TO DATE OLD PHOTOGRAPHS - TOM DOIG
We had visitors from Canada & Doncaster at our well attended
Tom Doig the well known social historian demonstrated how to date
photographs. His introduction told us how the first ‘photos’
were found in caves & were outline images of human hands .
The hand was placed on the cave wall & ‘drawn’
In 1810 images were produced by a person’s head, in profile,
being lit to create a shadow. & creating a silhouette which
was often cut out in black card.
Niépce, a Frenchman discovered a way of getting a picture
onto paper, his first was of a roof top & the exposure time
was 12 hours.
De Querre in about 1828 invented the daquerreotype process of
photography, when the exposure time was less but the pictures
faded very quickly .
Dating photos therefore can only be assessed when photos were
mounted on glass & put into frames. As time passed the frame
design went through changes.
In about 1850 the frames, oblong & mostly leather with infill
fillets of ‘gold metal ‘ had side hinges which held
a leather cover to protect the glass. Later these frames became
more elaborate & the fillets were thicker & machined tooled.
Still with leather covers, the inside of which was covered in
crushed velvet & had a hook on the outside on which a watch
could be hung. In 1859 the photos were surrounded by a plainer
oval fillet & the edge of the frame was printed with a geometric
The photos remained in the negative form being stuck onto glass
& the application of black mastic applied caused the optical
illusion & created the positive picture. In 1856 new photo
covers were made out of coal dust, milk & sulphuric acid which
when mixed & dried created a ‘plastic’ like material
which could be decorated by putting through a press containing
plates of designs.
Occasionally dates can be worked out by the fashions of the day
& Tom told us of several aids used to hold the client immobile
for the long exposure times. & props & backcloths the
Photography progressed with ‘cartes visite’, these
were very small photos often taken with a four lens camera.
About 1865 photos as we know them were dated on the back with
the photo number & photographer’s advertisement, some
Tom suggested we should look at old photos much more closely as
there is often a lot of information in them. As we enjoyed refreshments
Tom was kept busy answering questions .
Tom will be at our Family history day on September 27th at St
Peters Church hall Wisbech where he will be pleased to look at
any of our old family pictures & give advice on them
Our AGM is on September 25th followed by a talk from our President
Wim Zwalf on his unusual surname.