Photo Detective: Wedding Album
7/1/2011
Geri Diehl asks, "Could this be the wedding picture of Elizabeth Goza and William Harrington, who married in 1846?" It is a crayon portrait passed from her grandmother, to her mother and ultimately came to be in her collection. In this image, the photographer or an artist colored the couple's eyes and parts of the background blue.
 
 
This is most likely a copy of an earlier image. It isn't possible to be certain of a time frame without comparing the portrait to the original. In an artistically enhanced portrait, costume elements could be altered to appear more fashionable. Here, there's an absence of detail in the woman's clothing that would help assign a definite date.
 
Given these uncertainties, several costume features suggest a date of the late 1850s.

The man wears a double-breasted shawl collared vest of a style from the 1850s. His jacket has darker trim on the upper lapel and collar. This is not usual for either 1846 or the 1850s. One of the determining factors is his collar: In the 1840s, most men wore their collars standing up. The man's hair is blunt cut and is has a mustache and a goatee that can be found in photographs of the later period.

It's unfortunate for us that the artist chose to represent the woman's dress as a solid black, without sleeve and bodice details that would help to date the image. The artist spent time enhancing her collar and tinting her broach and earrings gold. The style of the small drop earrings also suggests the portrait was taken not in 1846, but in the 1850s.
 
The woman wears her hair in a center part with a low bun at ear level. In the 1840s, women generally wore their hair over their ears; in most cases, the ears would be hidden under loops of hair. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, women wore their hair in the style shown in this portrait. The wide collar of whitework, which became fashionable in the 1850s, is the primary evidence that the photograph upon which this drawing is based was not taken in 1846.

Family members suspect that this was a wedding portrait for the Goza/Harrington couple, but the photographic evidence doesn't agree with the marriage date. This could be a portrait the couple had taken later in their marriage, or be an as-yet-unidentified couple.

This portrait has not survived a century and a half without damage. The upper left corner of the picture is missing. At one point it was framed. You can see the outline of the frame at the edges of the image. The brown areas show the effects of the resin in the wood frame. Exposure to sunlight probably accelerated the aging process. A professional conservator can stabilize these problems—find one through the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works.

For more help dating the hairstyles in your family photos, see Maureen A. Taylor's book Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900.

 

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