This lovely couple was photographed by the Dolph Brothers studio in Erie, PA. The photo dates to the 1860s based on several factors, including the woman’s dress style, the border style and the squared corners on the card. I’m going to take you through my thought process on how I’m refining the date of this image.
The back of the card is occupied with a line drawing of an artist’s palate, as well as the name and direction of the photographer. There was a trend postwar to use the reverse of the card for advertisements/accolades of the studio. The more there is on the back, the later in the era it was made. This of course isn’t a hard and fast rule, but a very common trend that helps photograph enthusiasts narrow down the dates an image was probably made.
To further the search, of course there is now the internet. I can’t imagine doing an analog search before the web, honestly! Crowd sourcing and collaboration, online city directories, genealogy websites, and other photography enthusiasts all combine to amass loads of information about photographers and photographic styles. Bear with me here, because sometimes to get to the conclusion, you have to take the scenic route.
This particular photographer, Dolph Bros, doesn’t seem to have readily available information about the actual photographers, such as names or ages, but what we do know is they had a bit of a penchant for military photography. They are well known for having photographed many members of the Union Army, in particular Colonel Strong Vincent. Vincent was shot during the courageous battle for Little Round Top during the days-long battle of Gettysburg on the other side of the state. While Joshua Chamberlain survived the battle and went on to civic greatness, Vincent did not survive his wounds, but is memorialized in Erie as a local hero. Not only does his statue stand before the Blasco Library, the first high school in Erie’s West side was named Strong Vincent High School. He died in 1863, so we know Dolph Bros was in business prior to Gettysburg which took place in July 1863.
Farrar Hall, in which the Dolph Bros studio resided, was built as part of the West Park Place commercial district between 1857 and 1865 – a block of commercial buildings bordered by 5th, Peach, Park and State streets, and intended to replace a number of wooden structures that had burned down in 1857. Farrar Hall itself was built as a joint venture between A. H. Gray, F. F. Farrar, William Caughey, and John Clemens and it was finished in 1860. The upper floor was occupied by an opera house that at its inception was grand, but by its demise was seedy. It was the original Farrar Hall, but later was renamed as the Park Opera House.
I was able to find via Revenue Collector a CDV made by Dolph Bros that has a tax stamp, so we know they were in business as early as 1862. I also found a reference to this studio in an online Erie City Directory for 1867-1868. That gives us a possible date range of 1862-1868.
So, my conclusions are:
- There is no evidence of a tax stamp on the reverse of the card. We can eliminate the earlier period of the Dolph Bros operations as when the image was made, and now we have a range of 1865-1868.
- The embellished backmark of the card was a trend toward the later half of the decade. This mirrors the 1865-1868 range.
- The portrait style showing the full body of the subject is also a post-war trend. Before this style, images often were as small as a dime in the center of the card and only showed the subject’s head. This reinforces the 1865-1868 range.
- The clothing shows us nothing remarkable or unusual that would call out a specific style or fashion trend, but in its common appearance again reinforces the date range of 1865-1868.
Should evidence surface in the future showing business operations through 1869, or some family member is able to identify this couple and prove a year it was taken, we would then possibly be able to refine the date even further. But until such time as we get more detail, I am going to stay with the 1865-1868 time frame. I’m also going to venture a guess that it could have been a wedding portrait.
Scanned examples of Civil War Tax Stamps, aka revenue stamps, via Revenue-Collector.com
A collection of Civil War Tax Stamps on this very website, Who Were They?
The history of West Park Place, via Living Places
A very brief history of Strong Vincent, via goErie.com