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By Frank Graves
Antique photographs of people have always been of interest to this writer in large part because these early images capture those persons’ actual appearance, dressed in the true garb of the period, as opposed to the interpretation placed on such details in modern movies and television shows that may, or more likely may not, be historically accurate. We see many settings chosen by the subjects and can easily surmise the reasons that they considered important enough for them to pay a photographer to capture their image. We published a two part article starting in Volume 1, Number 6 of the December of 2011 issue of Arms Heritage Magazine and continuing in the following issue with part 2, where we explored some of the different types of images, all with subjects being armed with firearms of the day. This third article will continue that earlier series and will feature images not previously published. A fourth part will be published in a later issue.
There are instances of occupational images that the subjects wished to send to someone dear to them in which they held a tool, a gold mining pick, a musical instrument, a bible or other similar item that associated them with a particular profession or calling. Armed images represent a similar desire of the subject of the photograph wanting to be made with a favorite weapon. Contrary to popular belief, images of people, especially civilian individuals with firearms are RARE. It is much, much easier to find a still rare armed image of a soldier.
A recap of the types of photography is recalled following. A more detailed description of the various types of early photography can be found by referring to the earlier article.
The earliest successful type of photograph was called the DAGUERREOTYPE, initially perfected by Frenchman Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre in 1839. His method consisted of treating silver plated copper sheets with iodine to make them sensitive to light, then exposing them in a very rudimentary wooden camera and “developing” the images with warm mercury vapor which was very dangerous to the photographer. The process became very popular in America by 1843 and a portrait industry was born. They are always a reversed image. These early photographs were relatively expensive at from $2.00 to $5.00 ARMED IMAGES By Frank Graves PART III each. To put this into perspective, a worker who made $30.00 per month was doing really well, so photographs were indeed a luxury. A daguerreotype showing an armed person is the most rare type of armed image.
By the late 1850s, the next process perfected was known as the AMBROTYPE. This was a similar process to the daguerreotype whereby an image was deposited usually on the reverse side of a glass plate that had been treated with an emulsion. It was cheaper and favored because it did not have the very reflective appearance of the daguerreotype which is hard to view directly due to its mirror-like surface. Usually they show to be a reversed image, but sometimes are positive if the photographer reversed the plate in the case. These armed images are rare, second to the more rare armed daguerreotype.
Following that for a very short time was a process called the MELAINOTYPE, which was basically an ambrotype process, but instead of a glass plate, the image was deposited on the front side of a tin plate. These are usually a reverse image.
This quickly evolved into the TINTYPE in the mid 1860s where a more direct photograph was put on the front side of a metal plate that was a reversed image. The first three types of processes had usual sizes of ninth plate, sixth plate, quarter plate, half plate or full plate along with the much smaller 1/16th plate, and “gem” which was about the size of a postage stamp. A photographic “plate” inserted into the camera measured 6-1/2” x 8-1/2” and the photographer could set his lens to use the full plate or a portion thereof to lower the cost for himself and his customer. Without going into a lot of detail on sizes, the most commonly seen sixth plate will have an outside dimension of each side in the case of about 3-1/8” in width and 3-5/8”in height.
Many times daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, melainotypes and tintypes will be “tinted” usually on the faces and/or with gold paint on the buttons and gun parts. Sometimes this will hide detail especially if this paint is slathered all over the gun or knife and this will reduce desirability and value. Sometimes the faces will have coloring to make them more lifelike and few photographers did this very well.
The final process that we are looking at here is the CARTE DE VISITE known also as the CDV, where an albumen process was used to create a negative from which any number of prints could be made and put onto a thin piece of cardboard as a positive image. These images were less varied in size, and most had their own size known as “CDV size” that measured about 2-1/8” by 3-1/2” mounted on a card measuring 2-1/2” by 4 inches. CDVs were the first process wherein duplicate images could be made simultaneously. Prior to that, all photographic images were singular and unique. CDVs were popular from the mid 1860s to the 1870s. Still uncommon, armed CVD images are the easiest to find of this grouping. A similar type called the Cabinet Card soon followed which was basically the same process with a larger size.
