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Portraits of married couples from the Victorian era.

Photos can be enlarged a fair bit by clicking on them.
posted by gman (77 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wish someone would make a mobile Victorian photo app that does the proper color mapping, finds smiles and mustaches, and then removes them.

(The way blue eyes were picked up by the film in that era is so awesome and scary at the same time.)
posted by hanoixan at 3:43 PM on August 29, 2011


Wow, I'm pretty sure this chick was shopping at my Trader Joe's this morning. She was wearing a different dress, though.
posted by phunniemee at 3:44 PM on August 29, 2011


Victorian married couples are the original hipsters
posted by quiet coyote at 3:47 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Needs moar lappets.
posted by Tesseractive at 3:49 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


So I'm guessing that was a popular hairstyle, then.

Time to play who married whom for the money.
posted by The Whelk at 3:49 PM on August 29, 2011


That middle part mushroom 'do did no one any favors.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:49 PM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Want pants
posted by The Whelk at 3:50 PM on August 29, 2011


Some of them look a little too much like brothers and sisters.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:51 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


They look positively thrillred to be married.
posted by littlesq at 3:52 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]




Maybe it's just the universal nature of a reflexed face waiting for the camera or the similarity of haircut and outfit, but don't a lot of these couples look kinda ...related, to you? Just me?
posted by The Whelk at 3:53 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Back then, that one photograph might be the only picture taken of you, ever. People preferred to look dignified, as opposed to the hammy "Say cheese" people do now.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of them look so much alike, I'm almost suspect Photoshop tomfoolery.

Of course, they didn't have Photoshop back then. They were all Daguerroshopped instead.
posted by bicyclefish at 3:55 PM on August 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


I loved the very first picture. They both (but the man especially) have looks of barely contained mischievousness. As if they're thinking, "We only play as if we're proper."
posted by Windigo at 3:58 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Today you could easily be married to someone born 3000 miles from you with completely different ancestry, and so could everyone else you've ever associated with, and by the way you've associated with - or at least been in near proximity to - literally thousands of people. Modern society, airplanes, huge universities, giant cities, paved roadways, etc., etc.

Back then, not so much. Most of those people were almost certainly related to the person they married, and could say the same thing about most of their friends. Not super closely, but enough that it's visually apparent.
posted by SMPA at 4:01 PM on August 29, 2011


Want pants

Dear Sir,

in response to the crudely phrased expression of desire received under your name at the 3rd instant, it is my pleasure and privilege to direct your attention to a certain Gentleman's Emporium. I am pleased to report myself an occasional wearer of their sartorial products, and can attest that they satisfy the demands of comfort, thrift, and durability in approximately equal measure.

Furthermore, I am reliably informed that this same vendor also supplies garments and sundry other desiderata to customers who are of the female persuasion, although I have never, myself, been witness to such a transaction.

Your servant,

Edweard Copper-Plate (Mr.)
posted by anigbrowl at 4:02 PM on August 29, 2011 [36 favorites]


Where I live, you can tell who's a local by how they look. My area was settled by a small handful of families, and not much has changed since then.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:02 PM on August 29, 2011


Back then, not so much.

A quarter of my high school class was related to each other.

/Georgia
posted by phunniemee at 4:05 PM on August 29, 2011


I found the absence of any information or sourcing unsettling. Are they deemed Victorian because they are photos that kind of look that way?

Likewise, I loved a few of the instances labeled Victorian surrealism, but I can't say whether they were Victorian era or made by someone who thought that's what Victorian surrealism would look like.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:06 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Geez, how many people did Abraham Lincoln marry?
posted by greenland at 4:08 PM on August 29, 2011 [13 favorites]


They look nothing like the actors who would portray them today!
posted by not_on_display at 4:10 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Were these upper or lower class victorians? When putting together my Victorian outfit I want to make sure what I am basing it on the very height of fashion, I don't want to be subjected to cutting or snide remarks while I am perambulating on the thoroughfare or riding my steam powered brass spider.

Also, anyone have pics of Victorian era googles?
posted by Ad hominem at 4:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


They look nothing like the actors who would portray them today!

