A Hand-Colored Photo Gem

By Maureen A. Taylor

The other night my husband asked, “How do you find something to write about every week?”

There’s an easy answer: Every photo collection is unique, and every photo tells a story. You’ve been sharing photographs with me for more than a decade and no two images are exactly the same.

Take this week’s image, for instance. It’s a superior example of sophisticated hand-coloring. It’s subtle and gorgeous. The unknown photographer and/or an artistic assistant knew how to turn an ordinary photograph into a painting.


Hand-colored images like this one allow us to see details in our ancestors’ clothing and furniture choices. The maroon chair is a common prop in pictures as of the late 1860s. I know from other images that other colors also were used. I’ve seen such chairs tinted a grassy shade of green.

This young woman wears a scarf around her neck. The studio colored it in a slightly darker shade of maroon than the chair. It’s a perfect accessory to her soft gray dress. While I’ve seen other images tinted, I rarely see one where the studio has taken time to tint the hands and face. The end result—this young woman looks like she could walk out of the frame and say hello.

Robert Stoy sent in this picture of Sarah Simmons (1852-1892) of Georgia. Her clothing suggests it was taken in the late 1870s. Her bodice extending past her waist and scarves of this style were worn in this period.

By the time Sarah posed for this picture, studios had been coloring photographs for decades. Even early daguerreotypists of the 1840s employed artists to add color to their images.

It’s a gem of an image.

You can learn more about hand-colored images in my book Family Photo Detective.

Solve your family photo mysteries with these books by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Fashionable Folks: Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album