Bring back some good or bad memories

June 1, 2020

Here’s the Earliest Known Image of Enslaved African Americans, ca. 1850s

A quarter plate daguerreotype believed to be the earliest known image of African American slaves with cotton was purchased by the Hall Family Foundation on behalf of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in November 2019. The estimate for the image was between $100,000–150,000, but bidding for the rare photograph was furious, bringing the price up to $324,500.

An image of the Gentry daguerreotype with the frame removed. Unknown maker, American. Slaves on cotton plantation, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype, quarter plate. (Gift of the Hall Family Foundation)

Though its exact provenance may never be known, this daguerreotype is believed to depict the rural Greene County, Georgia plantation of Samuel T. Gentry (1798-1873). Gentry moved to Greene County from South Carolina sometime between 1820 and 1830. By 1830 his family included six white members, and three enslaved African Americans.

While other Gentrys lived in Georgia at the time this image was taken, Federal Slave Schedules from 1850 and 1860 indicate a mere handful were slave holders. And only one – Samuel T. Gentry – (sometimes listed as “Saml”) owned at least 10 slaves, the number depicted in this daguerreotype. From 1850 to 1860, Gentry owned between fifteen and eighteen men, women, and children.

At the time of this writing, the Gentry daguerreotype is the only known antebellum image showing enslaved African Americans displaying cotton, the agricultural product that dominated the economy of the Southern states and elevated a land-owner class through its cultivation. While other images showing the juxtaposition of enslaved African Americans and cotton are known from the Union occupations of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas, this image predates them.

Unknown maker, American. Slaves on cotton plantation, ca. 1850. Daguerreotype, quarter plate. (Gift of the Hall Family Foundation)

More importantly, the Gentry daguerreotype documents slavery in a far more humble setting than the large coastal plantations depicted in post-Civil War images taken by Samuel Cooley and other photographers who accompanied the Union Army. In these Sea Island plantations, hundreds of slaves were owned by a small class of planter elites, providing their families with access to luxuries only dreamed of by the vast majority of Georgians. While this is the vision most Americans have of the antebellum south, the Gentry daguerreotype depicts a different reality.

At the beginning of the Civil War, only 37% of Georgia’s free families owned slaves; about 15% of these families owned more than 20, and the vast majority owned six slaves or fewer. The 1860 Federal Slave Schedule enumerates 8,398 slaves in Greene County, with 53 slaveholders owning more than 35 slaves each (about 35% of the total). The remaining slaves were distributed among 524 owners. Gentry is listed as owning real property valued at $2,900, and personal property valued at $12,000; presumably this latter figure incorporates the value of his eighteen slaves. Samuel Gentry was no mere yeoman farmer, but neither was he a member of the upper stratum of the planter class. In a world where wealth was measured by land and slaves, Gentry was simply a man who was striving for more; he was clearly “on his way up” the socio-economic ladder.

It is probable that Gentry commissioned this photograph to document his prosperity. The photographer carefully posed the scene so that the family “wealth” is clearly on display: ten enslaved African Americans are visible in the picture, with several displaying baskets of cotton perched atop their heads. Cotton – the production of which was made possible by Gentry’s slaves – is an integral part of the tableau.

Gentry himself is believed to be the man in the top hat at the left of the plate. He leans on a cane, held in his left hand. Below his knees movement is clearly visible – perhaps a dog jumping and straining at a leash? Such a denizen would hardly be a surprising element of plantation life, where the threat of violence was an everyday part of enslavement.

The two-story building at center also figures prominently as a symbol of the Gentry family wealth. While not an imposing mansion, it is an integral element of the scene. The end of the structure visible to the viewer lacks windows, suggesting an original two story building constructed of logs and later covered by lap board. The front and rear galleries are high and inset beneath the broken slope of the roof, the double-wing structure of which is commonly found in Georgia. The rows of tall, narrow posts on either side of the structure may have served as temporary supports for the roof, anticipating the later addition of a more elegant colonnade, or just as likely were a cost-sensitive attempt to refine the façade.

