I want to know more about this man in the photo...
October 9, 2010 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I want to know more about the mystery man in this photo!

I found the photo in an antique shop for $1, and was just so taken with this guy's expression and attitude that I had to have it.

1. Is that a pencil in his vest pocket? What are the other two items in there? Does it suggest any kind of profession to you?

2. What kind of hat is that?

3. Is that a certain kind of pattern on the shirt, or is it just a generic calico?

4. I couldn't find anything on "Queen Photo" - all my searches resulted in results for actual queens or present day photo shops with 'Queen' in the name.

5. Any guesses on the time period? I had my own guesses on this, but I don't have any firm knowledge to back this up. Maybe 1866-1879? The card is 2.25" x 3.25". (around 5.5cm x 8.5 cm, though it's clumsily trimmed)

The borders are not embossed, and nothing is written on the back other than the price, in pencil.
posted by HopperFan to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect that "Queen Photo" is the name of the shop that took the picture, and chances are it disappeared many, many years ago...
posted by HuronBob at 5:45 PM on October 9, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, HuronBob - I wasn't clear enough on that bit. I know it's the name of a shop, but I was hoping someone else out there might also have an old photo from that shop, with perhaps some clearer background information on the location etc...
posted by HopperFan at 5:48 PM on October 9, 2010

I'm not sure how much and how frequently photo paper has changed over the years but I imagine an expert could at least give you a "no earlier than" date based on the type it's printed on.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:59 PM on October 9, 2010

Best answer: I think it's a pencil, yes, plus two uncut cigars.

Might also be worth investigating the tie: tie knots can be dated, and that one is kind of distinctive.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 8:19 PM on October 9, 2010

Best answer: This is a hard one - there just isn't much to go on.

1. I zoomed in on the photo and I can't even verify that the largest, lighter object is a pencil, much less the other 2 pointed objects. I went from thinking they were carpenter's pencils to thinking they were two points of a folded pocket square. It's challenging.

2. It's hard to identify the hat. It looks like felt. It's probably your basic Stetson-type dress hat with a wide-ish brim. The view doesn't give much to go on, and it could basically be anything from 1860 through, heck, the 1930s or 40s just based on the hat style.

3. I'm betting calico because the collar is self. There were a lot of loud plaid and check cottons for shirting around in the time period of this photo.

4. Needle in a haystack, unless you have a city location or hint. If you do know a city, your libraries will have old copies of City Directories - kind of like pre-phone phone books - that list businesses, street addresses, proprietors, etc. Without a city or town, it's such a generic name that it would be miraculous to find it.

5. I think the photo is at least from the mid-1880s and perhaps even later, perhaps through the mid-90s. I'm basing that on a couple things. First, the bowtie - that kind of tie style only became common after the introduction of the modern tuxedo in 1886. Second, the construction of the vest and shirt - not manufactured piecework-style. Third, I dunno, when you've seen a lot of them you sort of develop a feel for the period. Compare this, also post-1880, this, late 1880s, this, 1880s or 90s, this, 1880s. Your picture is pretty consistent with all of these.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and share a hunch that this guy was not on the East Coast. The particular hat and bowtie combination he's sporting seems to show up much more in photos from the Southwest, Midwest, and West. He doesn't have a jacket on, which is significant because it says he's comfortable rejecting that standard because in his milieu, a jacket isn't important. His clothes are dandyish - the shirt is anyway - but not elegant or fragile, not white. The hat pushed way back is not something you'd see in the respectable East too often, and the cigar - in a photo! - is positively insouciant.

I can say that portraits like these arose from a combination of new things after the civil war - advances in photography that made photos cheaper to produce, a growing middle class, a generation of young men not obliged to go to war, and some new or newish industries that involved leaving home to make some money (railroading, Gold Rush, construction in the West, whaling, etc). In cities surrounding these boom industries, photo studios were one of the businesses that sprang up to fleece young men who had just made some money (along with taverns, restaurants, clothing shops, gift shops, boardinghouses, and whorehouses). The idea was simple - if a young man has just made a bundle of money (or what feels like a bundle to him) he's going to go buy some new duds and get his picture taken, to send back home, or to his girl, to show everyone how good he'd made. It's one of the commonest reasons to have your photo taken in a studio at the time, and I'd bet that's this kid's story. I can't imagine how he made his money based on his dress - not lawyering or doctoring, but probably a more venturesome profession and one closer to laboring - but you can let your imagination go to town on that one. But I'm sure the message in the photo is "I'm a badass now. I did good. I'm a fat cat with a fancy cigar and I don't care who sees it. What do you think of that?"
posted by Miko at 8:21 PM on October 9, 2010 [23 favorites]

plus two uncut cigars.

Ah! I'm convinced by that. I think you got it!
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on October 9, 2010

Miko, that's a beautiful answer.

For tracking down more precise information on the shirt, the hat, the tie, why not try contacting a museum? The e-mail address for the textile and fashion department at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London is listed here. They're obviously willing to assist an interested public: check out this page on caring for your textiles. A more careful exploration of their online resources than the quick look I just had might also be useful.

I thought of the V&A because I was there a recently, but given the subject, it might be more useful to contact the National Museum of American History--textiles, clothing, photography. If you approach them with the suggestions Miko just gave you, they'll know you're not a teenager trying to get someone else to do their homework!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 9:15 PM on October 9, 2010

The size is likely an important clue. I have a couple of family photos that are known as cabinet cards which look similar to this and date from the late 1800s and were much larger. My understanding is that the smaller cards were called "carte de visit" and that the larger ones became a big fad around 1870 or so and quickly replaced the older smaller cards. The smaller cards really only existed from 1860-1870 with possibly a few years on the back end if you lived in an out of the way place that didn't have the newer large cards yet. This time period fairly famously was called "cardomania" and there is some stuff around the web about it. This site has a good overview of the small cards.
posted by Lame_username at 4:22 AM on October 10, 2010

I realize I wasn't quite clear, because this photo isn't really a carte de visit, but I figured it would give some perspective on the "cool" photo trends of the day.
posted by Lame_username at 4:28 AM on October 10, 2010

Here's a guide on dating old photographs.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:29 AM on October 10, 2010

positively insouciant

Band name!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:17 AM on October 11, 2010

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