Dating Old Family Photographs: Part 2
This photograph dates to c.1876-80, but how can we tell? Like most old family photos that have been passed down the generations, it is not dated or identified.
(1) Firstly, it is a carte de visite print measuring about 10 x 6.5cms – a popular photographic format in Britain from 1860 through to the 1890s, declining during the early-1900s and finally dying out around the First World War.
(2) Secondly the card is relatively thin and has square corners – both characteristics typical of fairly early cartes de visite (cdvs). Rounded corners began to supersede square corners from the later 1870s but became more common from the 1880s.
(3) A striking feature of this card mount is its gold/yellow colour. Several pale-bright shades became fashionable from the late-1860s onwards, also including sugar pink and turquoise. Wider photographic evidence drawn from firmly-dated examples demonstrates that this golden-yellow tone was most fashionable during the 1870s and 1880s, virtually obsolete by 1890.
(4) The photographic studio is named as W G Moore of Sackville Street, Dublin. Unfortunately relatively little has been published online or in print about this business, although I have been advised that he took over these premises some time after 1868 (information from www.cartedevisite.co.uk ) In addition, a few other examples of Moore’s work appear online in random contexts, dating broadly to the 1880s/1890s. However, firm operational dates remain elusive.
(5) Even when photographer operational data is hard to pin down, the printed mount details can often narrow the date range. The busy appearance of this mount, featuring several different font styles, a ribbon banner and heraldic device together suggest a time frame of 1870s or turn of the 1880s.
(6) Turning now to the visual image, we notice the full-length composition of the subject, who poses in a contrived drawing-room interior.Generally this type of pose and setting is characteristic of the 1860s, but in this instance the composition presents a red-herring. Clients could to a degree choose their pose when being photographed and sometimes – presumably if they were particularly pleased with their appearance – they might favour the traditional full-length composition, to set their attire off to best advantage. We can see how much more pleasing the full-length effect would have been, compared to the more fashionable 1870s/1880s three-quarter length pose that cut off the lower legs and feet.
(7) As so often happens, the evidence of dress provides the best idea of when this photograph was taken. The lady is clearly elderly and her figure is diminished, but she had the means to dress well and wears a handsome daytime outfit typical of c.1875-80. Her narrow front-buttoning costume is the elegant ‘Princess dress’ (named after Princess Alexandra), especially popular from 1876, and often accessorised with a moderate-tall hat or bonnet, as seen here. Typically the front of the skirt section of the gown is flat and gathered horizontally, while the back drapery cascades behind, a striking flounced and pleated train sweeping the floor. The skirt train is said to have been discontinued for day wear in 1880, only being retained for evening and bridal wear after that date. Even allowing for an older lady’s possible conservative taste, a date estimate of c.1876-80 seems correct for this photograph.