The log building in the foreground at right features half-dovetail notching, a construction technique prevalent throughout much of the south in the early and mid-nineteenth century. Short boards nailed end-to-end cover the upper logs of the exterior, suggesting an attempt to dress the cabin to match the residence, though not at the expense of using long milled boards; the lower portion of the cabin reveals its original character. This outbuilding contrasts with the main house and, whether as a smokehouse or slave cabin, adds to the rural nature of the scene.

A large well enclosed by unpainted planking is visible in the foreground indicating that the residence lacked a cistern, a means of capturing water used by homes of a grander manner. The scale of the crank mechanism is large and features two handles, indicating the well had been deeply dug to reach a water-table consistent with an upland setting. This simple but necessary feature contrasts with the residence. No attempt has been made to present it as anything other than a functional element of daily life.

The daguerreotype captures Gentry’s rural status and achievements. Between 1830 and 1860, his slave-holdings had increased from three to eighteen. This increase in wealth allowed him to cover his two-story log cabin with white painted clapboard, add a new roofline and build two large overhanging galleries supported by rudimentary columns to add dimension and vertical importance to the building’s appearance. And yet, as the log outbuilding and crude well proclaim, Gentry’s socioeconomic status was impossibly distant from the wealthiest planters.

The world that Gentry and his family occupied forever changed with the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Two of Gentry’s sons, Samuel Jr. and Robert A., enlisted in the Greene Light Guards, serving in Company I of the 8th Georgia Infantry. Little is known of Samuel Jr.’s service; Robert was wounded twice and served the entirety of the war. At war’s end both returned to a much diminished economic reality. By 1870 Samuel Jr. was a tenant farmer living with a wife and daughter in nearby Hancock County with personal property valued at $375. Robert remained in Greene County, farming and caring for a family and his elderly father. By this time the family owned real estate valued at $2500 and personal property valued at $500. Samuel Sr. died in 1873.

(via Cowan's Auctions)

40 Beautiful Wedding Group Photos From the Early 20th Century

Like the technology of photography itself, the practice of wedding photography has evolved and grown since the invention of the photographic art form in 1826 by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. In fact, an early photograph, recorded some 14 years after the fact, may be a recreation for the camera of the 1840 wedding of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert. However, in the early days of photography, most couples of more humble means did not hire a photographer to record the actual wedding itself. Until the later half of the 19th century, most people didn’t pose for formal wedding photos during the wedding. Rather, they might pose for a formal photo in their best clothes before or after a wedding. In the late 1860s, more couples started posing in their wedding clothes or sometimes hired a photographer to come to the wedding venue.

Due to the nature of the bulky equipment and lighting issues, wedding photography was largely a studio practice for most of the late 19th century. Over time, technology improved, but many couples still might only pose for a single wedding portrait. Wedding albums started becoming more commonplace towards the 1880s, and the photographer would sometimes include the wedding party in the photographs. Often the wedding gifts would be laid out and recorded in the photographs as well.

At the beginning of the 20th century, color photography became available, but was still unreliable and expensive, so most wedding photography was still practiced in black and white. The concept of capturing the wedding “event” came about after the Second World War. Using film roll technology and improved lighting techniques available with the invention of the compact flash bulb, photographers would often show up at a wedding and try to sell the photos later. Despite the initial low quality photographs that often resulted, the competition forced the studio photographers to start working on location.

Initially, professional studio photographers might bring a lot of bulky equipment, thus limiting their ability to record the entire event. Even “candid” photos were more often staged after the ceremony. In the 1970s, the more modern approach to recording the entire wedding event started evolving into the practice as we know it today, including a more “Documentary photography” style of photography.

55 Gorgeous Portrait Photos of the 1930s Beauties Taken by Ernest Bachrach

Born 1899 in New York, American photographer Ernest Bachrach was one of the most influential and admired of all the Hollywood portrait photographers. He headed the photographic department at RKO from its inception in 1929 until his retirement in the late 1950s.

