Sunday, March 27, 2011

Photographers' Marks (Photographic Puzzles, part 2)

Last week I offered some tips that have helped me identify old photos. As promised, I want to share a success story.

Mr. Y e-mailed me several photos from his family collection that had no identification, including this family group. He knew which branch of the family they came from, and that they had lived in Wilson, N.C. He suspected this was a picture of his great-grandparents. Mr. Y had started with genealogical research, including census records, to get the names and ages of children in the family. He asked if I could come up with any more clues.

Photos courtesy of the Yarborough family

I wasn't sure if I could help, at first. I thought the boy in the back looked like he was wearing a military cape, but I'm not an expert at clothing clues and I didn't want to steer anybody wrong. I finally decided I would just look up the photographers' marks and not spend too much time on this lovely puzzle.

The names on the left were a little hard to read from the scan, but I picked out "Engle." I didn't expect to find him in my Photographers in North Carolina book because of the Philadelphia mark, but I looked for him anyway — and got lucky.

Apparently John F. Engle had a long, illustrious career, making photographs all around the country, including Philadelphia. He did spend some time in North Carolina, and worked with a man named Lund. Look closely: Lund is the name beneath Engle on the mark. And in the center is an elaborate E and L.

I looked up the other name. Viggo Lund worked with Engle in 1897 on Nash Street in Wilson. They worked together other years in Elizabeth City, but since this family branch lived in Wilson, the time they had a studio there would be a good assumption.

Most of the photographers in the book worked in certain areas for several years or even decades. But these two men worked together in that town just one year. Amazingly, that narrowed down the photograph to 1897.

According to Mr. Y's research and more recent photos, the young man with the mustache is probably his great-grandfather, Bud Perry. The older couple are his step-father and mother, Claiborn Perry and Zilphia Smith, who had five children at home in 1900. In 1897, the two boys would have been about 12 and 15, and the three girls age 9, 7 and 3. Bud, 20, got married in December of that year.

This cabinet card appears to be the boy on the right in the family photo, Weston Perry. The couple's youth and prominent display of rings suggest a wedding photo. Francis Marion Winstead was a photographer from 1880 to ca. 1908. This picture was probably taken between 1898 and 1908, when Winstead returned to Wilson and worked without a partner, because only his name appears on the frame. Those dates also fit the likelihood that Weston would not have been married yet in the 1897 picture (at age 15).

This lovely young lady also posed for Francis Marion Winstead. Upon closeup comparison of her face with the two dark-headed girls in the family portrait, I think she is the little girl on the right. That puts this photo toward the latter part of the 1898-1908 window.

Mr. Y is hot on the trail of his ancestors, armed with a few more clues. And once again I'm glad I invested in a good reference book that provides such useful information.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Solving photographic puzzles

Last year when I spoke at the High Point Library about preserving old photographs, I mentioned how I had identified some 19th and early 20th-century family photos that weren't labeled.

1. Learn to recognize faces. After looking at many different pictures, I learned to recognize my great-grandfather, his mother, and his uncle, even when they were very young or very old.

2. Compare frames. As I recognized my g-g-g-uncle in one photograph with a white, textured paper frame, I remembered that one of my unidentified pictures had that same kind of textured frame. That connected the person to my uncle, probably from the same sitting for a photographer. After comparing the faces with other pictures, I realized this was his youngest son, but much older than in any of his other pictures.

3. Use genealogical research to fill in other people. In a five-generation photo, I knew everybody except the little boy. I found out that the young lady in the photo only had one son and he was her first child (which would make a family want to pose for a 5-gen photo). A more mysterious photo had my young g-grandfather with a young woman, who looked nothing like my g-grandmother. Paw was an only child, so who could she be? After extensive research, I realized that he grew up in the same household with his aunt - they were one year apart. I concluded that they must have been like brother and sister, and therefore posed for a portrait together.

4. Look for clothing clues. I'm very much an amateur in this area, but Maureen Taylor is an expert. I enjoy reading her blog about how she solves photo mysteries.

5. Use the type of photograph (daguerreotype, tintype, paper, etc.) to narrow down the timeframe when it was taken.

6. Use photographers' marks to further narrow in on the year and possibly the location of the photo.

One of the people who came to my class at the library recently sent me a photographic puzzle, and step no. 6 turned out to be a huge clue. I'll tell you more about it in the coming week.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book finds in Maryland

Two weeks ago I drove up to Maryland for the weekend to see friends, and this time, to do a little bookhunting.

Friday night, I went with my friend Suzy to listen to live music and indulge in tasty Southern Maryland crab balls.

