Friday, August 3, 2012

Dating an Old Photo. Help!

Is anyone up for a photo analysis session? I've written about William H. and Lucinda Ballenger before. Lately, I've been trying to prove Lucinda's date of death (which we'll discuss in another post). The existence of this picture might be crucial in establishing whether Lucinda was alive at a particular point. It's time to analyze it in detail to attempt to put a date to it.

Now I know many of you are way better at dating old pictures than I am. So I put it to you. Here are a few points to consider:
  • The card the picture is mounted on measures 4.25 x 6.5 inches.
  • The card has a gold border along the edge and is less than 1/16 of an inch.
  • The card has rounded corners.
  • The paper the photo printed on is fairly thin and has a sheen.
  • Coloring of the picture is kind of a grayish greenish or gray yellowish.
  • The photographer is Dudley of Boulder, Colorado.
I'll provide more information in another post after getting some feedback. I don't want to bias anyone with commentary.

What do you think? When was this taken? I'll be eternally grateful for your help.

Here's the backside:

Source: Grandpa & Grandma Ballenger Grand Parents of Frances E. Lowe. Photograph. Original, privately held by Michelle Goodrum, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE]. 2012.

URL for this post:

© 2012, copyright Michelle Goodrum


  1. Have you checked city directories in Colorado for how long the photographer was in business?

  2. I'll be interested in hearing everyone's opinion, b/c I have a few photos that are similar in appearance that I don't know much about. (I don't have them scanned yet, so I can't show them off) My not-so-educated guess is the 1890s.

    Any directories for Boulder floating about? Figuring when Dudley was in business would be helpful in pinning down the date further, if you don't already know that info, that is.

  3. Hi Michelle. I was able to locate a list of photographer from the Boulder Library that puts the Dudley Photography business between 1894-95. Here's a link to the pdf...hope it helps:

  4. Well I am no expert either, but the pictures I have that are like that one are all from the 1890s.

  5. This is a cabinet print, a format that was introduced in the 1860s and at its most popular in the 1890s before postscard became popular in the 1900s. The sheen, colour and fading suggest that it was produced using the albument process.

    The vignetting and head and shoulders composition was popular in the 1890s in Britian.

    There is not much to go on for dating on internal evidence. The lady is not dressed in the fashionable 'leg o' mutton' sleeves, but older people often lagged behind the fashions and dressed conservatively.

    Overall, I think 1890s is most likely, but can't rule out a wider date range.

    1. Thank you Sue. So with the photographer being in business around 1894-5 but not being sure about the attire, I'm wondering if it's possible the picture was taken earlier than the 1890s and not printed up until the 1890s. I'm trying to cover all possibilities here.

      I imagine it wasn't as easy as walking in the shop with the negative and saying, "Print up 6 copies of this please."

  6. This is a cabinet print, a format that was introduced in the 1860s, and reached it's greatest popularity in the 1890s before postcards became popular in the 1900s. The sheen, colour and fading suggest that it was produced using the albumen process.

    The head and shoulders composition and vignetting were popular in Britian in the 1890s.

    There is not much to go on for dating on internal evidence. The lady is not wearing the fashionable 1890s "leg o' mutton" sleeves, but older people often lagged behind in fashion and dressed conservatively.

  7. Ah - someone beat me to it! Check with the Boulder library. That photographer was active for only a short period. The studio existed for six years, it seems:
    Take a look at footnote 21, there are reference books that include this particular photographer that might help you date it even more closely.

  8. Were these Ballenger/Ballinger early Quakers?

  9. Can't help with the photo, but I'll have to check in with your blog now and then. You may be interested in doing a guest post at my memoir site Wrote By Rote--I've had some good guest posts on the topic of genealogy and there's always room for more. Hope you'll check it out.

    Tossing It Out

  10. Thanks for all of your input!

    Laura and Jessica, I had used that booklet in the library in Boulder but was unaware it was online! Thank you! So, I have only found the dates Mary Dudley was in business in Boulder to be 1894-5 also. Jessica, I am going to look at those books in the footnote either via interlibrary loan or go to the Denver Library this fall and look at them there.

  11. Cheryl, They possibly were early Quakers. Why?