I have a downstairs neighbour (also a knitter) who, in the course of her work, often comes across interesting objects. She sometimes brings these up to show me, and together we will enthuse over a gorgeous set of art-deco buttons or an ancient pair of butter-pats. The other day she brought up a very special object, which I thought you’d like to see.

It resembles a small bible, but it isn’t.

One clasp is broken, but the other is in fine shape. The pages are heavy, gilt-edged.

Shall we look inside?

On the first leaf is a print of a young and grieving Queen Victoria.

It is a photograph album. A typically Victorian repository of memory.

The style of the clasped book, and the particular settings of the cartes-de-visites dates it, I’d say, to the late 1860s.

But there are many types of studio portrait in here, from the 1850s to the 1890s.

This fragile-looking woman has a face that seems to recede from the camera. Her shawl is simple and heavy – perhaps the property of a photographer who requires some drapery to set this pale and light-boned figure off against the studio background.

I love the drape of the mantle over the crinoline; the detail around the skirt; the combination of the mantle’s internal pockets with the rather elaborate corded bag.

You can almost hear the rustle of her dark, heavy silks.

His beard-quiff combo is really quite extraordinary.

And I love the jewelery and piled hair of this woman of later era, who appears in the album several times.

To whose memories do these faces, long dead, belong?

41 thoughts on “album

  1. A curious item – so sad you don’t know who these people ‘belong’ to? I’d be delightedtohave such elegant folks in my Family Tree – although, saying that, there are enough curious people nestlings in my ‘branches’ already! ;-p

  2. I have box of old photos of my grandma’s full of people i don’t know; some with names, some without. I’ve always liked imagining their lives.

  3. Oh what treasure! As the self-styled family historian for our motley crew, I would go completely off my head if I stumbled upon such a thing. Just to hold such a precious thing would be a treat indeed.

  4. I used to live in town and wander in a huge antigue store – there were 7 floors of stuff you could get lost for days.
    the old photo albums always made me a bit sad. I would wonder what happened to the family and why some one didn’t care enough to keep the photos for themselves. Lately I have been finding quilt tops at odd sales and thrift stores. Or maybe they are finding me cause I rescue them and finish them. At first these seem sadder to me than the abandoned photo albums. There is so much history in the little scraps of fabric and so much care put into the arrangement of color. Don’t get me started on the tiny stitches that someone carefully made so she could cover her loved ones bed and brighten their bedroom. But then as I worked on the covers finishing them I found they talked to me and I like to think that the women that stitched them are glad the quilts are finished and keeping my family warm at night. But I wonder when I see photo albums and stitched handiwork whatever happened to these families and why the children didn’t keep these things for themselves. Luckily this photo album has been found and will be treasured.

  5. Beautiful! Thanks to you and your neighbor for sharing. I love the detailed ornamentation. This was obviously a precious collection for someone. You can’t attach the same sense of gravity to photos when they are viewed by flipping through a mobile phone or a computer screen, can you?

  6. I love seeing these old photographs… It reminds me… It reminds me of how little we mean to the world, how quickly we, and with us everything we cherished and called our “daily life” become obsolete and vanish…
    It sure is an awesome find, this album…
    and the bizarre haircut of the bearded man made me laugh xD

  7. Wonderful photos. I’m always telling anyone who’ll listen, please put full names of the subjects on the back of your photos. One day when you’re gone no one is going to know who ‘Auntie Glad’ or ‘Dad’ or even ‘me’ refers too!

  8. Very moving thoughts about these long-gone people. I grew up with my grandparents and great-aunt, all born in the early 1890s, and have family photos and deguerreotypes dating back to the 1850s. Some of the subjects in those early portraits would have been born in the 18th century. You’ve made me want to get them out and have a closer look, perhaps frame a few for display.

  9. Sometimes there are no children to inherit. I have a box of old photos – same era, different continent. I have no idea who the people are, but I could not bear to see the photos discarded. All I know is that the woman who was the last blood relation of these people died without an heir. Her belongings went to a friend, who then left them to my friend, who then gave them to me. All these solemn black and white lives, all the intricately braided hair, all the extraordinarily trimmed dresses…. Truly, we pass like shadows on this planet.