Oh, really?
posted by phunniemee at 4:11 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Clyde Mnestra: I found the absence of any information or sourcing unsettling. Are they deemed Victorian because they are photos that kind of look that way?

I just found the flickr set that contains not only more photos, but information (some more than others) attached to each portrait.
posted by gman at 4:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


Most of those people were almost certainly related to the person they married, and could say the same thing about most of their friends. Not super closely, but enough that it's visually apparent.

It used to be relatively common for people to marry their first cousins, so I'd wager that at least of few of them are closely related.
posted by asnider at 4:16 PM on August 29, 2011


is it the camera exposure or are some of these people tanned like leather?
posted by GuyZero at 4:16 PM on August 29, 2011


Also, anyone have pics of Victorian era googles?

During that glorious period, such a device would have colloquially known as a 'card catalog'.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


are some of these people tanned like leather

Well, lots of work outdoors + prior to the invention of sunscreen (or the idea that you might need it). That shouldn't be a surprise.
posted by anastasiav at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2011


The Daguerreotype images are stoic. It took several minutes to expose the negative, meaning that the subjects had to sit or stand completely motionless for the duration or ruin the photograph. No doubt quite a challenge for the brother and sister in the above photograph. You will find many subjects conveniently propped by a chair, table or special stand. It was not until just before 1900 that film exposure time was reduced so that snap shots or action shots could be taken.
posted by jon1270 at 4:20 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


What I find interesting is the apparently drastically different instructions that the couples were given about what to do with their faces while the picture was taken. Almost everybody looks extremely stilted, but in very different ways.
posted by gurple at 4:24 PM on August 29, 2011


Two of the people in those photos are werewolves, one is a necromancer, and a fourth a judge. Can you spot them?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:34 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


This one, of Aunt Evie Easterbrooks and Charles Easterbrooks, is my favorite. He looks like a remarkably kind gentleman, and she looks like she's about to giggle. Also, I heartily approve of her ruffles and giant buttons.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


WE quarreled that morning,
For he was sixty--five, and I was thirty,
And I was nervous and heavy with the child
Whose birth I dreaded.
I thought over the last letter written me
By that estranged young soul
Whose betrayal of me I had concealed
By marrying the old man.
Then I took morphine and sat down to read.
Across the blackness that came over my eyes
I see the flickering light of these words even now:
"And Jesus said unto him, Verily
I say unto thee, To-day thou shalt
Be with me in paradise."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:38 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


They all look so different than people today.
And I mean physically but also I have to wonder just how much of this is styling and how much is the result of, say, purer bloodlines back then. Geographically I mean.
Back before we had much of a chance to really mix the genetic paintbox and make us the beautiful mutts we are today.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:46 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Childhood disease and diet would have also been a huge factor in people's physical appearance back then.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:54 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once again proving my theory that after enough time has elapsed, husbands and wives begin to resemble each other.
posted by Leezie at 4:55 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back then, that one photograph might be the only picture taken of you, ever.

In light of that, I was actually surprised there weren't any "death photographs".
posted by LionIndex at 4:56 PM on August 29, 2011


They all look so different than people today.

They had tough lives, you can see it in their faces. Hunger, disease and backbreaking work all put a mark on you. Even among the wealthy, just surviving to adulthood was a feat.
posted by octothorpe at 4:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also find it mindblowing to think that the people who stood for these portraits would be shocked, flabergasted, etc. to know that people in the 21st century were looking at their photos.
posted by Leezie at 4:59 PM on August 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Yarrr, a salty dog and his fine wife.
posted by ephemerista at 5:00 PM on August 29, 2011


The older I get, the more people in historical photos look like actual people that resemble people I might know.
posted by ignignokt at 5:02 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The hands look swollen and knobby.
posted by JujuB at 5:03 PM on August 29, 2011


I also find it mindblowing to think that the people who stood for these portraits would be shocked, flabergasted, etc. to know that people in the 21st century were looking at their photos.

