Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Read Any Good Books Lately?

Recently Ruth Stephens, a reader of my Twice Told Tuesday - Photographing Children Article, asked:
Your posting of these old images is really fascinating to me. Can you point me to a good book or site where I can learn about late 19th century American photography, mainly how to date a photo? I have recently received several images that I am trying to identify.
Ruth, I wish there was one good book that told you everything you need to know, but there just isn't. In my Photo Of The Week - 7 April article, I list the sources I used in trying to date Walter Lian's smiling baby photograph. I probably have another twenty books or more.

Were I to suggest just two, I would pick Darrah's Cartes de Visite in 19th Century Photography and Severa's Dressed For The Photographer, both excellent scholarly works.

I also collect old photographic magazines that discuss card mounts, poses, photographers, and types of photographs, as well as fashion magazines such as The Delineator. I have period catalogs on furniture, toys, jewelry, baby carriages, and a number of articles written about the backgrounds photographers used. Check your local library and Google Books.

Read everything about the time period you believe the photograph to be taken. Search for information on the photographer who took the photograph. The time period he was in business can narrow the time period you need to research. If you have a name associated with the sitter, go to the census. So much valuable information is contained there.

And please, continue to visit Shades Of The Departed. I'm creating a series of articles on dating old photographs, from the first step to archiving, as well as the tools I use, scanning, and a database I'm working to create.

I would also suggest Collen Fitzpatrick's Forensic Genealogy Website, and Maureen Taylor's Photo Detective. While they are not step-by-step how to sites, they both give you insight into the thought process they use to identify a photograph.

Good luck, Ruth. There is nothing more fascinating than an old photograph.


Woman Reading Book. Photograph (CDV). ca. Not researched. Digital image. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007


Blogger Miriam Robbins said...

May I also suggest Halvor Moorshead's Dating Old Photographs: 1840 - 1929 and More Dating Old Photographs: Expert Advice and All New Photographs? Rather than having a lot of text (there is some explanatory details), they are full of submitted photographs grouped according to time periods so that you can compare and contrast clothing and hairstyles, backgrounds and props, poses and types of photos. Maureen Taylor has written a forward to at least one of these, and they are very useful for visual learners like myself.

April 9, 2008 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Good to hear from you, and a great suggestion! I own both books.

It is a good starting point and as you said very useful for visual learners.


April 9, 2008 at 4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for your help, footnotemaven and also miriam! I am heading over to right now to look for miriam's book suggestions. Then off to Google Books. I'll let you know what I come up with.

April 9, 2008 at 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Read everything about the time period you believe the photograph to be taken."

Great advice, great blog!
I, too will be chasing after these books. First the library, then

"Guided by the Ancestors"

April 11, 2008 at 10:45 PM  

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