(L-R) Lupe Velez, Carole Lombard, and Katharine Hepburn taken by Ernest Bachrach in the 1930s

Bachrach shot and custom printed most of the portraits of the stars employed by RKO during these decades, among them Dolores Del Rio, Fred Astaire, and Katharine Hepburn. He was also a frequent contributor to American Cinematographer and International Photographer.

Bachrach explains that, as a rule, it is advantageous to know his sitters relatively well. Like a director, he plays upon their emotions and induces the mood and expressions he desires.
“Portraiture is very closely akin to cinematography. The cinematographer has very little need for accessories in the making of close-ups; all he needs is a face and some lights and shadows. And that is all the portrait artist needs. Occasionally – but only occasionally – minor props are useful.”
Bachrach died in 1973 at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, California.

These gorgeous photos are part of his work that Ernest Bachrach took portraits of classic beauties  the 1930s.

Ann Harding

Ann Harding

Ann Harding

Ann Harding

Ann Harding

May 31, 2020

Found Photos Capture Young Women of Chicago in Swimsuits From the Late 1940s

The bikini was officially invented in 1946 and named after the Bikini Atoll in the south Pacific, where the U.S. performed nuclear tests. This suit was tiny, revealing the belly button and buttocks.

Most public beaches banned the use of this new tiny swimsuit till the ’50s.  However, this wasn’t the style of two-piece that was usually worn in the ’40s – it was a little bit too revealing.

Before the bikini, women started wearing two-piece swimsuits that looked just like one-piece bathing suits cut in half. The top was a full-coverage bra top, either with two thin straps or a halter top. The bottom looked like a tight mini-skirt, starting from the waistline and covering the entire backside. Another popular style of skirt for the two-piece was a flared skirt bottom of the same length. A top that started to gain in popularity was even more revealing – a bandeau top with strings attached to the center front that tied at the neck.

By the late 1940s, one and two-piece swimsuits were losing even more modesty. The strapless two piece was especially popular to those brave enough to wear them.

Here below is a cool set of found photos that shows amateur models of Chicago in two-piece swimsuits around 1949.

Operation Mustang: The Story of How Ford Put a 1966 Mustang on Top of the Empire State Building

When the Empire State Building opened in 1931 as the world’s then-tallest building – a title it held for nearly 40 years – no one would have envisioned trying to transport a car up in the original elevators. But in 1965, a prototype Mustang convertible was sliced into three main sections plus windshield so that the sections would fit into those elevators.

In the fall of 1965, Robert Leury, Vice President and General Manager of the Empire State Building, invited William Benton, the Ford Division Merchandising Manager, over for a quick meeting. With the Mustang frenzy taking over the news, Leury had an idea.

Benton then returned back to Ford’s headquarters and formed a team of eight. The setting was established, but just how were they going to get a 1966 Ford Mustang onto the 86th floor observation deck of the world’s tallest, most iconic building? This was indeed a challenge considering the spire and the sloping upper architecture of the Empire State Building was too complex and dangerous for any helicopter. It was time to conjure up a new approach.

Ford engineers made the trip to New York with measuring tapes in hand and carefully took note of the building’s dimensions including halls, doorways, rooms and elevators. That’s when they found out just how they were going to get that little ‘66 Mustang convertible up to the top – slice it into pieces, bring it up through the elevator and reassemble it back together up on the observation deck. This needed to be a clean operation. That meant no slicing the sheet metal, trick hinges or fake fiberglass panels. Everything had to appear to be a stock production Ford Mustang.

Once back in Dearborn, the team went back to work. The Mustang was a total of 15 feet long, which had to fit into a seven-foot-tall elevator. They cut the body of the white convertible into four main sections – windshield; front end; center body and rear end.

To simplify access, the center console and doors were temporarily removed. Next up, the transmission, engine and driveshaft were all removed from the body.To reassemble the car, a series of brackets were designed and fabricated so the pieces could slide together and bolt down in place, enough to act as a display car. Needed to move the heavy pieces around, a rolling dolly was built to guide the front and rear halves in and out of the elevators. Practice runs were made in similar elevators at the Ford headquarters in Dearborn and everything seemed to go as planned.