Saturday morning, I drove down 235 to an antique store in Lexington Park, The Grapevine. I fell in love with this little antique corner chair and bought it for the bookshop. I picked up a few books, too.

After lunch with another friend, I went a used book store in the old part of Leonardtown. As I wandered through aisles and around corners in Fenwick's, I kept thinking there was only one more room, but then there would be a doorway and another room. I like bookstores like that.

Fenwick St. Used Books

They have a whole bookshelf of Star Trek.   :-)

I introduced myself to the owner, Joe, as a new bookseller and he was very kind. He runs the "Old book store" e-mail list for brick-and-mortar booksellers. He answered my questions and mentioned websites and names that have recently become familiar, from the bibliophile list or in my bookselling research.

As we were talking, I noticed the high, ebony, mirrored bar behind the counter. Joe told me that his place had been a bar for many years! He had covered the tile floor with carpet and had shelves built. The small room in the back, the fantasy and sci-fi room, had once been the ladies' room.

After that pleasant visit, I stopped by Staples and picked up a shelf that had been out of stock back home. Then I went to a "new books" store in California, Md. that's going out of business. Bay Books has been an independent shop here for 23 years. 'Hard to believe, since I remember when they first opened!

I wasn't sure I wanted to buy new books, because now I can get a discount from distributors and also because I'm not sure if they're still new books after you buy them from a store. But when I saw that Bay Books was already offering 50% off, I decided to risk buying some.

I had just about decided that I wasn't going to introduce myself, when I saw a sign indicating that the shelves were for sale. I just had to ask about them, and the clerk quickly introduced me to the owner. The shelves were reasonable — not super cheap, but a good value — but I told the owner I just didn't have a way to transport them to N.C. He took my name and number and wished me luck.

The owner of Bay Books had previously offered the store — shelves, inventory, everything — for sale at a very reasonable price, but with no takers they proceeded to liquidation, just like the Borders back home.

I spent the rest of the weekend with friends, food, my former church, more friends and more food. By Monday's departure, the car was filled with books and furniture for the new bookshop.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Wee Opening at Tannery Books

The past two weeks have been absolutely crazy as I prepared to open my new bookstore, Tannery Books, and volunteered with church events that included missionaries visiting from far away. Of course, I didn't plan all that to happen at the same time! Very little went according to my ideal schedule — my counter didn't arrive until two nights ago, the floor wasn't finished until about two weeks ago, the sign had some delays and didn't go up until yesterday... I still don't have a digital version of my logo. On the positive side, I've been blessed over and over. Family members did the professional work (at a good rate for me and some business for them), and people gave me some books and furniture.

A week and a half ago: I can put the shelves in!

This past week: Sorting and pricing books

Irish tea and "biscuits"
People kept asking me, when is the grand opening? With all the doubt and waiting for the basics before I could bring in the books, I couldn't guarantee anything grand. So I told them it would be a "Wee Opening," in keeping with March's Irish theme.

With all the chaos, I was up until 4:30am this morning pricing books and cleaning up. I still hadn't cleaned the new counter (a large glass display case that has been stored in a garage for some time) and I hadn't even started pricing the antique books. One goal I really wanted to meet, but didn't, was to have some flyers to hand out with basic information like store hours and trade-in policies. But people didn't seem to mind. I started an e-mail list and said I would send them information later.

My counter/display case — future home for antique books

People stopped by all day to browse, chat and wish me well. A few bought books, and one friend brought me a trunkload of books as a donation. It was a great opening day!

Tannery Books — Opening day!

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Bookstore Blessing

I've been meaning all week to share some bookish news about my trip to Maryland, but not only was I trying to get the shop ready, I was also helping to prepare for Mid-Year Gathering for North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Quakers), held this past weekend. As part of that gathering, we had missionaries in town from Kenya, Mexico, Alabama and Jamaica. It was invigorating.

Today I planned to take our pastor from Mexico out to lunch. I've been to the meeting in Matamoros a couple of times and wanted to share just a little of the hospitality that he and his family always offer us. I asked him and another friend to meet me at the bookshop, where I figured I would be working. They arrived before me, though, and I unlocked the door to show them my new business. There were books stacked on the floor, boxes strewn about, empty shelves, and the strong smell of new carpet (have I mentioned that we're opening in four days?).

Pastor Jorge stopped just inside the door. He told me and the other friend that he wanted to pray for me and my business. We held hands and he prayed, in Spanish, asking the Lord to bring people and business and to bless the place. I was deeply moved.

Just wanted to share that.