This is a fantastic family photo owned by Sharon Pike. It’s actually a photo within a photo. In this card portrait, a stunning portrait of a well-dressed middle aged woman, Jane Rivers Meriwether (1829-1897) gazes directly into the camera. Let’s look at some of the details.
It appears she has naturally curly hair, but in this period the Marcel Wave was a popular hairstyle. It was invented by Francois Marcel in 1872, created using heated curling irons to form small waves. The style remained popular into the 1930s. You can read more about Marcel here.
Collar and Dress
In the late 1870s and early 1880s, wide collars were commonplace. However, they were usually white and made from fabric. This woman’s collar looks like small threads woven and knotted, like macrame. She’s used the collar to accent her dress, which is a lovely fitted bodice with small buttons and some fullness to the sleeve.
All right, I admit it: I left the best detail for the end. Jane wears gorgeous drop earrings in what appears to be a floral pattern. Around her neck is a braided necklace made of either hair (yes, hair!) or silk. Both materials were common and popular. In the 19th century, women often wore jewelry made from the hair of their family and friends. Hair jewelry is a fascinating topic and the pieces are quite lovely. You can learn more about it and see examples in an online article from Victorian Magazine. These long braided ropes were often used as watch chains.
The most prominent feature of this card photo is the piece of portrait jewelry at Jane’s neckline. It’s a large pin setting with a paper photograph of a middle-aged man. Photo jewelry came in all shapes and sizes. I’m particularly fond of it (although it often costs more than my pocketbook can bear <smile> ). The top experts on photographic jewelry are Larry J. West and Patricia Abbott. Their book, Tokens of Affection and Regard (published by the authors, out of print) took years to research and write. It’s a stunning volume filled with color plates of actual jewelry. You can view examples on the Smithsonian web exhibit based on their collection.
The big question is “Who’s the man on the pin?” Sharon wondered if it was Jane’s father, who died in 1840, or could it be her husband, Ethelred Westcott, who died sometime between 1870 and 1895. He’s a bit of a mystery man; Sharon doesn’t have a specific death date.
The dark color of her collar could mean the man in the photo deceased. Jane could have had this pin made from a small card photograph. The man’s photo is difficult to see, but it could date from the early 1870s. His suit and tie are from that period. He has a full beard with lots of gray in it. I don’t have a birth date for Westcott, but it could be him. Women often wore pins depicting children or a spouse.
This photo of Jane Meriwether dates from the late 1870s or early 1880s. The light pink tone to the card and its gold trim makes me lean toward the late 1870s.
You’ll find advice for creating, sharing and saving your family’s photographs in the Family Photo Essentials CD, from the editors of Family Tree Magazine and Memory Makers magazine.