October 16, 2014

Mystery Lady in a Box

I found this photo box at my favorite roadside antique stop.
I find it so interesting.
Who was she?
Who carried her face around in this tiny box?
Perhaps her husband, a Civil War soldier?
Many soldiers carried these tiny boxes with pictures of their loved ones.

These are called union cases, named so not because of any reference to the Union, 
but rather in regard to the union of materials used to create them.
Sawdust and varnish were typically used and referred to 
as thermoplastic- melted down and then formed in dies.
They were commonly used from the mid 1850's thru the mid 1870's.
The inside is lined with a faded velvet from long ago, as they all were.
There are some elements missing from this one as you can see from the photo below.

(photo from ebay)

The only clue is this photographers stamp.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find much information other than 
a few other photos taken around 1861.
These cases typically contained "dags" or Daguerreotype,
Ambrotype,Tintype or CdV images.
I am pretty sure that this photo is a Carte de Visite, or CdV.
Any experts out there?
Clue me in...I'm very interested!

She was so sad that I gave her a little makeover,
but even coral lipstick can't turn her frown upside down.
All these sourpuss photos amuse me.
Although in her defense, there was little to smile about during that time.

Can you imagine the laughter years from now when all the 
"duck face" selfies come to light?
Or maybe they'll be concerned that there was an epidemic of some sort
that caused our faces to contort in such a way.
Thanks tons, Kimmy.

Anyway, this was a fun little discovery and I loved the history of the piece.
I might want a few more.
I definitely want the books on the subject.

Giveaway prize photos are up in a few days.


  1. Really interesting post. I love stuff about the Civil War and this photo is intriguing.

  2. Amazing piece of history, Tina. Most of those old pictures were so serious because the person had to sit without moving for many, many seconds for the picture to "process"...they could not move a muscle or the picture would be blurred and ruined. The lens back then did not "snap" like it does today. It is amazing to me the studies they got of babies back then and how they were able to get them to be "still" long enough to get the picture taken.

    That is a real treasure you have there! xo Diana

  3. It always amazes me that those photos end up in antique shops. You'd think a family member somewhere would want it! I've got lots of old family portraits, with sourpuss faces looking at me.

  4. what a tiny piece of history and devotion.

  5. Tina, that is a wonderful find. I have picked up a few picture frames with the same kind of posing. You could almost think that all that you see is of the same person. We tried one of those 'old-time' photos when the kids were small and what a hoot. All so serious and mad looking.Not indicitive of our family at all! Wonder what the lives of those old posings were really like..Happy Thursday..Judy

  6. NanaDiana is right...no smiling because you couldn't "hold it" long enough.

  7. What a fun find! I'm always sad about old photos for sale, especially the cute little kid ones. Sure makes me wonder where all mine will end up someday! LOL!

  8. Love this find of yours Tina! I love old photos. I read somewhere that people didn't take care of their teeth back then and that was another reason they didn't smile. I agree with you though, not much to smile about.

  9. You're bringing old photos into your home right before Halloween??? Very brave:@)

  10. It always makes me sad too when I see family photos for sale, but it makes me feel better when I know someone who will appreciate it has taken it home.

  11. What a little treasure. I think Sherry might be right about the teeth thing. We sometimes see large old portrait photos in very elaborate frames at auctions and we wonder why they aren't being passed down in a family somehow. Maybe I'll buy one next time.

  12. I wasn't familiar with photos in boxes so this post was very interesting to me. Please update us Tina with any additional information you come across on this photographic process.

  13. in my old art gallery dating to 1921 I came across some old photos too and I find myself wondering the same thing...who were they and what was their life like?

    You crack me up that you made her over and even though she looks "sad" there is something so soulful in her eyes.

    truly amazing!

  14. You know, if you poked her eyeballs out and inserted my orange Halloween lights it would match her lipstick.

  15. I so enjoy the history behind old photos. If I cannot find anything, I create the history. I am hoping our "new" technology preserves our history.

  16. Tina,
    What a great piece of history you found. Love all the history you already have on the box. It would be so much fun if you could identify this person in the photo and get her story. Very cool.

  17. tHAT is a very interesting and intriguing post.
    You can't throw pics like that,
    at least I can't because you know that somebody used to care for it and for her. I'd be intrigued too.

  18. What a cool find! I always love those old photos but never knew why they always look so stern. Interesting! :)

  19. What an amazing find !
    Nobody smiled back then for photos - wonder why? ( They had to have smiled in real life once in a while lol )
    Love her coral lipstick - that used to be my signature color LMHO

  20. I've always thought they must not have much of anything that makes them happy. They are always so stern looking. I just don't understand why family members wouldn't have the photos...I would hate for mine to end up in a flea market, etc. Oh well, guess I'll continue to wonder. :)


  21. These are way cool. I've never noticed one of these before. Isn't it weird that people thought they needed to look so somber in pictures. I'm going to start looking for these.


Thanks for taking the time to leave me your thoughts. I appreciate each and every one!