Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Oldest Photo I Own

This photo is very very old.  I'm guessing around 1856-1860 judging by the hairstyle over the ears and the sleeves on the dress.  She is wearing a pale dress, not as common in the 1860s and 70s I think (I might be wrong here).  I am not used to seeing such a light coloured dress.  Many of the photos in our collection have women in darker coloured dresses probably because they were serviceable and the fact Queen Victoria was wearing a huge amount of black after the death of her husband in 1861.  Women looked up to her and copied her.  This photo is possibly a daguerreotype photo as it has a weird mirrored look.  But it could be an ambrotype and I'm mistaken.  The image almost appears like a negative, however it is not.  I'm not sure if it is exactly how it was in the 1850s or if it has been damaged over the years to give this weird ghostlike appearance.

Is the picture English or German?  I have both nationalities in my family tree.

I don't know anything else about it which is very frustrating.  It was in an old trunk of photos that my great grandmother stored in her house for 60 years.  If anyone can shed light on it, I would love to know!  I have a feeling it was brought out on an immigrant ship to New Zealand.  A likeness of a sweetheart, which we still have today.

Could it be an image of Sarah Winfield Brown?  Did she give a likeness to her sweetheart James Potts who departed for New Zealand on the ship Glentanner leaving 11 June 1857.  Sarah followed in 1860 on the ship Gananoque and married James soon after arrival.  Sarah is the most likely candidate for the subject of the photo.   It is hard to compare this young girl to the older lady I know as Mrs Potts, age having taken it's toll so to speak.  Or could this girl be a sister of one of my ancestors who left for New Zealand all those years ago.  Less likely but still possible.  Or a sweetheart that never followed her man out and found the idea just too risky and adventurous so stayed behind in her homeland.



  1. What an unusual photograph for the times. It appears to have been tinted. Her dress is quite remarkable and I really like it. Something about the photo makes me imagine the feel of it, were I wearing it - crisp material, perhaps starched.

  2. I Agree Gail...Something Very Tactile/Soild About this facinating Image.

  3. Much to speculate on, but the bottom line is, the photo (and the frame) are really special.

  4. Thanks guys. I would love to reveal more about it but I'm pretty sure I'll never know who the subject is and the story behind it. Her hand at the bottom is the only thing that looks real to me. The rest of the image is so ghostlike.

  5. Photo mysteries like this are puzzles with multiple layers. The dress color may not be as light as you think. The way early photographs reproduced colors into gray scale is not the way modern film or digital cameras do. Dark reds and blues often become lighter in the old processes. The photo might be an ambrotype, as daguerreotypes are usually shiny with a lot of silver reflection. It might be tintype which is easy to check using a magnet, as the tin was actually sheet iron, while ambrotypes are on glass and daguerreotypes on copper. It was special photo though.

  6. Mike, that is interesting about the dress colour. I am tending towards ambrotype now too. Thanks for your comments!

  7. Whatever the case may be, it is a remarkable piece.