The date was set for 10:30 p.m. on October 20, 1965 to get this car to the top of the observation deck. Decked out in white overalls, they met at the bottom of the 1,472-foot-tall building. In front of onlookers, they disassembled the Mustang and started the trip as planned to get the parts into the elevator.

Just when things seemed to be going perfectly, the front section was exactly ¼-inch too tall to fit through the elevator door with the steering wheel in the way. With a few adjustments they were able to slip through the doorway. Once out on the observation deck, the team took the sections and reassembled the car around 4:30 a.m. with gusting 40mph winds. News helicopters hovered over the building to begin aerial photography. When 11 a.m. rolled around, the photographers had their shots and the car was disassembled once again and then put back together in the observation floor’s inner room where it met an estimated 14,000 visitors just that first day, and who knows how many visitors during the months that followed.

The spectacle created at the Empire State building was high-profile marketing that worked and attracted people to the showrooms that year. In 1966, Ford sold an impressive 607,568 Mustangs, which is the most ever in a single year. By March 1966, an incredible 1 million units were sold since its launch, about the same time the Mustang convertible sitting on top of the tallest building retired from the highest showroom floor around.

Once again restored to robust health and with the hazards of Operation Mustang safely concluded, the 1966 convertible recuperates while perched on a corner of the 86th floor parapet. The car was later moved inside the building to the observation deck where it will be on public display to be viewed by thousands of visitors to the famed landmark until next spring. It is the first car ever to be put on the observation deck and the biggest and heaviest object ever on display there.

Dressed in spotless white coveralls, a team of automotive “surgeons” unloads a brand-new 1966 Ford Mustang convertible on 33rd Street in Manhattan alongside the world’s tallest building.

Preliminary steps in preparing a 1966 Mustang for major surgery involved in moving it to the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building for display get underway on 33rd Street alongside the world’s tallest building. Dressed in spotless white coveralls, a team of automotive “surgeons” removes seats and console from the car and sorts smaller parts on sheets of antiseptic-like plastic foam.

The operation to tear down a whole and healthy Mustang, 15 long, into four major sections and many smaller pieces enters a critical stage. The well-trained team of specialists skillfully and cautiously separates two sections by unfastening clamps and sliding pipe rails apart on both sides of the car. The technique of reducing the Mustang into four sections proceeded so smoothly, the job was successfully completed in about an hour.

Four members of the crew that disassembled a 1966 Mustang before taking it to the top of the Empire State Building relax after the completing the first state of their operation. The car was split up on New York City’s West 33rd Street, taken inside piece by piece, and whisked to the 86th floor on passenger elevators. It was then reassembled on the observation deck.

The front third of the dismembered Mustang was tucked into a waiting elevator and whisked to the 86th floor observation area. The front and rear sections of the car were wheeled into the lobby of the Empire States Building in rickshaw fashion.

The 1966 Mustang on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in New York in 1965.

Vintage Photos Capture Inside the ‘Jolly Tar’ Tavern Car, a Real Pub That Ran on Rails in London From the Late 1940s

The ‘Jolly Tar’ Tavern cars were a novel concept putting the characteristic elements of a country pub into a railway carriage. They ran on the British Railways Southern Region. Passengers bought food and drinks in the cars, which were internally decorated and furnished as pubs. They were introduced in 1948, for commuters, to make their journeys more comfortable, but were soon withdrawn, as they were widely criticized.

During the 1930s, New Zealand-born Oliver Bulleid was Chief Mechanical Engineer on the Southern Railway; during which time he designed such steam locomotives as the ‘Merchant Navy Class’, the ‘West CountryClass’, the ‘Battle of Britain Class’ and the somewhat ugly wartime austerity class of ‘Q1’s’, in addition to two double-decker electrictrains and the ill-fated ‘Leader’ locomotive.

In addition to steam locomotives, he also designed coaches for the Southern Railway. And in 1949 he hit upon the radical idea of providing a better, classier refreshment car than those in use at the time.

Oliver Bulleid’s idea was to create a tavern.