Actually, probably not. (Well, except for the whole omg computers and internet thing, obviously.) When CDVs were in style, people swapped photos with each other all the time. It's probably not to much of a leap to assume that they'd have to be cool with strangers seeing their picture at some point.
posted by phunniemee at 5:08 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gentleman's Emporium

I have not ordered from them in over a decade but I was not impressed with the quality of the vests and shirts and the like I got. Very much like the stuff I'd be shoved into for a photo shoot or a play, costuming, basically. Not up to day to day wear.

the very last couple are both giving these very ....sly ...knowing looks.
posted by The Whelk at 5:16 PM on August 29, 2011


In light of that, I was actually surprised there weren't any "death photographs".

I'm not so sure about this photo. Shudder.
posted by cazoo at 5:19 PM on August 29, 2011


Oh it's like a really awful guessing game FIND THE CORPSE.
posted by The Whelk at 5:20 PM on August 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Yarrr, a salty dog and his fine wife.

That is how I shall forever more envision Preserved Killick.
posted by elizardbits at 5:25 PM on August 29, 2011


Anywhere there's a god line in the film version of The Little Foxes (adapted by Dorothy Parker!) about faces going in and out of style, and the slight jab in The Importance OF being Earnest on how no one wears a chin like that anymore.
posted by The Whelk at 5:25 PM on August 29, 2011


I love these I can't tell you how much.

I once had a photocopy of a portrait of an ancestor of mine, a Confederate soldier, who had my eyes -- the same haunted "crazy eyes" I am firmly instructed not to point at people when I am in a certain mood. I put that picture on my wall and would have framed it if I could.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:29 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Were these upper or lower class victorians?

From gut feeling to loking over the annotations, mostly laboring /working class and your lower-middle shop keeps, the only obviously expensive outfit is the lady in the corset and her beau with the more dandy outfit - everyone is dressed up in their best, but it gives you an idea what "best" meant to a sailor or fur trapper.
posted by The Whelk at 5:31 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh it's like a really awful guessing game FIND THE CORPSE.

Surprise! It's all three!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:33 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


The stripes are a good key, actually. Stripes where more expensive, the weaving more complicating, more dyes used, your fancier outfits would have fancier stitching, like stripes. Also face, the size of cravats and ties, and the general amount of finery. A local to the time peroid would be able to read a whole bunch of stuff into a woman's lace collar.
posted by The Whelk at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


They look positively thrillred to be married.

You try holding a smile for five minutes straight. And don't forget, this is costing you two week's salary, and you've got 13 children to feed so you only get one shot.

And I mean physically but also I have to wonder just how much of this is styling and how much is the result of, say, purer bloodlines back then.

People lived so much harder, shorter lives back then. Which is why it never fails to amuse me in a not-ha-ha way to think about the child-coddling culture we live in today. Men and women got married in their teens all the time a hundred years ago (my own great-grandmother was 15), but today (at least in the U.S.) you can get thrown in prison for years for the same thing. The irony is, the age of menarche has been decreasing over the past century! Whenever you hear news reports of underage sex and baby mommas, and how society is going down the toilet and how "we just didn't do that sort of thing back in the good-old-days!" well, think of these pictures.

In light of that, I was actually surprised there weren't any "death photographs".

Not sure if you know this from your comment but that was actually quite popular in Victorian times.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:44 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I keep expecting to see Jack and Meg White as I'm scrolling through these.
posted by Spatch at 5:46 PM on August 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of them look like they're twelve. *shudder*

Some of them look like the girl who made my sandwich at Togo's the other day.

Some them would've shopped at Hot Topic in the 1990s.
posted by katillathehun at 6:05 PM on August 29, 2011


In light of that, I was actually surprised there weren't any "death photographs".


LionIndex, cazoo:
I'm sure this guy is either dead, or at best, a serial killer. Maybe even a dead serial killer!
posted by BlueHorse at 6:08 PM on August 29, 2011


thats just what happens when you tell a seasoned whaler to look here and don't move.
posted by The Whelk at 6:20 PM on August 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


The Daguerreotype images are stoic. --- I think only one of these is a true Daguerreotype, but I'm not enough of an expert to identify all of them. I think several are ambrotypes, and at least one is an albumin print. (Here's a good page explaining the differences.)

