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Collectibles-General (Antiques)/19th century photos


I have a photo album from the 19th century that came to me from my wife's grandmother, who was born in 1890. The album contains tintypes and paper photos. I've been able to identify one photo of Buffalo Bill from E. L. Eaton of Omaha, Nebraska.  How do I go about identifying the other people in this album? One photo bears a striking resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe


Very, very tough topic...

You asked: "How do I go about identifying the other people in this album?" Actually, probably you don't. If you're assuming that since you found a pic of Buffalo Bill in there, then the other pics must be famous people as well, no, that's rarely the case. Far more likely the other pics are of forgotten family and friends, and unless they have some sort of identifying signage scribbled on the backs, you're out of luck.

The sad truth of the vast majority of old photographs is that people almost never took the five seconds to put a name and a date of birth on the back for future generations to see. Think about it, how much time does it take to write something simple like "John Smith born April 1, 1868"? Plus maybe some other relevant data added later, such as "married Suzy Prune 1893" and "parents of John Smith Jr. and Sally Smith"? Boom. Got it all. But no, our ancestors rarely thought of that back in the day, so today we might spend literally weeks and months or even years of research to find that same little bit of information about the person in a single pic, but even then only if we're lucky. Usually we aren't. "Forgotten" is the operative word.

As for the Buffalo Bill pic, he was famous, he was a "rock star" in his day, and there is no lack of pics of him from throughout his adult life. There's a good possibility your wife's grandma actually saw Buffalo Bill's traveling show when she was young, and she or her parents purchased the photograph then. Not an uncommon occurrence. Or when visiting a local photo studio to have a portrait taken, the photographer had pictures of various celebrities available for sale through a commission basis with Eaton (and other mass producers of stock photographs), which was another common practice. As for Edgar Allen Poe, I'm skeptical. He was from a much earlier period, his image never had much commercial value back then because he was never the sort of "celebrity" that people felt warm and fuzzy about, and the most popular American literary figure from 1890 through the following couple of decades was easily Mark Twain. Anyway, today we often find 19th century albums full of completely ordinary photographs of completely forgotten friends and family, but right in the middle will be a portrait or two (or three!) of Buffalo Bill or U.S. Grant or Lillie Langtry or whoever. Now that doesn't mean the Buffalo Bill pic is worthless. In fact, it's quite desirable, and depending on exactly which one you have, the condition, and the size, it might be very valuable. But that's a topic for another question and answer, and I'd need to see the photograph to provide a proper evaluation.

Best wishes,

David F. Silver - President
International Photographic Historical Organization  

Collectibles-General (Antiques)

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David Silver


I'm an expert on all types of antique and classic CAMERAS, vintage PHOTOGRAPHS, and the HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY. Everything from ancient box cameras to modern single-lens-reflex; from simple Kodaks to sophisticated Leica and Nikon; from glass plates and roll film to movie and 35mm; from daguerreotypes and tintypes to the black & white images by the 20th century masters. I can identify and appraise, explain techniques and processes, offer insights on restoration and preservation, and provide guidelines for buying and selling.


I've been a professional photographer and a student of the history of photography for over 30 years. During that time my collection of vintage cameras and photographic paraphernalia has grown beyond 2000 significant pieces. I've published nearly 70 articles in the field, including 16 in the popular "Buying Classic Cameras" series for PHOTO SHOPPER MAGAZINE from 1995 to 1997, I'm currently a contributing editor for CAMERA SHOPPER MAGAZINE and McKEOWN'S PRICE GUIDE TO ANTIQUE AND CLASSIC CAMERAS, and I've written numerous entries for WORLD BOOK ENCYCLOPEDIA. Portions of my collection have been displayed in museums and special exhibits in the past two decades, and many of the items were photographed as illustrations for books. In 1985 I founded the International Photographic Historical Organization (InPHO), which eventually evolved into its intended purpose as the best first resource for information on the history of photography. I'm also a founding member of several e-mail forums dedicated to specialized areas of photography, and I'm the moderator of the Internet Directory of Camera Collectors (IDCC), which remains the largest and most successful such group in the world. For more information about the International Photographic Historical Organization and its many services, please visit its web pages at:

BA and MA in anthropology

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