Following all of these were various types of photographs leading up to what is common today. As any photograph after the tintype is not a unique image, I have chosen to discuss only the earliest types but have made one exception with a CDV that is exceptional.
Due to the control of lighting and setting since an exposure was so long, most images were taken in a studio of sorts and will usually have a painted background behind the subject to suggest that the image was taken outdoors. Some were done this way by traveling photographers, but most were done in a studio.
How to quickly tell the difference in types? A daguerreotype will look very much like a mirror and you really cannot see it very well looking straight at it. It needs to be viewed at an angle or with a dark paper above it to counter the mirror like image. An ambrotype will feel heavier as it is printed on glass and has an additional piece of glass in front of it when in its cardboard or gutta percha case. If taken from the case and held up to a light source it may appear reddish in color and some light will come through it. The melainotype on metal looks very much like the later tintype, but the image will be less defined and have more tan or sepia in the color. The tintype will be usually clear, very well defined and likely will have less of a “halo” effect that the previous others will get through time. As the tintype process made for less in cost, the majority of these early images will be tintypes.
All daguerreotypes and ambrotypes will be housed in hinged cases made either of wood that were covered with thin leather that is embossed or will be made of hard rubber also referred to as gutta percha, called a Union Case. Melainotypes are usually in a single frame of gutta percha unique to these images and they are relatively rare. Tintypes could either be in leather covered cases or in simple paper slip covers that the image would slide into. CDVs were printed on slightly glossy paper then glued to cards that may have the name and address of the photographer on the front bottom margin or on the back. Sometimes they were housed in a hinged case that is referred to as “CDV sized” as they are longer than those sizes usually seen in sixth plate cases.
As in all collectibles, condition is of great importance. If the image is scratched from cleaning, which is very easy to do, the value will be diminished significantly. Disassembling and just touching any image, with the possible exception of the tintype, will almost always cause irreversible damage. It is most desirable to have the front half of the case with the rest of the image’s case. The hinge between the two sides of a leather covered case was made of leather that has usually deteriorated with the front side of the case having been lost in many cases. It is entirely acceptable for the hinge to be repaired if done so properly.
Following are several examples of armed images that have particular interest. If any image is identified as to the person pictured on it, it is much more desirable and valuable. If the firearm pictured is a rare one that also adds to value and interest. But even showing an average firearm, an armed image is much more valuable than one just showing an unidentified unarmed person from the past unless he or she is identified as being someone of importance. The more prominently the person is holding his or her weapon, the better that it is. I should say here that occasionally - very occasionally - a female is seen armed and pictured, but these are very rare. It is more common to find an armed image of a military man. The writer prefers the more uncommon civilian images; these following will be images showing civilians with their weapons with the exception of a militia soldier shown in an important ambrotype.
The following images are new to the collection of the writer and we have not repeated what was shown in the previous work. This article should be combined with that of the previous two parts for an overview of this important topic so related to arms collecting.
Following are some images that have been discovered by the writer, starting with the earliest, the Armed Daguerreotype.
The first daguerreotype image that we will show is an important one. As previously stated, armed daguerreotypes are the most difficult to find. In the following example, the writer recently found a very fine and clear sixth plate daguerreotype image of a man holding a deluxe percussion target rifle. The illustrated rifle had some unique features and the writer optimistically put out inquiries in the very unlikely hope that the type of rifle could be identified, which had seldom been previously done with an armed daguerreotype image. Of course, your writer was hoping that if that rifle still existed, that it would be nice to know where it was, or even more optimistically, to have the rifle to go with the image – an impossible thing to imagine – along with identifying the man holding the rifle. Following this article will be a separate one detailing the events that lead to a phenomenal discovery.
