A Civil War photo album, part 1

A couple of years ago, along with a boxful of other family history items from the Black, Edel, and possibly Shearer/Scherer lines, my father passed on a 19th century photo album filled to capacity with what appear to be Civil-War-era photographs.

The album has spaces for 24 photos—cartes de visite, to be precise, or CdVs—and all but one of these spaces is filled with a CdV. Several of these CdVs are mass-produced images of Civil War military leaders, but the rest appear to be photos of family members and/or friends.

I’d like to show you the album and then try to determine who is pictured among its pages, when the album was created, and who might have owned and/or created the album. This post will serve as the record of my research efforts towards answering these questions.

First, let me show you the album as I first encountered it. The album measures 3.64 by 5.08 inches, and is held closed by an ornate brass closure. The album measures 1.20 inches thick when closed, and the closure clamps the pages down to 1.07 inches thick.

The cover of the album is somewhat worn, especially on the two free corners of the front cover, where the color is faded and the cardboard backing of the covers is visible. The thick (0.12 inch) cardboard covers are overlain with a single piece of brown cloth that spans both covers and the spine. The covers are impressed with multiple geometric and floral designs, including a gold-colored bunch of roses on the front cover. On the back cover is a corresponding, but uncolored bunch of roses. One of the top leaves of this design has been colored in with a pencil.

The spine is divided into five vertical sections by pairs of horizontal lines. Inside the second-highest section is the word “Album”, rendered in a decorative Germanic blackletter or gothic type face, gold-colored and only lightly impressed. The other four sections each have a have diamond-tipped cross. The choice of a blackletter font may point to an origin in an area with a large German population, or it may just have been a decorative choice.

Another clue as to the manufacturing origin of the album lies in the initials that are printed immediately below the opening of each sleeve: “E & H.T.A.”. These initials identify this book as being a product of E. & H.T. Anthony & Co., 124 5th Ave., New York. The company changed its name from E. Anthony & Co. to E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. in 1862, so the album had to have been manufactured in or after 1862.

Before beginning any investigation of the contents of the album, let me first show you what the pages of the album contain, in the order in which they occur in the album:

 

Whose album was this?

On the inside front cover of the album is what looks like faded and smudged writing in pencil. To my unaided eye, the writing was indecipherable. On the scanned image of the inside cover, the writing was much easier to see, but it was still difficult to make out the entirety of the inscription:

Using digital image enhancement tools, I was able to subtract the blue patterned background and modify the image histogram somewhat to make this inscription much more legible:

The inscription reads “Lewis and Lewis Ruth”. My guess is that the inscription originally read “Lewis” or “Lewis and Ruth”, but that the original (top) “Lewis” faded, became illegible, or just didn’t look right and was erased, and this omission was addressed by adding the lower “Lewis”.

Regardless of how this odd inscription came to be, it does seem to be fairly strong evidence for this having originally belonged to my step great-great-grandfather, Lewis J. Black (1839–1901) and his wife Ruth Jane (Tucker) Black (1841–1915). Lewis Black fought for the Union in the Civil War in Company G of the 32nd Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry (and was wounded by being shot in the chin, but I’ll save the details of that incident for another post).

Who is pictured in the photos of the album?

Perhaps by determining who is pictured in the album, we’ll be able to make some reasonable inferences about why the album was put together in the first place.

As a first step in determining the identity of the people pictured in the photographs, I used thin and smooth forceps (i.e., the grasping surfaces were without teeth or other friction-enhancing features) to gently grasp and extract each photo from the album for front and back scanning. The thinness of the forceps avoided opening each sleeve any more than absolutely necessary to extract each photo. After extraction, I scanned both sides of each photo, regardless of whether the back side was blank. Once scanned, the images were carefully replaced in their original sleeves.

In part 2 of this post, I’ll share the results of removing, scanning, and identifying all of the contained photos.

2 thoughts on “A Civil War photo album, part 1

  1. What a treasure to have in your documentation of your family.

    My Google Reader shows a Part 2 post on this topic, but says it’s password protected, and clicking through straight to your blog, I get this error message: “This is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it? It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.”

    • Hi Dee,

      Sorry — I temporarily published it (in a password-protected state) to give my wife access to it last night so she could help with some of the research. It’ll be published for real in the next few days (and not password-protected!).

      Michael

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