Between 1949 and 1951, Bulleid took the standard buffet/refreshment car and gutted the whole interior. He then furnished the entire carriage in a style similar to that of a typical English country tavern. It is believed that he modeled his ‘tavern’ on The Chequers Inn at Pulborough, Sussex.

The decoration inside was based on a traditional pub, so they had rough white washed walls and dark oak beams, and high backed dark wood seats (settles). Even the windows in the train carriage were rather small olde style leaded panes, and the floor was designed to look like country pub floor tiles.

The external decoration was a joy to behold. The usual Southern Railway paintwork was removed and replaced with a totally unique design. The outside of the coach was divided horizontally. The bottom half looked like brickwork, while the top half was colored cream intersected by black timbering.

To top everything off, the cream and timber section displayed a pictorial pub sign panel with lettering saying, “At the sign of the Jolly Jack Tar”, (or “At the sign of the White Horse/George and Dragon/Red Lion” etc.).

Four of Bulleid’s Taverns became a reality and were subsequently put into service. Eight sets of two carriages were planned and each was given a traditional pub name — The White Horse, The Salutation, The Jolly Tar, The Dolphin, The Bull, The Green Man, The Crown, and Three Plovers.

The car isn’t cheap, with the eight trains costing £64,000 out of British Rail’s total restaurant car budget for the year of £281,000.

On the whole the public enjoyed traveling and drinking in a ‘pub-on-wheels’; however, there were dark clouds gathering on the horizon.

The Bulleid Taverns became a hot topic for debate in the House of Commons, where the majority of MPs denounced the unusual coaches as nothing more than “shoddy Tudoresque monstrosities”. A letter of protest, published in The Times, was signed by heads of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Royal College of Art, the Council of Industrial Design and the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

James Callaghan MP, who was at the time Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, went on to say that “nobody likes these tavern cars except for the public”.

Regardless of the opinions of those in power, who had totally misjudged the popular mood, the taverns remained in service for around ten years with their interiors intact before being returned to the standard design of the time. The highly controversial ‘brickwork’ however was removed within a couple of years of entering service.

Bulleid’s Taverns may have been a bit outlandish, some may even say tacky; but they came at a time when Britain was devoid of color and originality as it struggled to recover from the deprivation of the war years.

It seems a shame that no examples of the Bulleid Tavern survived to the present day. Perhaps our modern railways could have learned a thing or two about pleasing the public.

(Photos: Getty Images, via Train Photos UK)

Spanish Classic Beauty: 35 Vintage Photos of Rocío Dúrcal in the 1960s

Born 1944 as María de los Ángeles de las Heras Ortiz in Madrid, Spanish singer and actress Rocío Dúrcal began her artistic career by participating in various radio song festivals and competitions.

In 1959, Dúrcal participated in the television program Primer Aplauso, broadcast by Televisión Española. The theme that she chose for the contest was the traditional song “La sombra vendo”. Luis Sanz, a Madrid manager who watched the show, was impressed by her talent and personality. Sanz contacted the program for the name and the address of the young contestant.

Dúrcal had her film debut in Canción de Juventud (1961). The movie scored huge box office and critics success. This success was repeated in other Spanish-speaking countries where the movie was shown. Immediately Dúrcal became the star of Rocío de La Mancha. Following this, she got her first record deal with transnational Phonogram (now Universal Music). The songs the artist played in both films served to make her first album, Las películas de Rocío Dúrcal (1962).

Her other notable films included Tengo 17 años (1964), Más bonita que ninguna (1965), Acompáñame (1966), Amor en el Aire (1967), and Cristina Guzmán (1968). Her last film was in Me Siento Extraña in 1977.

In 2005, Dúrcal received a Latin Grammy Award for musical excellence, a prize that is awarded by the Governing Board of the Recording Latin Academy to artists who have made creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance during their careers.

Rocío Dúrcal died in 2006 at the age of 61 from uterine cancer at her home in Torrelodones, Madrid.

Take a look at these vintage photos to see the beauty of young Rocío Dúrcal in the 1960s.

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