Our photo dating expert, Jayne Shrimpton, analyses your family photos.
Gary Shaw sent us his photo and asked:
‘My late grandmother was given this photograph in January 1945. A note written on the back says: ‘Your father aged 5 years and my mother aged 3 years’. I have no idea of the age of this photo. From the wording, the two children might be related but not brother and sister, so that adds yet another challenge to this game of hide and seek.
Are you able to throw any light on the date of this photo please?’
‘This is a lovely studio portrait – an early carte de visite photograph, judging from its appearance. Cartes de visite were neat, card-mounted photographic prints measuring around 10 x 6.5cms. France introduced them to Britain in the late 1850s but they were not produced here in significant quantities until 1860. This was the year when society photographer John Mayall published his ‘Royal Album’ containing cdv portraits of members of the royal household.
Public demand for the new photographs rapidly expanded and by 1861 cartes were said to have become the most popular kind of portrait photograph. They went on to dominate Victorian studio photography, remaining in production during the Edwardian era and only finally dying out around WWI. Popular for over 50 years, large numbers of cdv photographs survive in today’s family picture collections and individual examples have to be dated using various photo-dating techniques.
Here we only have the front view of the photograph and there are no printed photographer details, so our evidence hinges on the visual image. These two children are posed in a contrived drawing room interior, complete with patterned carpet and decorative wall panels – a studio set typical of early cartes de visite dating from the 1860s.
Their appearance also confirms a date in the 1860s and strongly suggests a year well before the end of the decade – c.1860-67. The little girl wears the typical well-dressed female child’s frock of this period – a silk garment that mirrors adult women’s fashions with its fitted, pleated bodice and full skirt, the juvenile features being the short puffed sleeves and knee-length hemline, usual for small girls.
The boy is dressed in a picturesque fashion, in a fanciful version of Highland dress, complete with chequered skirt, tartan stockings and a sporran. There was quite a vogue for Scottish imagery in the mid-19th century, influenced by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s love of Balmoral and the Scottish Highlands, and kilts and Highland-style dress was thought to be suitable for young boys. Often by the age of five, boys were ‘breeched’ and were wearing knickerbockers, but in some families the age at which breeching occurred was as late as six or seven.
The date range of this photograph and the ages stated on the back of the mount mean that these children were born in the late 1850s or early-mid 1860s, about two years apart. They could in fact be brother and sister, which is most likely in such a portrait.
If a (male or female) cousin of your grandmother gave her the photograph and wrote the note on the back, then the boy could indeed represent her father as a child (your great-grandfather), while this girl could have been your grandmother’s aunt and, therefore, the mother of her cousin: your 2 x great aunt. If the dates fit that generation of the family, then hopefully the identity of these ancestors will become clear to you.’
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