One thing we tend to forget, when looking at old pics like this, is that the photographic process used was weirdly sensitive or insensitive to various colors, making them appear either very very white, or very very dark. Skies almost always wash out in old photos and you'll hardly ever see a landscape with puffy white clouds, because the process was highly sensitive to blue. On the other hand, reds and pinks tended to turn black in the resulting photo.
posted by crunchland at 6:30 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm loving this website. Also, I wish someday to be in a band called Abandoned Underwater Billiard Room.
posted by 4ster at 6:37 PM on August 29, 2011


Many of them seem to have Michele Bachmann eyes.
posted by carping demon at 7:01 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing to remember: a lot of the visual signs of sexual maturity in females are dependent on childhood nutrition and, frankly, the chance to retain fat. 25-year-old gymnasts and ice skaters often look like they're 12 for the same reasons that girls who live in poverty and do hard labor 10-15 hours a day look like they're younger than they are, to our eyes.

(Which isn't to say that the girl wasn't young. But probably not quite that young. 15 or 16, I'll buy.)
posted by SMPA at 7:05 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see that Snooki and The Situation finally hooked up.
posted by anothermug at 7:06 PM on August 29, 2011


I have not ordered from them in over a decade but I was not impressed with the quality of the vests and shirts and the like I got. Very much like the stuff I'd be shoved into for a photo shoot or a play, costuming, basically. Not up to day to day wear.

I don't know what size you are, but as a skinny person I have a hard time finding a proper fit in many items, regardless of quality. One approach is to stick with a few vendors whose clothes happen to provide a good fit, but I've gotten into the habit of budgeting ~15% of my clothing money for alterations. Pants are easy, vests as well, shirts and jackets tend to be the most expensive because of the shoulder/yoke. You get more enjoyment and wear out of clothes if they fit well.

As for Gentleman's emporium, I last bought pants from there a few months ago - the fishtail type designed to be worn with braces. They're both comfortable and tough, something that's harder to find in jeans. My one reservation was that the buttons felt a little cheap. I wouldn't trust them for things like shoes or items made out of silk. but if you need old-fashioned quality and don't mind the prices, you could try Mr Stanley Ley or Ede & Ravenscroft.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:19 PM on August 29, 2011


Not sure if you know this from your comment but that was actually quite popular in Victorian times.

Yeah, that's exactly where the comment came from.
posted by LionIndex at 8:12 PM on August 29, 2011


Nice collection; I too am frustrated with lack of sourcing of any kind.

I'm sure many people were somewhat related, but it's easy to overstate. The nineteenth century was a lot more neolocal than we imagine, outside of remote villages. The massive influxes of immigrants, opening up of the West step by step, and mill economy meant that people were moving around a fair amount. When you come down to the level of the individual, it's easy to see: one set of my great-grandparents were from Ohio and Tennessee. The other set were from Lynn, MA, and Ireland. Mark Twain and Livy were from Missouri and New York State. Ulysses Grant and his wife were from Ohio and Missouri. Annie Oakley was from Ohio, her husband from Ireland.

I think the idea that bloodlines were purer is a modern imagination, too. From far back, people were sleeping with the 'wrong' people. America was the place you came to because you left somewhere else, and became a land of "miscegenation" right off the bat, despite the fact that for a few generations, a minority of people lived in relatively isolated communities. It's funny that we have extrapolated our impressions of Colonial or 19th-century village life to imagine that people were so much more isolated than they were. Even if these groups were intermarrying for a few generations, they of course came from different origin points in the old country, as well.
posted by Miko at 9:08 PM on August 29, 2011


Wait, where's Colin Firth again?
posted by bpm140 at 9:10 PM on August 29, 2011


Interesting that it's usually the woman who has her hand on the man rather than vice versa.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:12 PM on August 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That stands out to me too, TheophileEscargot, as today's visual language has it going the other way. I'm not sure but I suspect it might have something to do with the trope that the man is the family's pillar of support, which the woman leans on, metaphorically and physically. Today we are more likely to see the man with a hand or arm around a woman in a formal portrait, with the trope being that man is the protector.

