In the early days of photography, daguerreotype buttons and jewelry were common. Once paper prints and light-sensitive chemicals became readily available, photographers could develop pictures on anything you could apply the chemicals to: leather, wood, paper, cloth and like this week’s photo submission, a piece of porcelain.
This photo’s size, 3 x 4 inches, and hand coloring give it the appearance of an 18th century painted portrait miniature. It’s really a photo enhanced with color to make it look like a painting. When Diana Truxell showed this picture to a friend who likes old photographs, the friends didn’t recognize it either, and suggested Truxell send it to me. Thank you! I’m always on the lookout for photographs on items other than cardboard.
Truxell is also trying to figure out who’s in the picture. This is one of those queries that make me feel like I’m playing a game show with a choice of answers. Is it her husband’s grandmother Mary Ditner (Martin) Truxell (born 1891)? Or Mary’s mother (born 1863)?
The woman’s high-necked dress, prominent buttons and contrasting trim date the picture to about 1883 to 1888. This is likely Mary’s mother, who would be between 20 and 25 years old in this picture. Oral traditions and provenance (the chain of ownership) can confirm the ID.
Truxell had one final question: Does the unique surface indicate this woman lived anywhere in particular? No, photographers across the country, even in rural areas, had access to materials that allowed them to creatively present family pictures. The careful coloring of this photo wasn’t done by an amateur though. Professional photographers often employed artists to handle such intricate jobs.