It's now almost a year since Jack Armstrong from Pennsylvania contacted me out of the blue, saying that he had for some years owned an old photograph album containing "a couple of dozen portraits," many of which were from the English Midlands, and several from my specific area of interest, the county of Derbyshire. He had purchased the album at a yard sale some years before, so he had no personal connection to the photographs.
It has been on a back shelf, collecting dust and guilt .... Somewhere out there is somebody to whom this would be a treasure. If you are interested in the album you can have it. I'd just like to see it find a safe home.While searching the web for information about the photographers, he had stumbled across my web pages. To cut a not very long story even shorter, Jack very kindly sent the album to me (at a not inconsiderable cost to himself) and, apart from some initial investigations that I made last year, it's been gathering yet more dust and guilt (albeit Antipodean dust and guilt, rather than the North American variety) ever since.
Due to my study commitments over the last year, and with some embarrassment on my part, I haven't had the time to give the album the attention that I was intending. However, I've decided that it's probably worthwhile posting a run down of my initial work, and then writing further on progress in forthcoming months as I find the opportunity. At least this way I can acknowledge Jack's generosity and make a start on the study. I feel that my ongoing detective work into the album's original owner(s), and the subjects of the photographs contained within it, will benefit from exposure to a wider audience. While I don't claim any expert knowledge in the field, I'm also hoping that a detailed account of my discoveries during the course of my research may assist, in some small way, others delving into their own family collections. As always, I would very much appreciate feedback, comments, queries, constructive criticism, etc. along the way. Please feel free to question my judgement, conclusions, etc. - it's the best way for us all to learn from the experience.
Externally the album, as can be seen from the images above, appears to be in a rather distressed state. The original patterned plush olive velvet - of a style which was introduced and became common in the 1880s - is now threadbare and has split open at the edges, revealing the padding inside, some of which is doing its best to escape. While the binding between the cover and the album leaves has partly separated, the cardboard leaves themselves are largely intact. The album pages are constructed of double layers of dark green glossy card, printed in grey ink with a design including wild flowers and fairies. Tiny writing at the base of the design states, "PAT. APPLD. FOR 1887." Some of the individual photo sleeves are torn, as is often the case with these old albums, but most of the photographs themselves are in excellent condition. The album measures 220 x 275 x 85 mm externally, and has 18 pages.
There are somewhat more than "a couple of dozen" photographs. In fact, the album contains 55 of them, consisting of 26 cabinet cards, 22 cartes de visite, 3 sixth-plate tintypes (or ferrotypes) and three other format types, a couple of them rather battered, and several lying loose between the album leaves. All except one of these are portraits. One loose photo mount with a stylised flower art nouveau frame has lost its photograph. There is also a loose colour print of water lilies, apparently (from the text on the reverse, which relates to an adjacent, now missing, page) from an instructional book on water colour painting.
The next article will discuss the series of procedures that I always try to follow when starting out researching a photographic album.