownie cameras. I'm specifically thinking of the No. 1 and No. 2 Brownies released in 1901, but I'm sure many different cameras of the period used these mounts too. You haven't shown the full extent of the mount, but does the rest of it show an embossed scalloped pattern?

(Anonymous) 2011-04-17 01:06 am (UTC)(link)
I can see a family resemblance in the first picture - you favor her a little in that one. Very pretty photo.


[identity profile] 2011-04-17 01:07 am (UTC)(link)
The rest of it shows the photographer's name and city where his studio was:

Image (
Edited 2011-04-17 01:07 (UTC)

[identity profile] 2011-04-17 01:15 am (UTC)(link)
OK that's a bit different to what I was expecting.

(Anonymous) 2011-04-17 04:44 am (UTC)(link)
I'm so glad you're having fun with the book! Thanks for the shout out. : ) I'm enjoying your pictures; she's very lovely and the second picture is pretty unusual, isn't it? It shows so much personality. It does look very much like the same woman.

[identity profile] (from 2011-04-17 04:54 am (UTC)(link)
That book sounds very intriguing. I'm tempted to get it.


(Anonymous) 2011-04-17 11:25 am (UTC)(link)
great photographs and research. but i think i feel faint as i remember quite well my own grandma's corset, which she wore for the longest of time, even if it went out of fashion... a scary thing, if you ask me!!!

Bob Scotney

(Anonymous) 2011-04-17 11:40 am (UTC)(link)
What a waist! Or is it without the corset.

From Alan Burnett

(Anonymous) 2011-04-18 06:06 am (UTC)(link)
Fascinating. Who would have thought that something as fleeting and shallow as fashion could become such an important tool in dating old photographs. I will treat my wifes' fashion magazine with greater respect in future.

(Anonymous) 2011-04-19 11:56 pm (UTC)(link)
That book sounds really useful.

I'm sure glad I never had to wear those tight clothes.

(Anonymous) 2011-04-20 02:05 am (UTC)(link)
These are great photographs. I especially like the 2nd one. The young ladies seem to be interacting with the photographer - and therefore with us. Are they holding a letter and a photograph? It's hard for me to tell. Thanks for the book suggestion. Combined with newspapers ads it could be very helpful in dating some of my photographs.
Nancy from My Ancestors and Me

[identity profile] 2011-04-20 12:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, it's a book and letter, or some kind of document they seem very proud of. I've tried a thousand times to enlarge it to see what it is, but the detail gets lost.