Friday, 29 April 2011

Sepia Saturday 72: A graduation photo in rich sepia hues

This week I'm going to follow Alan's lead, so my post for Sepia Saturday will have nothing whatsoever to do with you know what. Instead I'm going to share with readers a photograph which I think epitomises a second wave of popularity of the sepia photograph in the 20th Century.

The colour sepia was named, according to the Wikipedia definition, after the rich brown contents of the Sepia cuttlefish's ink sac. Sepia, gold and selenium toning have been used both to provide warmer hues to photographic prints and to make the compounds more stable, enhancing the archival properties. In the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in the United States, prints with rich, deep brown tones became very popular and were used by many studios, often mounted on elaborate embossed, coloured and patterned card, or in folders.

Among the photographs collected by Hampton (New Hampshire) resident Louis Dubois, and donated to the Photo-Sleuth archives by his daughters Irene and Judy, are several examples of such lavishly coloured, mounted and decorated portraits, including todays offering. N.B. I've tried to match the colours as closely as I can to the original with Adobe Photoshop, but of course it may look slightly different on your screen from what it does on mine.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This portrait of a young woman has been printed on thin card (118.5 x 170.5 mm) with a matt finish, the corners of the print then being inserted into slots cut in a thicker brown, embossed and faux leather patterned card (146 x 213 mm) with feathered edges.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The mount has, in turn been affixed within a 2½-leaf vertically opening folder (152.5 x 221 mm folded; 152.5 x 276 opened) made of similar brown card.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This folder is constructed so that the upper and lower leaves can be folded back, and the point of the lower leaf inserted into a slot in the upper, creating a stand for display purposes.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The following is handwritten in black ink on the inside of the lower leaf (image enhanced for clarity):
Helen C. Gilpatrick
Helen Christina Gilpatrick was born in New Hampshire on 30 July 1905, daughter of William Merton Gilpatrick (1879-c1963) and Alice née Kershaw (1879-1963). The family moved to North Hampton around 1915, by which time Helen had two younger sisters Gladys Mae (c1907-1938) and Dorothy Gertrude (1909-1985). William Gilpatrick was a brick and cement mason, doing contract jobs wherever he could find the work, but Hampton proved to be a good base, and he was on the entertainment committee of the Men's Club. Alice, although born in England, had immigrated with her family to the United States when very young and settled in Fall River, Massachusetts. However, she moved easily into the Hampton community, soon becoming a stalwart of the Mothers' Circle. In 1920, they were living at 179 High Street in Hampton, and all three girls attended Hampton Academy.

Image © and courtesy of the Lane Memorial Library

Helen, too, became very active in Hampton community affairs, particularly at the Congregational Church Sunday School. When she graduated from Hampton Academy in a ceremony at the Town Hall on the evening of Friday 15 June 1923, she was one of five honors students. The graduation class roll is shown in the program she later donated to the Tuck Museum - now held by the Lane Memorial Library - and the names of honors students, marked here (by me) with an asterisk, were published in the Portsmouth Herald on 18 June:
*Eva May Lantz
Douglass Everett Hunter
*Helen Christina Gilpatrick
Malcolm Dana Roberts
Vernon Libby Booker
Grace Wilomina Blake
Harold Reynold Beede
*Walter Randolph Clark
Gertrude Shirley Blake
*Norman Oswald Marston
Hazel Estella Lamprey
*Evelyn Crosby Shaw
At least four other members of this graduating class are subjects of photographs in the Louis Dubois collection, and I will feature them here on Photo-Sleuth in due course, together with details of any further connecting stories that I can unravel. However, it appears on the face of it, that Helen had this fine portrait taken to mark her graduation, and gave copies to her class mates, including this one.

I found the following extract from the local rag, The Hamptons Union, dated Thursday, February 12, 1925, which seems to confirm her predilection for necklaces:
A very pleasant surprise was given Miss Helen Gilpatrick last Saturday evening, when a number of her friends gathered at her home. The evening was passed very pleasantly by playing games. A beautiful string of crystal beads were presented to her from those present. Delicious refreshments of ice cream and cake were served. The guests departed at a late hour having enjoyed a very pleasant evening.

Although her two younger sisters married, Dorothy in 1936 to Norman Smiley and Gladys a year later to Leroy Shea, she remained single, working as a book-keeper and stenographer, and living in Hampton until at least the early 1960s. She died in Florida in August 1985.

Whitman Studio, Malden, Massachusetts

Image courtesy of Malden Historical Society
Whitman Studio (at right), 100 Pleasant Street, Malden, 18 July 1923

The Whitman Studio, situated on Pleasant Street, Malden (Mass.), which Helen Gilpatrick visited in 1923, shown on the edge of the photograph above, probably within weeks of the sitting, was operated by Edgar L. Byrd from at least as early as 1910 until shortly before his death in September 1956. Early in his career, he was responsible for the photographs of Helen Keller published in her book, "The World I Live In" in 1907.