I wonder if anyone's done an analysis of common photographer poses in the 19th century. The seatings are really consistent with a few variations - that would be really interesting.
posted by Miko at 6:08 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just the universal nature of a reflexed face waiting for the camera or the similarity of haircut and outfit, but don't a lot of these couples look kinda ...related, to you? Just me?

Oh, so you're saying all white folk look alike??!

Mind you, it's just possible that some few of these are siblings rather than marrieds.

(I've one of these from the 1850s of g-g-grandparents and they are no question smiling. Happy marriage, that one.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:15 AM on August 30, 2011


People still take pictures of posed corpses. I'm just sayin'.
posted by ColdChef at 6:53 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


They all look so different than people today.

I disagree -- particularly the younger ones, if you dressed some of them up in modern clothes and gave them a more contemporary haircut, I doubt you'd give them a second look on the street. I also think they'd be less harsh looking if these were color photos and not daguerrotypes.
posted by CosmicRayCharles at 8:09 AM on August 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree, CosmicRayCharles - we exaggerate the differences. They'd blend in fine. I believe this because, working around history museums, I've watched the transformation go the other way so often - modern person ---> 19th c. person.

There are two levels to the way these photos suggest different appearances. One is just superficial. Hairstyle (the weird stark center parts, long-on-tops and long-on-sides for men) makes a big difference. No makeup on anybody. Clothing. The stilted poses. The stiff clothing. The dreary backgrounds and monochromatic color. These differences are just in the presentation, not the people themselves. Take these away and you'd have a person looking like people look today.

There is another, much smaller set of differences, though, that comes from not having our standard of medical care. Most people had lost some or all of their teeth by middle age, and were wearing false teeth or just no teeth where the missing ones were. That results in funny jawlines that clench too high or thrust forward, and in wrinkles around the mouth. Strabismus was a lot more common, because it wasn't well known how to correct it with the use of lenses, and the risk factors (stroke, poor circulation, uncorrected myopia) were higher too. (I also wonder if something about 'looking at the birdie' caused people to cross eyes a little bit, because it's really frequent). And it's really true that body proportions, especially for women, were a little bit different than they are today. I'm not sure why, but often women were less developed across the shoulders and upper arms than we are today and as a result were much slighter through their upper torso. Injury was, of course, more common, and everybody who made it to adulthood had pretty much survived childhood diseases which could disfigure the skin a bit.

And people were just a bit gaunter if they were not fat. One of the main things that affects the look of a nineteenth-century reenactor vs. an actual nineteenth-century person's image is the fact that we're just plumper throughout. We, on the whole, have bigger bones, more muscle mass, and more babylike skin even as adults. We're milkfed and ridiculously healthy, as a population, and that's something most of these people didn't enjoy in our relatively uncomplicated way.

But those differences result, generally, from living conditions and nutrition and things, and not from genetic differences. In genetic time, a few generations is a pretty tiny blip to make drastic changes in the physical appearance of people. I think you could take pretty much any one of these people, re-dress them in today's clothes, and find they'd blend in.

This one, due to the colorization, looks almost like a Hipstamatic and the faces and expressions look really contemporary to me.

It's a fun mental exercise to page through the portraits and just picture them smiling, with different hair and in a modern pose. Most are people you'd see on the street today.
posted by Miko at 9:04 AM on August 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks to gman for pointing out my borked link. Here it is.

I mean, that guy looks like he's going as Remington Steele for Halloween.
posted by Miko at 10:58 AM on August 30, 2011


I always heard that the reason for the grim expressions was that you had to stay in the same pose for a while in order for the daguerreotype to take.
posted by serena15221 at 12:20 PM on August 30, 2011


Lot of the guys seem to have top-hat hair.
posted by Splunge at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2011


They all look so different than people today.

I actually agree with people above, in that I think some of their faces look EXACTLY like people I see around everyday. (But I'm in NYC, so that's a lot of faces!) It's so interesting to think how different their lives were from ours...no bicycles, touch-frisbee, or trader joe's for them! (not that those are things I do everyday, just that many of them look young...and that often translates into relatively carefree in our times).
posted by bquarters at 8:01 PM on August 30, 2011


Interesting that none of them appear to be wearing wedding rings.
posted by timdicator at 2:27 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


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