Friday, May 22, 2009

If You've Got It, Flaunt It!

The beaming babies to the left were well-known in the world of photography in 1878 and probably famous in 1880.

The photographer, Joshua Smith of Chicago, decided to enter a vignetted composite of his photographs of children and babies in the Paris Exposition of 1878.

His display was next to Sarony's, a very advantageous position for a new competitor, as Sarony was a famous award winning photographer at that time. They would certainly stop and look.

The British press wryly stated Smith was vying for public favor, particularly by the ladies. Yes, women have always been an easy mark for a photograph of a baby. But were the judges women? In 1878, a women having such an influential position in the world of photography would have been very unlikely.

Listed as Joshua Smith, "instantaneous photographer," of Chicago, he exhibited a sheet 21 x 16 inches covered with portraits of babies and very young children. There were nearly one hundred juveniles' portraits arranged and vignetted merging one into the other. The press found this to be "a very excellent effect. There are all the most unaccountable positions that babies alone can take, and that we cannot imagine, as well as the hundred-and-one facial expressions so varied and so dear to all doting mammas."

The British Photography Journal explained that Smith, in quaint American phraseology, had labeled the exhibit "We came all the way from Chicago."

That publication described the layout and quality of Smith's exhibit: "The printing is firm, the whites pure (as in all good American printing), and although evidently the most rapid exposures have been given, the half, tones and modelling are perfect, while the shadows are in due keeping. This central picture is surrounded by scores of cartes de visite of babies and little children fastened to the background of the frame with drawing-pins, and so clamped down as to make the cartes take a vertically round surface. They are vignetted portraits in the English fashion."

So how did Joshua Smith fare with the judges at the Paris Exposition of 1878? The following are the medal results for the United States competitors:

Gold Medal — To Napoleon Sarony of New York.

Silver Medals — To the Continental Photographic Company and F. Gutekunst of Philadelphia; James Landy of Cincinnati; Joshua Smith of Chicago.

Bronze Medals —T0 Theodore Gubelman of Jersey City, New Jersey; F. W. Guerin of St. Louis; and Lafayette Seavey of New York.

Honourable Mention — To J. H. Beal and E. Gurney of New York.

Is this cabinet card a facsimile of the actual Silver Medal display? Most probably not. This appears to be an abbreviated version of the display used by Joshua Smith, as it does not contain hundreds of children's photographs, but rather a select few.

Smith appears to be a savvy businessman for his time. He has produced this cabinet card to take advantage of his Silver Medal win in Paris, using the entire card as an advertisement for his photographic studio.

The front demonstrates what is stated on the reverse, "Children's Photos par excellence." The photograph itself has been copyrighted. The medal won in Paris is printed at the top of the cabinet card verso. He lists his studio address making this an excellent advertisement for his studio and the type of work for which he is known.

But Smith has gone one step further. He has licensed the production and sale of this cabinet card to E. & H.T. Anthony, their name being noted at the bottom of the verso.

E. & H.T. Anthony was the dominant retailer and photographic manufacturer in the nineteenth century in the United States. They became famous through their association with Mathew Brady, selling reprints of his Civil War photographs. It was said Brady had amassed a large debt to Anthony for cameras and supplies. The selling of carte de visites, cabinet cards and stereocards help to alleviate the debt.

Silver Medal Contains Smith's name

At the time Smith licensed his card to Anthony they had a huge marketing and distribution network. They produced in excess of 3,600 cartes per day from a selection of over 4,000 images. In 1863 alone, Anthony had earned over $600,000.

Of course we have no idea what Joshua Smith's licensing agreement was with E. & H.T. Anthony, but it would appear to have been the right move.

So, how old is this particular cabinet card titled, "Good Morning?" Although the medal was won in 1878, the card is copyrighted 1880. Some of the vignetted baby heads may have been taken for the 1878 Paris Exposition, but not added until 1880. And some of the vignettes may be 1880.

So this card was produced after 1880. It is the E. & H.T. Anthony information that gives us the closest approximation of a date. It lists the company name and address as, E. & H. T. Anthony & Co., 591 Broadway, New York. Prior to 1863, the company had been called Edward Anthony. It was called E & H.T. Anthony in 1863. The company moved from 591 Broadway to to 122-124 Fifth Avenue, between 17th and 18th Streets, New York in the year 1899. The cabinet card is copyrighted 1880. My conclusion is the card was manufactured between 1880 and 1899.

This charming cabinet card also puts to rest any assumption that there were no smiling babies at this point in photographic history. Joshua Smith, must have known the secret.


Hannavy, Joshua. Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography. New York : Routledge. 2007.

The British Journal of Photography. Vol. XXV. London : Henry Greenwood. 1878.

"Notes." The Photo-Miniature. New York : Tennant and Ward. 1899

New York Times, 17 August 1878. Web Edition. : 2009.

Photographs & Insets:

Good Morning. Smith, Joshua. New York. Cabinet Card. ca. 1880. Privately held by the footnoteMaven, Preston, WA. 2009.


Blogger Marge W said...

What a treat to find your site and see the work of Joshua Smith. He was married to Louise Woollett, sister of my grandfather Robert N. Woollett. I have seen a few of his photos and it was so nice to find this article! Louise's sister Kate was married to George J. Klein, also a Chicago photographer, and their brother, Alfred E. (AE)Woollett was a photographer in Chicago and Minneapolis in the late 1800's. I would like to know if there are other sites with their work. Thank You! M. Wasserman

May 25, 2009 at 4:26 PM  
Blogger Marge W said...

Correction, that would be Great grandfather, and his siblings. MW

May 25, 2009 at 8:42 PM  

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