Daguerreotype, sixth plate in a leather covered case of a man with a fine quality percussion target rifle. The subject is dressed up with a top hat on a table beside him. The image is very clear. Armed daguerreotypes are by far the most rare of all of the early images. Circa late 1840s to early 1850s. Close up is shown reversed to represent the actual view since daguerreotypes are mirror images. We will have a mini-article in the next issue that deals with this great rifle and it's interesting maker.
Daguerreotype, sixth plate in a leather covered case of a man sitting, with an uncommon slight smile, with a Blunt & Syms ring trigger pepperbox pistol carefully balanced upside down on a stack of books on a table next to his elbow. Technically, not armed, it is an early daguerreotype showing an identifiable pistol, certainly placed there within the frame of the image purposefully. The man is obviously of means and had this image taken of himself with the pistol displayed. It could very well be the image of William J. Syms, principal in the Blunt & Syms gunmaking firm who would have been of his approximate age of the early 30s when this image would have been made. He was a prominent and wealthy citizen of New York and bears similarity to a William J. Syms bust made in later years that is in the collection of the New York St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals. Syms, among other philanthropic efforts, endowed an Operating Theater there in 1889 to the astounding gift of $350,000 which would represent value today of over 8 million dollars.
This is a very clear ninth plate ambrotype image of a man holding an Allen 5 shot pepperbox revolver of the Worcester area with a 4” barrel. This revolver was made between the late 1840s and early 1850s. The image would be from the late 1850 era.
This is a ninth plate ambrotype image of a young boy holding an Allen or Marston single shot pistol. When young childrens’ images are found armed, they are usually holding a toy weapon. This is a rare image with a boy holding a real and functional pistol.
This is a sixth plate unusual ambrotype image of a young man holding a cased 4 shot Allen pepperbox with accessories and a small knife. With the attire of the subject and him holding the cased set and what appears to be a folding knife, some believe it to have been taken during the gold rush days in California. Subject may be sending back a picture of himself to family members with armaments given to him so he could show that he had arrived and was ready to defend himself. Pictured individuals holding a cased set like this are about nonexistent.
This is a sixth plate clear ambrotype image of a young man with a diminutive Bliss & Goodyear .28 caliber revolver. Notation written beneath the image states that the subject is Jared Lamphier, age 17, of the 9th Indiana with a date of 1862. Jared Lamphier was a Musician in Company A, 9th Infantry during the Civil War and later a railroad engineer where he stymied a Pullman railroad car takeover by striking workers in 1894.
This is a very clear slightly tinted ninth plate ambrotype of a young man with a small guard Colt Model 1849 Pocket revolver tucked in his belt that has a US belt buckle. His coat is tattered and the separation of the sleeve on the left can be easily seen here.
This is a very nice ambrotype image showing a man holding a 4th model Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver that appears to be capped and was then probably fully loaded.
A very clear sixth plate tinted ambrotype of a young man holding a Colt Model 1855 Sidehammer revolver, variation 5A. Subject is wearing a very rare 4 button military coat that he apparently had brought home.. The man seems to be very proud of his apparently brand new Colt pistol.
This is a very rare sixth plate ambrotype image showing a man holding a Remington Beals Pocket Revolver, capped and loaded, and a fine quality large D Guard Bowie Knife. Seller stated that the man is a young soldier from North Carolina; the book under his arm “Wheeler’s History of North Carolina” published in 1851 bears this out. His uniform also suggests that of a pre Civil War militia unit according to several experts.
This is a very rare ninth plate ambrotype showing a man holding a Sharps Single shot percussion pistol, the first type of two models made about 1855. There are no other known armed images of this particular pistol. The case for this image is a composition of gutta percha case. This is a very desirable armed image.
