Monthly Archives: April 2011

Photograph Albums: What you don’t see…

Front of Album.

First page, with cabinets removed.

Photograph albums created between 1869, when paper photographic prints really took off in popularity in Ontario and January, 1901 may be accurately called Victorian. The earliest albums were made for the small prints known as cartes-de-visites, but within a few years albums were being manufactured with slots for larger cabinet prints. Unfortunately, the owners of photograph albums often did not identify the portraits. After all they knew their own relatives and friends, and like we in the 21st century imagined they would always be on hand to explain. Sadly, no one is exempt from the Great Reckoning.

It is heartbreaking to find oneself the custodian of a truly lovely album with little or no identification. However, creators of photograph albums seldom inserted the pictures in random sequence. This is the reason that it is important to keep the album contents in original order. If they are removed to better protect the images, then they should be numbered to perpetuate the sequence.

Pictures in the album are often arranged in family groups: husband opposite wife; brothers and sisters in proximity; a couple and their children close by. If this is suspected, then the place where the photograph was taken (provided mercifully by the byline of the photographer) can confirm relationships. If there are several photographs of the same individual which were not taken on the same day but on different days, wearing different clothing and perhaps aging over time, then it is likely (but of course not absolutely certain) that you are looking at the first owner of the album.

Nearly always, the first photograph or first two photographs in the album are persons of great importance, usually parents (mother often first, then father) or the owner of the album and her spouse, usually at the time of marriage. The identities of these individuals is often the last to fade from family memory, and so these pictures are usually removed before the luckless album is sold off with the rest of its contents.

When I acquire a photograph album in which the contents are still tightly in their sleeves (and thus likely still in original order) but the photographs at the beginning have been pulled away, then I believe that the album was ‘picked’ from the family as they kept the portraits which they could identify. Often, the flyleaf is also missing as it usually carries a presentation message written when it was empty and new and a gift. It is so frustrating to be the custodian of a super piece of Victoriana with the last link to the family torn away.

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