Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lillian Russell

Lillian Russell's Portraits Outselling All Others
Mrs. Langtry's Pictures No Longer Popular

~ New York Times ~
25 February 1883

What we know from the photograph:

(1) The card mount measures 4 1/8 in. by 8 1/2 in. and is 0.063 in. thick, the photograh measures 3 1/2 in. X 7 1/2 in. The edges of the card are beveled. The card stock's original color appears to have been buff or tan (matte finish) front and back.

(2) The photographer’s imprint on the front (recto) of the photograph lists the photographer as The Falk Studio, 14 and 16 West 33rd St. N.Y.

(3) Handwritten in ink on the verso is Lillian Russell in "Lady Teazle." For story of her home Dec. 18. In small print at the bottom of the card is Lillian Russell panel cabinet card.

Card Analysis:

The card is smaller than a true Panel card, ca. 1900. Panel cards generally measure 4 in. X 8 1/2 in. for the image and 8 X 13 for the mount. It is also similar to a Boudoir card which measures 5 in. X 8 1/4 in., ca 1890.

Conclusion: The card properties are only one clue and do not offer a definitive answer. The card is consistent with cards printed 1890 to early 1900s.

Photographer and Imprint Analysis:

Benjamin J. Falk was one of the leading New York photographers who specialized in celebrities. His studio was originally at Twenty-third Street and Broadway, on the site of the present Flatiron Building. He was a well-known New York photographer in the 1880s. He left Twenty-third Street and Broadway and established a gallery in the Waldorf-Astoria at West 33rd Street.

The imprint contains the address only and is located on the front of the card.


The Flatiron Building construction was completed in 1902. Falk would have had to have moved to the Waldorf-Astoria at least one year prior in 1901. I have found no information that indicates that Falk ceased operation of his business at any time. We will assume for purposes of this discussion that he occupied the West 33rd Street premises from 1901 until his death on 19 March 1925.

The photographer's information indicates a time period of 1901-1925. The period of operation is consistent with the card properties analysis of the early to mid-1900s.

Lillian Russell Analysis:

Here we have a significant clue. Lillian Russell is depicted in what was called a character portrait, Russell as the character "Lady Teazel".

In 1904, John Kendrick Bangs and Roderick C. Penfield created a comic opera version of Sheridan's play "The School For Scandal" for Lillian Russell. The role of "Lady Teazel" was played by Miss Russell. The photograph used to advertise the play at the Casino Theatre in 1904, in the New York Times, is very similar to our Photo of the week.

Miss Russell died in 1922 and it appears that "Lady Teazle" was her last role on the stage.


The Lillian Russell in this photograph looks the approximate age of the advertisement in the New York Times. The advertisement and the role of "Lady Teazle" are dated 1904. The play ran from December 1904 into 1905. Lillian Russell did not appear as "Lady Teazle" after this run. The first run of Russell as "Lady Teazle" would be the most likely time for the character portrait to have been taken and sold, as this would have been the period when it was most economically viable.

The biography (role 1904, death 1922), photographer (West 33rd St. 1901, death 1925), and card stock analysis information are consistent with the date of the cabinet card being 1904/05.

Lillian Russell's story is too amazing not to explore. From her four marriages, to her affair with Diamond Jim Brady, her work as a suffragette, her fact finding mission on immigration for President Harding, and her beauty, she led a very full life.



Darrah, William C. Cartes de Visite in 19th Century Photography. Gettysburg: Darrah, 1981.

McCulloch, Lou W. Card Photographs, A Guide To Their History and Value. Exton, Pennsylvania: Schiffer 1981.


Unknown, "Benjamin J. Falk Obituary," The New York Times, 22 March 1925. Online archives. http://access.newspaperarchive.com : 2008.

Unknown, "Faces of The Noted" The New York Times, 25 February 1883. Online archives. http://access.newspaperarchive.com : 2008.

Unknown, "Lady Teazle in Baltimore" The New York Times, 20 December 1904. Online archives. http://access.newspaperarchive.com : 2008.


Russell, Lillian. Photograph. ca. 1904. Digital image. Original Cabinet Card Panel privately held by the footnoteMaven, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Preston, Washington. 2007

Lady Teazle Advertisement, New York Times Historical Database, December 25, 1904, New York, N.Y.
(http://proquest.umi.com/ : retrieved 15 March 2008).


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