Sometimes, photographers were only as good as the conditions available to them, and sometimes they weren’t very good at setting their chemicals. I’m not sure which is the case in this particular photograph. It was made by B. F. Vance in Bluff City, TN. We know it was made in the 1890s due to the deckled edges of the cabinet card. Of interest, the town of Bluff City had numerous name changes between its founding in 1767 and incorporation in 1887. It was incorporated in 1887 as Bluff City, but was previously known as Choate’s Ford, Union, Middletown, and Zollicoffer. It has consistently been a small town, beginning with fewer than 500 residents in the 1880s and growing to just over 1500 on the most recent census. On the Northeastern edge of the state, it’s somewhat near Knoxville but closer to Virginia.
When I first saw this card, I thought it might be possible to bring back some of the image with our modern photo editing software. The details are there, but the image is so washed out, it’s really difficult to see with the naked eye. I literally took off my glasses and brought it right close so I could actually see – the store we were in didn’t have the best lighting on top of this being faded. I could see the telegraph, and so I had to bring it home to try.
Here’s what I could come up with by changing the lighting and sharpening the image. You can see a young man sitting at his desk. His telegraph is in front of him, and there is a sheet of paper on the desk. You can see he has a cap on his head, a nice necktie, buttoned coat, and some kind of watch fob near his waist. He must have been proud of his work. I wonder if he worked for Western Union.