ATTRACTIVE YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMAN IN APPLETON, WISCONSIN

ross-lady

This is a wonderful cabinet card portrait of a pretty young woman. The photograph features a great deal of uncertainty. The individual who formerly owned this image claimed that the subject is African American. In my opinion, the claim is debatable. One of the issues relating to some cabinet card images of African Americans is this very question. Some collectors and dealers sincerely believe they possess a portrait of an African American while others dishonestly make the claim in order to increase the value of the photograph. This particular image presents another interesting and debatable subject. The previous owner also claimed that this photograph is a memorial cabinet card. In other words, the photograph was made in honor of this young woman upon her death (not a post-mortem photo). The placement of the woman’s image inside a scroll, or whatever the shape represents, is the alleged tip off that it is a memorial photograph. I have seen experts provide conflicting opinions about such claims. Lets talk about what we do know. This young and attractive woman is making an interesting fashion statement. Her dress has little squares of fabric attached to it in what appears to be a haphazard manner. She is wearing a horseshoe collar pin and a thin necklace. If this photo is a memorial cabinet card, then the horseshoe certainly didn’t provide her with good luck. She is wearing her hair up. The photographer of this cabinet card is William T. Ross (1861-1945) who operated a studio in Appleton, Wisconsin. Ross appears in “Wilson Photographic Magazine” (1898) in an article that reports that he was elected Treasurer of the Convention of Wisconsin Photographers. Ross has a presence in a number of Appleton city directories from 1889 through 1934. He was born in Syracuse, New York and was married to Ella A. Ross. The edges of this cabinet card are scalloped and gold gilded. The reverse of the cabinet card has a ghost image (see below). The image was likely formed by the rear of the cabinet card being pressed against the front of another image while occupying a frame or album.

ross-lady-2

Published in: on November 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As to the scroll mat – I looked in my collection and I have three cabinets of the same man about 10 or so years apart and the youngest is in a scroll.
    As to be an African American – blacks were not allowed within the city limits after dark in that town.During what years isn’t said, but by the 2000 census there were only .99 percent blacks.
    Racism aside, Appleton was a forward thinking town.
    The squares of fabric are bows of ribbon that has a pinked edge.

    • Thanks for the interesting comment. Your analysis certainly points to this photo not being a memorial card. The question remains though, how do we correctly identify memorial cards? As per the race issue, many viewers of this image contend she appears to be biracial. Race laws and population figures precluded, ce

    • Race laws and population figures dont preclude that the subject of this photo could have been temporarily working in or visiting Appleton. I also want to thank you for the excellent description of the young woman’s dress.

  2. This matting style is called trompe l’oiel – trick the eye – and was not uncommon. I have several in my collection and I do not believe them to be memorial photographs.

    A clue about whether the subject was African American or not is the hair. Women did not have straightening products as we do today, and this person’s hair is very smooth. I do not believe she was African American because of this. It is difficult to straighten curly hair with our modern products. Absent these techniques women had the option of literally ironing their hair with a clothes iron. I can’t see getting close enough to the scalp to achieve such straightness.

    The dress is quite fine. The squares you are seeing are bows cut with a pinking sheer to give the zig zag edge. This helped to prevent fraying. She also has velvet trimming going over her shoulder seems. It’s quite fashionable.

  3. As the previous owner from whom you purchased this card, be advised that I stand by my assertion that the lovely young woman is (1) a light skin African American or possibly mixed race (which I failed to mention the latter in my description — I usually do with these types of cards), and (2) that the card is a memorial tribute to the young woman.

    I am a light skin (note correct usage here — skin not skinned as is usually used) African American who knows what a light skin black or mixed race person look like when I see one. I would also point out that many blacks have straight hair so the argument of the person above is mostly inaccurate. As an example, though my maternal grandmother did not have straight hair, her skin was white. And FYI, blacks also can have blue, green, gray, etc. eyes.

    It is easy to see why many African Americans could “pass” for white undetected by the general white population in the days of Jim Crow and still do. But I’ll bet my bottom dollar other blacks knew who was who and still do.

    As for the card being a memorial: the “turning page” mask is the most common one used but is by no means the only one. I have spent several years arguing with uniformed (or misinformed) people on ebay about this issue. I have examples of “before and after” cards that I think will support my contention that they are indeed post-mortem (used here in the broadest sense of the word) memorials. I’ll send these as attachments to your personal email address if you would like. We can continue the discussion there.

    • Thanks for your comment. Your opinion about the subject’s race and about this card being a memorial photo, is very convincing. One of the things I appreciate about vintage photographs is the mystery element. Sometimes we can investigate facts and solve the riddles but frequently we must rely on informed opinions. I would find your attachments and further discussion most interesting. I can be emailed at cabinetcardgallery@gmail.com


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