Who Were They?

Lost and forgotten photos from the past

Recently, I acquired a photo album that dates back to the 1860s, during the time when CdV portraiture was really taking off and photo albums became more common. The carte de visite (CdV) became available in 1859 and thrived throughout the following decades. Numerous soldiers engaged in the American Civil War took the time to be photographed in their uniform for family and loved ones to see them looking “just so,” and young ladies and gentlemen after the war took the opportunity to present themselves in the best possible fashion to their friends and prospective beaux.

Small leather bound album

Of course, any photo album can be used long after it was made or acquired by the owner, and so we often find photographs that are “younger” than the actual age of the album held lovingly within the gilded openings. This particular photo album is one such. It has openings for 30 CdVs, with approximately half being of the 1860s and the rest having been made in the 1870s. And of the 29 images enclosed within its leather binding, only one has a complete name. Truly a shame!

Side clasps

The album probably had a chain or handle of some type that attached to these side clasps. You can just see a shadow going down the middle of the gilt, in between the two clasps, although I don’t know what was there. The clasp on the right has a pair of interlocked rings, but they are missing from the left side.


The leather is tooled in intricate scrolls and turns, gilded in places, and even the spine is lovely, displaying the pride in workmanship as well as the pride of ownership that was more evident 150 years ago. A person would have been proud to have this spine showing on his bookshelf. The album itself is approximately 4.5″ wide by 5.5″ high and only about 1 1/2″ thick. The inside leaves are buff white with gilded openings, each page holding one photo that slides in from the bottom of the page. Very few pages are torn (which is common with old albums) and the photos are arranged in such a way that mostly alternates male/female photos. Many of the photos were made by the same photographer in Cumberland, MD so they are likely related in some fashion. We will go through these photos over the next few weeks, but I will start you off today with image number 1.



An unidentified man, photographed by T. L. Darnell of Cumberland, MD. I found a record of Thomas L. Darnell (1826-1908) having been a native of Maryland, and he was also well known as a stereoscopist in the 1890s. He was the preferred photographer for the people in this album and we will see many over the course of the album.

15 thoughts on “Civil War Era Album

  1. Titania says:

    This album is a wonderful piece of the history of photography. It must have been exciting to be photographed and much quicker done than a painting. How far we have come with digital photography and photoshop would amaze those earliest professional photographers
    I am always amazed how beautifully and accurate they have done the photographs.


  2. Little Nell says:

    Whata great acquistition. That album is a well-preserved example and must have been treasured indeed. What a pity you don’t know much about the identities of the subjects.


  3. mousleyka says:

    Another interesting album! I hope there is something in this one that can “scare” up some identifications! :)


  4. postcardy says:

    Your album is a real treasure.


  5. Wow, about 150 years old! A true treasure.Am looking forward to all the other photographs.


  6. ScotSue says:

    What a wonderful find! I look forward to seeing the actual photographs.


  7. Brett Payne says:

    I’ve often found photos that are older than the album, either removed from an earlier album, or inserted from a shoebox collection.


  8. Just this week I acquired some cdv’s and cabinets that were so clean and unmarked, I know they had been preserved by being in an album like this. But what a rare treat to get a whole album to explore and maybe find clues to the real history. The wonderful leather craftwork that went into making fine book bindings and albums is a lost art in today’s throw away consumer culture. Thanks for showing us the details and a tease on the photos inside.


  9. Nancy says:

    What a beautiful album. I think it’s interesting that the photos were inserted from the bottom. I would think there would be a possibility of them shifting down or falling out unless the opening is very tight. I’m looking forward to seeing more photos.


  10. Karen S. says:

    What an absolute keepsake! Very nice detail in the binding with the clasp, very exciting to own something like this, lucky you!


  11. Jo says:

    How exciting – a great treasure to find. Look forward to seeing the next CdV. Jo


  12. QMM says:

    You have 2 great treasures there. The album and the photos inside. Plenty of material for SS. Enjoyed reading about it.


  13. Bob Scotney says:

    Our local flea market always has albums for sale but none as interesting as this. A great find.


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