Photo Detective: Triple Play

By Maureen A. Taylor Premium

This week my inbox contained several photographs with quick questions, so I’ve selected three beautiful examples of late-19th century photography. 

Controversial Cousin
Melinda Freeman photographed this oversize picture of a young woman. She had to photograph it and send me the image. It’s a crayon portrait (a photograph enhanced by hand-coloring). Freeman’s relatives believe that it was taken in the 1850s, but Freeman’s done her homework and thinks it dates from the 1880s. She’s right!

Key costume features include the large collar, called a fichu, and the bodice that extends over her hips. This young woman posed for her portrait between 1879 and 1882.

I’ll Take the Highlands . . .
Joy Engel submitted a picture of a couple she believes are her great-great-grandparents on their wedding day in Scotland. On the back is a photographer’s imprint from the Wick Thurso area of Caithness, Scotland.

Engel believes the photo was taken in either 1880 or 1881. She’s close. Dresses like this woman’s, with the fitted bodice, gathered skirt and velvet plastron down the center of the bodice, date from 1883 to 1888. Engel wants to know if the man in the wedding picture is the same man as the older one in this family portrait. Engel’s mother wrote an ID on the front of the wedding picture, but it’s wrong and mars the image.

While both men are thin, the older man in the group portrait doesn’t share any common features with the young man in the photo from Scotland. They have different-shaped chins, noses and eye sockets—features that aren’t likely to change with age. I don’t believe they’re the same person.

Timetable Help
Knowing the time frame for this photo could establish whether she’s the Vachon, Jeannette Desmarais thinks she is. According to Desmarais, Lydia Vachon was born June 14, 1872, in Wauregan, Conn., and married Frank George Plante in Coventry, Connecticut on Nov. 29, 1893.

This woman’s dress is trim at the waist, has a high neckline and little cap oversleeves, and is accessorized with a large pin at the neck. The fit and style of the sleeves resembles the dress in the previous answer. Could this be Lydia Vachon? Absolutely. She posed for this picture just prior to her marriage, making her approximately 20 years of age. Desmarais has another photo of Lydia posed with her three children around 1905. There’s no question the woman in the family picture and the one in this single portrait are identical.