Photographs: Protective Cases and Mounts


Figure 1.--Many early portraits are undated. Often they came in cases which were highly decorated. This case was done with mother of pearl. Put your cursor on the image to see the back of the case. The characteistics of these cases can be useful in dorating the image, but we have just begun to collect information on this. The image was of an unidentified American child, we think in the late-1840s.

Early photographs were very expensive and fragile. This meant that because of the cost, storage was not a very serious problem. The cost meant that there were not very many photographs. The fragility, however, meant that they had to be well protected. Thus the initial system of little cases worked well. Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes came in these cases. Some cases were highly decorated. The mounting varied from country to country s was the popularity of the vaious formats. . A German reader tells us that these cased portraits were much less common in Germany that they were in America. The common practice in the United States was tp mount the Daguerreotype in small hinged cases. The finished Daguerreotype image was sealed in glass to protect the plate from both atmospheric and physical damage. The cases were normally made of wood with artistically crafted leather or paper coverings. We also find tin-types in these cases, although inexpensive mounts that looked liked these cases were developed for tin-types because people came to think that was how photographs should be presented. Our interest in these cases is that they can be useful in dating the portraits. This is particularly important because so few dags and ambros are dated. There are several elements of the case which can be used in dating the cases, including the case, the decorative plate, and the covering over the actual plate.

Purpose

Early photographs were very expensive and fragile. This meant that because of the cost, storage was not a very serious problem. The cost meant that there were not very many photographs. The fragility meant that they had to be well protected. Thus the initial system of little cases worked well.

Photographic Formats

Early photographers commonly provided portraits to clients in protective cases. It was Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes that most commonly came in protective cases. In fact these photographic formats are commonly associated with these cases, at least in America. We are less sure about Europe. Both were single exposure formats and very fragile. The dag was a polished metal plate which could be easily scratched. Ambrotyes were class plates. We also find tin-types in these cases. Early tin types were also enclosed in these cases, but the case could cost more than the cost of the tin-type and when these cases went out of style in the early 60s and more inexpensives approaches were found such as paper mounts. As far as we know the cases for dags and ambros were idebtical, at least the ones done in the 1850s after the anrotype pricess was developed. Tin-type cases could be different. We note inexpensive mounts that looked liked the more expansive dag amd ambro mounts. They were developed for inexpensive tin-types because people came to think that was how photographs should be presented. While not very common, we also notice CDVs in cases.

Case Construction

The finished Daguerreotype image was sealed in glass to protect the plate from both atmospheric and physical damage. The polished Dag surface could be easily scrattched. The glass Ambrotypes were even more fragile and needed a protective case. The mounting varied from country to country. For some reason we do not see many cased Dags or Ambros innbEurope. We are not sure why. The common practice in the United States was tp mount the Daguerreotype and Anbrotypes in small hinged cases. They are very common. Early tintypes were also often cased, but this convention was deopped in the early-1860s. They wwre more durable than Dags and Ambros and their sellin point was low cost. Often there was a little hook or clasp to keep the case sealed. The cases were normally made of wood in two pieces than hinged togeher. The leather construction was more apparent in Japan. Thus a Daguerreotype studio also had people to do the wood working for the cases. In America the wood was always covered with artistically crafted leather, guttapercha, or other decoirative material. Thus we do not see the actual wood case.

Decorative Protective Cases

There were several different types of decorative protective cases. The most common was cases with decorated leather which could be elaborately done, The motifs also varied. The leather was worked into quite a variety of designs. There were other types. Less expensive molded paper was also used. The fancy case here was done in mother of pearl Ffigure 1). There were also an early plastic material, gutta perca. These were called union cases. Some times the thermoplastic case is described as "gutta percha", but this is incorrect. The Union Case was pattented in 1854 although we seem to notice some a little earlier. Unfortunately we do not always know the type of decorative covering for the dags and ambros archived on HBC.

Frame

Inside the protective cases was commonly a metal frame to hold the metal plate (daguereotype) or glass plate (ambrotype) with the image securely in place. Some early tintypes were simarly cased. Some of these frames were very plain. Others were ornate. Often the frame opening was cut in curved shield like designs. These were often done to look like they were gilded. I think they may have been made in bronze. Some were plain square or oval , but there were many more ornate frames. A good example is a dag done of the Wallis brothers in 1852. We note a similar example of an unidentified child. Some feames were done with sraight, angled sides. A good example is a portrait of Eddie Lincoln made about 1849. This was less common than the curved designs. There were also differences in the finish. Some were simply polished without any ormamental work. Others has surfaces tht had been worked, such as the Eddie Lincoln dag.

Identification

One downside of these wonderful cased images is that the subjects are rarely identified. Unless they have remained in the family, the subjects are often unknown. There was no easy way of inscribing them on rge back as was the case for CDVs and cabinent cards. The owners cold put a little note in the case, but unfortnately this did not happen often. And unlike CDVs and cabinent cards the photograopher's information was not inscribed oin a convenient mount. A few studios did manage to provide a record of their work. This was done in two ways. We note the photographer's name impressed in some metal frames. We also note the studio informtion pressed into the velvet cushion. Neither was very common, but we do note examples of both.

Chronology

Our interest in these cases is that they can be useful in dating the portraits. This is particularly important because so few dags and ambros are dated. There are several elements of the case which can be used in dating the cases, including the case, the decorative plate, and the covering ocer the actual plate.

Country Trends

These cases appear to be primarily an American ohenomenon. A German reader tells us that these cased portraits were much less common in Germany that they were in America. This reflects the fact tht Daguerreotypes and Ambrotypes were not very common in Germany (1840s-50). We have no definitive information on the prevalence of Daguerreotypes in various countries or the prevalences of these protective cases. The same appers to be the case even in France where Dags were devloped as well as Britain. Almost all the examples of the cases we have found have been American. This may be because HBC is an American site and our sources are largely, but not exclusively American. And our foreign readers confirm that these cases and examples of early photographic formats are rare. We think the lack of copyright control in America helped Daguerreotype photography expand very rapidly in America. We do not yet undersyand why we have found so few European examples, but copyright law may have been an important factor in limiting the rate of growth of the industry..

Mounts

While the protective cases were the primary way of protecting dags, there were other methods. We note small dags being mounted on gilded paper in 1849. The dags were portraits of the Dennis children.







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Created: 3:16 AM 1/9/2007
Last updated: 6:36 PM 5/9/2012