Photo and Fashion Research Books
9/28/2009

I keep track of new publications on a variety of subjects, including photo history, costume history and the latest scrapbooking techniques for creating heritage albums. My book collection is growing at such a rapid rate that we had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves built in our family room. But there is a core library of volumes that remains within reach every time I help a reader solve a photo mystery. Here is a list of my five most-consulted books. You might consider adding them to your library.

  1. Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints by James M. Reilly (Silver Pixel Press, $29.95). Though you can't buy this book online through one of the major retailers, it is available through University Products' online catalog. If you have a question about the type of paper photograph you own, just look it up on the pullout chart that accompanies the book. The text will enlighten you about the technical aspects of the picture.
  2. Collector's Guide to Early Photographs by O. Henry Mace (Krause Publications, $19.95). This slim volume can tell you just about everything you need to know about 19th-century photographs.
  3. Dressed for the Photographer: Ordinary Americans and Fashion 1840-1900 by Joan Severa (Kent State University Press, $60). Severa presents a decade-by-decade look at American fashion as seen in photographs. Each chapter begins with an overview of styles for men, women and children, followed by analysis of individual images for costume details.
  4. The Genealogist's Address Book, 4th edition, by Elizabeth Petty Bentley (Genealogical Publishing Co., $39.95). When I need to know if a local historical society has information on a particular photographer, this is a handy reference. It contains addresses for government, state and local historical resources.
  5. Victorian Costume for Ladies, 1860-1900 by Linda Setnik (Schiffer Publishing, $29.95). Setnik examines 19th-century fashion by breaking it down by topic, including everything from sports attire to evening wear. This book is intended for costume collectors, but you'll find lots of interesting information on what women wore during those 40 years.

For easy reference, I keep these five books on the shelf next to my desk. I own a lot more books on specialized topics, but many of them are used infrequently compared to the ones on this list. Keeping up with new publications means searching online book retailers, reading Library Journal (a weekly publication of the American Library Association), and making regular visits to bookstores (new and used). Since space is an issue at my house and probably yours, it's important to buy only what you'll actually use. The rest I borrow through my public library. The reference department is staffed by wonderful librarians who try to find the books and articles I need through interlibrary loan from libraries all over the country. Ask your reference staff about its interlibrary loan policies. This service can help you locate the resources you need to research that unidentified photograph.

As the new year begins, let's make time for our family photographs. I have one resolution—to try to answer all the e-mail that arrives from readers. Thank you for submitting your pictures! Don't despair if you haven't heard from me. If you change your e-mail address or just want to know if I received your picture, send me an e-mail. I'd love to hear from you.

Find out how to submit your own picture for possible analysis by Maureen Taylor. E-mail her at mtaylor@taylorandstrong.com.