Lane Memorial Library Archives, Hampton

1881 Census of the UK, from

UK GRO Birth, Marriage & Death Index, from FreeBMD

US Federal Census Collection, WW1 Draft Registration Cards, US City Directories & the Portsmouth Herald newspaper, from

Massachusetts, New Hampshire & Maine Births, Marriages & Deaths, from FamilySearch

US Social Security Death Index (SSDI) from FamilySearch

Malden Historical Society (2000) Malden, Arcadia Publishing, 128p.


  1. Fascinating. Sadly I have to say Helen looks a little on the solemn side, and the hairstyle did her no favours! What a shame she remained single, but I'm pleased she had lots of friends.

    It's rare amongst our family photos to find examples with their mounts intact, as these don't seem to survive as well as the pictures themselves.

  2. Excellent details about the picture and the subject! I'm with Nell on the hairstyle.

  3. Great research. I never knew the origin of sepia's name before.

  4. Oh indeed, a sad hairdo which makes her look like a lunch counter lady wearing a hairnet.

    I'm trying to remember what the old sepia photo inserts in newspapers were called. There were usually just 4 pages, always printed in brown. Same color as Helen's photo.

  5. I always find it fascinating to have viewed a photo taken by someone who also photographed someone notable, here Helen Keller. Makes me wonder if the norm for the photographer was the notables and they squeezed in the "normal people" or probably vice versa.

  6. What a fine portrait that is. I can't decide whether it is enhanced by the sepia approach or not. Whilst sepia provides such a definitive time-stamp for photographs, each age has its own time-stamp and the 1920s would probably have shined through if it hadn't been toned. Photographic technique, clothes, hairstyles all give clues - but perhaps there is something else as well, something about the basic shape of faces. A good test would be to see if anyone could actually fake an old photograph with a new face.

  7. No I know why some sepia photos seem fishy to me. Great research as always.

  8. Lots of history here and I do agree that the hairdo is not favorable to her. I have some family photos in such cardboard attachments, the workmanship is exquisite. This was so very interesting to read and now I recall how Sepia came about, I think I learned that when taking a photo class but it was buried deep and forgotten. You brought that memory back. Great reading

  9. Oh my as always what a great source of interesting information.... although I'd never like her hair style...or dress for that matter, but what fine shape and clarity it is! Great post for our enjoyment.

  10. What a fantastic picture Brett (as usual!). It works on so many levels. I think she looks great with her bizarre hairdo, librarian glasses, stylish pearls and fabulous dress. You can bet she didn't look like this in everyday life. Sad she remained single. If I were her boyfriend I'd have a quiet word with her hairdresser.

  11. What a photo! Now I want to pull out all the photos from that time period that I haven't already scanned and have a look at them. I like how you tell about the image, the photographic process, the photographer, and the person. We learn a lot when we read your posts. (You're so thorough, I have to admit that I'm surprised you didn't include the photo of Hellen Keller, too.)

    Tattered and Lost, it was called the rotogravure section. Our local newspaper used to have one once a week, and some papers still include them, believe it or not.

  12. Yes, I have to agree that Miss Helen looked the part she played, if there is such a look, or perhaps she played the part she looked. Thanks to all for your great comments.

    T+L - The hair looks like it's covered with a very fine hairnet, but I can't be sure, it may just be retouching. Certainly there's some kind of band across her forehead.

    whowerethey - The photographs of Helen Keller were taken very early on during his career, and I'm wondering if that's what he established his reputation on.

    Nancy - I considered including one of the Helen Keller photos from, but they didn't reproduce very well and I thought they might detract (should that be distract) from the original subject of the article.

    Little Nell - I wonder why it is that so few mounts have survived. Perhaps because they didn't fit well inside albums, and of course albums have always been the most popular way of sotring and displaying family portraits.

    Alan - Somewhere I have a sepia family portrait, sent to me by a reader, that was taken recently at a studio where they dressed up the subjects in a bygone era, with old-style backdrop and studio props. It sticks out a mile, but perhaps that's just because it wasn't a very good effort by the studio or the subjects. I've often wondered whether one could do it effectively.

    Bob - So you're suggesting she was wearing fish net stockings underneath that outfit, are you?

    Pat - thanks, I'm glad to have reawakened some memories.

    Norman - I wondered about the boyfriend aspect too ... as will become clearer later this portrait was probably one of several given to one of her classmates after graduation, but there's little mention of boys between the bible sessions and theological classes, so who knows.


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