As promised, I have done a bit more research on my recently acquired mourning brooch. In my previous post, you can read my preliminary analysis, however this post presents a more precise look at the history of this interesting piece (with some input from a few individuals who are much better versed in Victorian jewelry than I!)
My first goal was to determine the type of photograph the portrait on the front side of the brooch was. With a little dating help, (which I will discuss in a moment), and a closer examination with a microscope, I think it is fair to say that the photograph is most likely not a Daguerreotype. This photographic process hit its peak of popularity in the United States between 1842 and 1858 – and if this pin can be approximately dated between 1870 and 1880, it just misses the waning of the Daguerreotype in America. You can learn a bit more about the history of Daguerreotype photography here.
In any case, this portrait is most likely to be a tin type – a photographic process popular in the United States in the 1860s, 70s and 80s, which involved the printing of an image on a delicate iron plate. Below is a quick history of the tin type:
“The tintype photograph saw more uses and captured a wider variety of settings and subjects than any other photographic type. It’s like the elderly grandfather that saw everything. It was introduced while the daguerreotype was still popular, though its primary competition would have been the ambrotype.
The tintype saw the Civil War come and go, documenting the individual soldier and horrific battle scenes. It captured scenes from the Wild West, as it was easy to produce by itinerant photographers working out of covered wagons.
It began losing artistic and commercial ground to higher quality albumen prints on paper in the mid-1860s, yet survived for well over another 40 years, living mostly as a carnival novelty.”
Now to move onto the history of this piece itself. One of my first steps in locating the origin of this brooch was to contact the antique store where it came from (Jill’s Antiques in Brockport, NY). I was informed by the owner of this shop that the brooch had been sold to her by a woman currently living in Hamlin, NY (not far from Brockport), who had been handed down the brooch, but was uncertain of who the man was in the portrait. While this information confirmed my assumption that the individual likely lived in the greater Brockport area, it didn’t help with my dating of the piece or the identification of the individual.
My second attempt to learn more about the brooch was to seek out a historian who would be familiar with Victorian mourning jewelry, that could tell me more about the construction of the piece, and hopefully help me to give it an approximated date. I came across an excellent blog about Victorian mourning jewelry, called the Art of Mourning, and decided to contact the author of the site to take a look at my brooch. I got back a very astute analysis of the brooch and the photograph! See below.
I was absolutely thrilled to receive this response, as it cleared up many of my questions surrounding the brooch, its construction and its origin. While the approximate date of 1870-1880 rules out my previous guess at the individual in the portrait (see last post), it opens up a whole new exploration of cemetery records in the Brockport and Hamlin area. Now I know that I am searching for a young, unmarried man who liked passed away between 1870 and 1880 in that region.
In any case, I will certainly post more about this piece as I delve deeper into it’s history and origin. Anyone that would like to add any information or take a guess at any part of this analysis – please do!