Reading Historical Photography

I don’t just have things for the sake of having them. For me, collecting fraternal stuff is a pleasure for the whole process of it. There is the hunt, yes. But then there is getting something home from the antique store, of receiving it in the mail, unwrapping it, looking at it, checking it for condition issues or problems, finding proper housing for it, and then photographing, measuring, cataloging, entering it in my database, and finally posting it on my Instagram or here on photosandfezzes.

Cataloging is the part that I really enjoy, more than anything. I love really getting into a photograph or a medal, pulling out my loupe, finding what all is hiding inside the image or the object. What is there to see? Well…you never know. With photography, especially, I find that images are rarely identified in any way, so I enjoy trying to ascertain a date and determine a location. Throw me a photo of some guy in a funny hat walking past a building, and I might just be able to tell you when and where it was taken. Sometimes. Certainly  not every time.


This original, full photo is 3×4″, so the writing on the building is about .125″, and grainy.

Take this photo of a Tall Cedars member marching in a parade. I got 13 photos in this group, all of them of these chaps in pointy hats either IN the parade, or AROUND the parade. Several of them show the parade passing this building. I got in there with my loupe and realized that the building had words on it, though I couldn’t quite make it out. I popped it onto my scanner and had it scan at extremely high res, and I got results!

TAFC.2012.22.XX TCL parade detail1

Click for a really big version!

The Union Trust Company. I googled, got a couple possible hits, nothing very conclusive. I knew that it was probably going to be somewhere Back East: the Tall Cedars are a primarily East Coast organization (though not exclusively). And then I did a newspaper archive search, and hit gold. Images of the Union Trust Company Building published in a newspaper in Providence, RI. It’s a big building, so it was big news when it was built and opened. And it got its picture in the paper.

TAFC.2012.22.12Okay, so this was Providence. Cool, but when was it? I’m not as good at looking at clothing, necessarily, and figuring that out: that’s not in my wheelhouse. But other photos in the group had cars in the shot, and I was again able to look close at those. And again, Google is my friend. I also don’t know anything about cars, but it’s easier to look at cars and identify them, than dresses or hats. I looked up something silly like “old cars” and scanned the the images, and surfed it out from there.

Of course, there were lots of cars to sift through. So I pulled the old archaeologist trick: it can’t be any OLDER than the YOUNGEST thing that you can see. There could be Model-T’s as far as the eye can see, but if there’s a DeLorean, then it has to be from the 1970s or after. Assuming no time travel took place. Sitting at the curb behind this guy is what looks like could be a Ford Model A, which was in production 1927-1931. That’s the latest model car I see in these photos, so I give the photos a date of ca. 1930.

A little research and time moves these 13 photographs from being a handful of great images of the Tall Cedars marching, to being able to say that Tall Cedars of Lebanon were marching in a massive parade which took place in Providence, RI around 1930. To me, that’s excellent, and that’s what I enjoy about collecting.


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