Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How a gentleman should properly pose himself in a fake setting

This is a standard 19th century cabinet card — a thin portrait photograph mounted on heavy card stock measuring 4¼ by 6½ inches.

The card was produced by the New York Gallery, which was located at 411 North Sixth Street in Reading, Pennsylvania.1

There is no indication who this man is. But he makes a valiant attempt at not looking too silly while standing in the midst of an obviously fake setting. It appears that everything from the props department was thrown into the frame: a flat piece of fence, a tree, an ornate "stone" wall and a painted backdrop featuring an house that's not really in proportion with anything else.

Perhaps his serious look has something to do with how much he's paying for this portrait. According to one secondhand source I came across, cabinet cards cost about 50 cents apiece. Assuming that's true and assuming this portrait dates to around 1890, that would be the equivalent of $12 to $13 today.

Anyway, the good news is that by the time I was ready for my first school portraits, many decades after this gentleman posed for his, we were long past the age of silly props and fake backdrops.

Oh, wait...

Never mind.

1. There's an interesting story involving Reading's Grimshaw Silk Mill, the New York Gallery, a deadly tornado and a commemorative cabinet card. You can find it about 3/4 of the way down this history page on the Grimshaw Origins and History website.


  1. ..."never mind"....I couldn't stop laughing...

  2. Chris just told me, "I still have those pants."

    I desperately hope not, but it's at least possible.

    At least I'm always the better-dressed partner.


    His Wife