  10. How lucky that someone who would care for it should come across that album.

    The oldest photos in my family’s albums date back only to the 1880’s, but of course some of the people in them were born around the turn of the 19th century. It’s interesting to reflect on which people were considered handsome or beautiful in their day, and which homely. The woman in the next-to-last photo (a lovely portrait) is a freckled redhead – was she teased for that, considered hopelessly out of the running in the beauty stakes? Was Mr. Dramatic-Wave laughed at or envied for his elaborate hair? The couple in the bottom photo are good-looking to our eyes, if we look past clothing and hairstyles that may no longer appeal; will they still seem handsome in three or four more generations?

  11. I believe there are genealogy websites where you can post such abandoned photographs, in the hopes that someone will recognize them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to find their rightful homes?

  12. By the way, when I first saw the picture of the clasp (at the top of this page), I thought you were going to show us that it had inspired your latest pattern.

  13. I have always thought I lives in the Victorian era I love every thing about it as my sister says I obviously lived above stairs. These pictures just give me goosebumps. Thanks for sharing.

  14. What wonderful pictures and how much fun to think about the stories that the people might have had. Like the thin, sad faced girl with the shawl? So intriguing. What a lovely find.

  15. It’s been 25 years now since my beautiful mother passed away and on last weekend my Dad as only just got around to going through their od photos. He digitally scanned them & emailed them to me. They were a lovely surprise but even he doesn’t know who all the people are! So I have made a promise to myself to go through all my photos & note the contents. It’s interesting as well to comment as to where the photo is set, especially if there is scenery in the background. My boys aren’t really interested now, but they probably will be one day.

  16. I wonder if the woman wearing the crinoline and mantle was pregnant? A fascinating peep into someone else’s life. A bit like sitting on the top deck of the bus and looking into people’s sitting rooms.

  17. how lovely of your neighbor to share with you, and you in turn with us.
    i love this type of memoir. whispers of the spirits – what lives did they lead.
    how many yards of fabric in those dresses!

  18. What a lovely treat!! Did your neighbor tell you where she got the album? Thank you so much for sharing. I, too, thought the clasp was an inspiration for a new pattern.

  19. I’m so glad that someone who cares now owns these photographs, and that – through you – they have a wider circulation and a bit more life. I do find abandoned old portraits sad, probably because as a family we have tons, but all are ‘owned’ and with my grandfather’s stories / memories written on the back. Memories are so fragile…

    Right, that’s it – sniff – I’m off for cake.

  20. Oh the treasure! I love these so much, my grand dad made an album of photographs of his family from his english mother until my dad. There are photos from the 1918, 1920 or so, until the 80’s, and if it’s most photos about people i knew my grand dad, my beloved granny and their children, friends… and it’s kind of magic to see them wearing different fashion era and still recognizing their faces and discovering the elders ones.
    After my grand father made this album, my mum did the same with her family, it’s the same magic all the time to open these albums, a real delight!

    1. that is really interesting! And quite typical of this sort of album, I think. Folk often liked to include pictures of the royal family. I didn’t recognise Alfred & Alexandra, but they are the last pair of photographs in the album – Queen Victoria opens it – sort of like Royal bookends. Thanks, Anu!

      1. If that is so, a little digging will probably unearth that all the pictures in this little book are related to either Queen Victoria or Prince Albert which would make this little photo album quite a treasure indeed!

  21. It is like disturbing ghosts in a very old mansion, some seem happy, some seem ready to talk, some look sad and others haven’t even noticed you were there. Should you believe in ghosts.

  22. Beautiful post Kate. What a time, to me they always give the impression from these types of photos, that their day was longer, more peaceful, and ordered than ours are today. I could see an image of the ancient Goddess on the hinged clasp of the book.

  23. I love this album! It reminds me of one, very similar actually, that I found in the bins of old photos of my Grandma when we moved her out of her house….they were old family photos from when our family still lived in the dales of Yorkshire, before they came to Liverpool. So beautiful!!!!

  24. I loved the photos. thaks for giving us a peek in the past.I have pictures of my grand mother and my great grand mother, the clothes are just lovely.some where down the line of family. one of my ancestors came from England. and I would love to trace his history. I love your site, keep it going.

  25. My husband’s family has a book of similar looks full of daguerreotypes ( I think that is what they are…early photos on glass, right?) of family members that date back to the Civil War in America. It is fascinating to look at such a piece of history.

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)