Having looked at census records and whatever else was online, I ran into a virtual brick wall—I’m sure you know the feeling. Here are some of the sources I learned about and how I located them.
- A reference librarian at the Littleton, NH, public library made my day when she found an obituary for “Fontie” WELLER Fitch in the Littleton Courier, the local newspaper. After marrying Henry Fitch, Fontenella and her new husband moved to Spokane, Wash., so he could accept a job with the Washington National Bank. She gave birth to a child in January 1892, and within three months, both mother and child were deceased. Their obituaries appeared in the Littleton Courier March 16, 1892.
- Since I didn’t have an obituary for Fontenella’s father, I went back and tried locating one using the historical newspaper subscription site GenealogyBank. I finally found it by using Weller in the surname field with Littleton as a keyword. According to the Argus and Patriot (Montpelier, Vt.) of Dec. 12, 1877, “Frank G. Weller, a well-known manufacturer of stereoscopic views, died at his residence in Littleton, NH, on Saturday, aged 44 years.”
Intrigued by the use of “well-known,” I set out to discover more about the man behind that beautiful photo of a girl and a flag. Just how famous was Weller, and did he take any other stereo views of his family?
A stereo view is a double picture taken with a binocular camera; it captured two slightly different images of the same view. You then used a special viewer to make the scene 3-D. Stereo views of people are rare. These double images were entertainment—you could purchase scenes of places you’d visited (or would like to visit) or play out with friends the tableau scenes in cards with allegorical and literary themes.
A quick search of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Catalog using F.G. Weller in the author fieldturned up several images by him. I’ve posted two here; the other two aren’t online. This one depicts “A Country Choir”:
In the 1870s, stereo photographers often created thematic scenes from literature. Without the catalog record, it’s difficult to recognize the tableau below. It represents a card-playing scene from Francis Bret Harte’s poem Plain Language From Truthful James. Harte was a American author who wrote about life in California.
The back of the card yielded some additional information. I wasn’t aware that Weller had copyrighted his images. The stamp in the upper right hand corner provides a year for the card-playing view.
Weller was an accomplished photographer. The evidence is in the crisp quality of his images. I’d love to see more.
In the 1880s, after Weller’s death, it’s likely the family sold his negatives. His pictures began to be published by the Littleton View Company, and later, by the major producer of stereo views, Underwood and Underwood. Some depicted allegorical scenes, others focused on literature, and in a few instances, he took pictures of local scenes (as evidenced on a label on the back of one of his views).
But he also was one of only two photographers in the pre-1875 period who specialized in photographing children. He called this series his “Stereoscopic Treasures.” Perhaps he included his daughter and her friends in “The Tea Party” and the “Girl posed with a Tablet.” Unfortunatley, neither is available online for comparision. This additional information is from John Waldsmith’s Stereo Views: An Illustrated History and Price Guide (Krause, $24.95).
Weller was an early stereoscopic photographer, a trailblazer in his field, who also used his talents to photograph his only child Fontenella. As far I as I know, no single repository holds Weller’s images—they’re in private collections or the Library of Congress. It’s a pretty typical situation for a photographer’s legacy.