This is a very clear slightly tinted ruby ambrotype image of ninth plate size from the late 1860s showing a man holding a .32 caliber rimfire Uhlinger revolver with a 6” barrel. These early cartridge revolvers in a quantity of a few thousand were made from about 1860 to 1865.
This is a very clear quarter plate ambrotype image of a man holding some sort of superposed two shot single barrel half stock rifle similar to that of F. Beerstecher but the maker of this rifle pictured is so far unknown. The seller stated that it came from an auction in California. With a fine and rare gutta percha case and of a very desirable larger size showing a very unusual rifle perhaps being held by its maker. The close up of the rifle has been reversed so that it would appear as one would see it today.
This is a ninth plate tintype image within a paper slip case of a man holding a .31 caliber Bacon Second Model Pocket revolver. These revolvers were reportedly made in the mid 1860s with only 1,000 of this type being manufactured.
Pictured here is a sixth plate tintype image of a boy with probably his father’s Colt Model 1849 Pocket revolver with a 6” barrel stuffed in his belt. He is so small and the pistol so relatively large that it is dragging his belt down. Children pictured with guns are usually with toy guns. This pistol is real.
This is a ninth plate tinted tintype image of a man with his Colt Model 1849 Pocket revolver with a 6” barrel. A close look at the revolver shows that it appears to be about new – he was likely very proud of his new gun.
This is a very clear ninth plate slightly tinted tintype image of a well dressed man with his Colt Model 1860 Army revolver. The pistol is the more uncommon civilian variation of this revolver that was sold in the commercial market.
This is a clear ninth plate slightly tinted tintype image of a man with a foreign single shot percussion pistol in his shirt pocket and a pepperbox pistol in his pants pocket. Not all images will feature an expensive revolver of the day.
This is a very clear sixth plate slightly tinted tintype image of a man with a Lucius Pond Front Loading Separate chamber revolver that was made as an infringement on the Rollin White/Smith & Wesson patent. Reportedly just a few thousand of these revolvers were made from the mid 1860s to early 1870s. This writer has never seen this revolver in an antique image.
This is a clear sixth plate tinted tintype image of a bearded man with what appears to be a .22 caliber Jacob Rupertus of Philadelphia revolver with an unfluted cylinder. Once again, not everyone in the old days had an expensive revolver. They were tools for protection and an inexpensive one would do just as well as an expensive gun. This is a desirable very crisp image even though it does not feature a desirable and easily recognizable revolver although only 1,000 of this type were reported as being made from the 1870s to the 1880s
ARMED CARTE DE VISITE (CDV)
This is a very clear CDV image showing a man holding an H.V. Perry Mule Ear over/ under percussion double rifle next to a small table with two small stuffed animals, maybe woodcock and ermine on it. Photographer’s mark: “L. E. Stearns, Photo Honesdale Penn” at the bottom. The rifle appears to be a fairly good quality rifle with a tang sight and a somewhat fancy patchbox. The exact rifle is known today and is pictured and described on page 1270 of the Rowe/Swinney book on New York Makers. Seller stated that the image came from a local Honesdale, Pa. estate photograph album with no clues as to the subject’s name. Honesdale is about 175 miles from Jamestown or Fredonia, New York where Perry produced similar rifles during the period when the image was produced. This is a rare example of an individually made rifle being able to be identified and even more unusual for that exact rifle to be known today.
These few examples of armed images make for very interesting “go-withs” to compliment an arms collection and enable us to envision the first owners of these guns who actually used them.
A note of caution; like with many other collectibles, there are fraudulent and fake images out there. If you don’t have the experience to justify buying an expensive image, take it to an expert first. Daguerreotypes aren’t often faked but desirable appearing ambrotypes and tintypes are currently being produced.
As a recap, old photographic images, usually unique, capture a subject’s actual appearance and in the case of this study, show those involving firearms. They are a very interesting “snapshot in time” showing people with authentic clothing and weapons that are in very fine to new condition during their period of use.
All images are from the collection of the writer.