Old Photos

Dating This Cabinet Card Photograph

Today I introduce you to a handsome young couple, their photograph taken by Savigny and Christmas in Lansing, Michigan.  This cabinet card is 4 ½ by 6 ½.  We shall look at the card itself to try to determine the date of this photograph, and then compare the clothing of the couple.

Our first step is to examine the card edges.  This particular card has rounded corners and a beveled edge, cut at a 45-degree angle and gilded – a gold cover.  This gave the card a little more flair and dates it to 1885-1900.

Surprisingly this card has no border.  This could be a thick gilt border to the edge of the card.  A white embossed border is another possibility.  Or a thin, single line in gold.  This white card is very elegant, the photograph extending almost to the edges.

Colors of cards can help identify a time period.  This card is white, coated on the front and back.  1880-1900 is the time period.

Photographer imprints, at the bottom of the card, have also changed over the years.  Savigny and Christmas of Lansing Michigan, have their names in large, fancy print with a centered monogram – all foil embossed.  This dates from 1890-1900.  Savigny and Christmas is a studio that appears in the Lansing City Directory in 1888.  The photographers were Henry J. Christmas and Frank W. Savigny.

This card has a printed back, with the monogram and name of the photographers.  We are told special attention is given to children, and duplicates are furnished at a reduced rate.  Shades of green are used.  Since many cards, of any date, had nothing printed on the back, I think this suggests the photographers had a good business.  Dates to 1890 and later.

Gelatin and Collodion were two new papers introduced in the mid 1880’s.  These papers did not yellow with age as did the early photographs – both cabinet cards and the earlier cartes-de-visite.  As you can see from this photograph, there is no shading.  It looks fresh, crisp and clean.

Our gentleman’s hairstyle is spot on for the 1890’s, as is his suit coat – buttoned at the top close to the neck, just a bit of necktie showing.  Wider ties were worn during the late 1890’s, similar to the one in this photograph.  His coat is extraordinarily long, but that could have been a personal fashion statement.

Our lady’s hairstyle, with the up-curled front bangs is spot on for the late 1890’s.  The small puff at the shoulder of her sleeves is a far cry from the huge leg ‘o mutton sleeves from the mid 1890’s.  She is very tiny, the ruching in the front of her dress noting her size.

Through our examination of the card and the fashions worn by our lady and gent, I think it’s safe to say this photograph dates from the late 1890’s.  Now if we just knew their names!  Please let me know if you recognize this couple from your research.

As for the two photographers, I can give more information!  Henry Christmas began his photographic career under photographer Helen Parsons in 1870.  Born in Michigan to Canadian parents, in June 1852, he married Ada Phelps in 1871.  Henry was a portrait and landscape photographer.  In the fall of 1889, he and partner Frank W. Savigny advertised, ‘You will find us directly opposite the Hotel Downey, in one of the best ground floor photograph galleries in the state,’ in Lansing, Michigan.  The two were in business together from 1888 until 1891.  Henry continued business, hiring Frank H. Custis in 1892.  They continued at 301 Washington Avenue South in Lansing until 1894.  

Wait a minute – this is much earlier than the previous information about what the card looked like and fashions!  Every piece of information must be examined and considered.  The small, puffed sleeves of our lady’s dress were also worn in the early 1890’s, but the slim fit of her dress doesn’t match that time period – neither does her hair style.  Another consideration would also be fortunes.  Not everyone could afford the most up-to-date fashions and many clothes were remade to fit someone else in the family.  But due to the photographers being in business form 1888-1891, I believe we have to revise our date of photograph to that time period.

4 replies »

  1. Your attention to detail and knowledge are astounding! Thank you for sharing your work with us. Keep up the good work and sharing your skills.

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