Being able to put a date to the historic photographs in our collection has been one of the key aims of my cataloguing project. Knowing the date adds historical context to a photograph and can help in identifying people in the photograph and the location where a picture was taken.
There are a number of different sources of information that help us to date the photographs. In the case of the photograph albums the dates of the period covered by specific albums are often handwritten inside the front cover, either by Teresa Hulton, the 8th Lady Berwick or by her mother Costanza.
Individual photographs within the albums also frequently have details written below them, often including information such as the date, the location, the people in the photograph and on occasions, even the name of the photographer who took the picture. This is a best case scenario for us as all of this information is extremely useful in adding context to the photograph and improving our knowledge of the collection.
An example of one of these photographs is shown below with the handwritten details visible underneath informing us that this is a photograph of ‘Gio and Bim’ taken in Mogliano in November 1901. Gio and Bim are Gioconda and Teresa Hulton and Mogliano is a town in the province of Treviso in Italy.
Fortunately for us, Teresa and Costanza Hulton also provided hand written details on the rear of a significant number of the non album photographs. One example is the photograph below of Teresa Hulton.
The rear of this photograph, provides a range of important information including details of where the photograph was taken (Cronkhill), when it was taken (August 1919), what Teresa is wearing (white satin jumper and white pleated cashmere skirt) and where these clothes were bought (Paris).
For other photographs where we do not have any written details we can sometimes estimate an approximate date by identifying the subject or location and cross referencing to other photos where we know additional details. Alternatively, if we know who the subject is, we sometimes use genealogical information and family trees to at least identify a start and end date within which the photograph must have been taken.
For some of our older photographs taken as formal portraits by photographic studios, the clue to the date can often again lie on the rear of the photograph. The back of these portrait photographs generally show details of the photographic studios responsible for the photo and the style of amount of information provided gradually increased over time.
Below is the rear of a studio portrait photo which we know was taken in 1861 and which contains little more than the name and address of the photographic studio.
By 1897 the rear of a similar style of photo shows a much more ornate style and contains details of awards and medals won by the photographic studio in addition to the contact details.
Studying the rear of these photographs can therefore at least offer clues as to the decade when a particular photograph was taken. My colleagues at the National Trust property at Sunnycroft provided me with details of an extremely useful website that provides more information on this subject so if it is of interest to you, click here for further details.
I have recently started a new position with the National Trust and while this is exciting for me personally, unfortunately the time constraints of the job mean that I will not be as heavily involved in the photograph archiving work for the immediate future. The project will still be progressing however as Jayne Owen and Jan Williams, two of our wonderful volunteers will be continuing to sort, catalogue and research the photographs.
It does mean that this will probably be my last post on this blog for a while although again, the blog will be continuing with posts being written by some of our new members of staff. I may contribute some further articles in the future but for now I’ll sign off by saying that I hope you have enjoyed some of my posts over the last few months and please do continue to log on to the blog to discover more about the exciting things that are always going on at Attingham