Dating photos with the aid of trade directories

Image © and courtesy of Durham University Library
I’ve recently been having another detailed look at an album in my non-family collection that I’ve been researching off and on over the course of several years. Within the album is a group of cabinet portraits taken at studios in Detroit, Michigan during the last two decades of the 19th Century. In an attempt to date the photos more accurately than my knowledge of clothing fashions would permit, I turned to city/trade directories, a good selection of which are now available on both Ancestry and Footnote. Sadly my month-long subscription to the latter is at an end, and I don’t use it often enough for my own family research to really warrant a renewal. However, I have been able to build up a suprisingly detailed history of the photographic studios operating in Detroit. It’s a valuable lesson to me as to how much it is sometimes possible to narrow down dates using this one method alone.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Perhaps the first in the series, timewise, is this enchanting portrait of a young woman from the studio of J.E. Watson of 41 & 43 Monroe Avenue. The style of card mount design is typical of those produced in the mid-to late 1870s, but the portrait itself could be as late as the early 1880s.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
The next pair of photographs in the group are vignetted head and shoulders portraits of a young woman and a young man, both taken at the studio of Bracy, Diehl & Co. of 35, 37, 39 (or 35-39) Monroe Avenue. My initial estimate from clothing styles is that these two were taken at roughly the same time, perhaps in the early to mid-1880s.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Although the text and colour of the ink on the front of each is similar, the colour of the card mounts is different, as are the intricate designs on the reverse.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
This effect of this charming portrait of two young children, possibly brother and sister, has in my view been somewhat lessened rather than enhanced by the slightly asymmetrical diamond-shaped frame. The studio here is that of Bracy & Gibson of 246 Woodward Avenue, and the introduction of the finely scalloped, bevelled and gilded edges to the card mount suggest to me a date of the mid- to late 1880s, or perhaps early 1890s.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
This vignetted portrait of a rather wistful young woman by Diehl, Ladd & Co. of 246 Woodward Avenue is of a similar style to several of the others in the group, and could be from any time in the 1880s or 1890s. Unfortunately little of the woman’s dress is showing, although the hairstyle, bodice and collar are perhaps more of an 1890s style than 1880s.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Finally, there are three similar cabinet card portraits, all of young boys, by the studio of Angell & Diehl at 246 Woodward Avenue, only two of which are shown above. They are difficult to date but could be from any time in the late 1880s or early to mid-1890s. The style of the one on the right, of the younger child, feels to me more from the early 1890s.

A pattern is immediately apparent in the photographers and studio addresses: Diehl, Bracy, Monroe Avenue and Woodward Avenue are all common to two or more of the sets shown above. Peter Palmquist’s comprehensive bibliography Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research makes no mention of a collated resource for Detroit photographers, so I turned to the city directories. While these have proved a very handy, if somewhat sporadic, resource for my research into the studio photographers of Derbyshire, England, I haven’t a great deal of experience in using them for other locations. However, Footnote.com has a very useful complete collection of digitised city directories for Detroit , Michigan from 1861 until 1923. Although time consuming to search, with a little patience one can eventually build up a decent time sequence, as I did.

1875
– no entries for Bracy or Diehl
– Bigelow Lyman G, photographer, 244 Woodward ave, h cor Duffield and Clifford

1876
– Bigelow Lyman D, photographer, 244 Woodward ave, h 262 2d
– Diehl Ambrose J, operator Lyman G Bigelow, bds 252 Woodward ave

1877
– Bigelow L D, photographer, 244 Woodward ave
– Diehl Ambrose J, photographer, rooms 98 Farrar

1878
– Bigelow Lyman D, photographer, 244 Woodward ave

1879
– Bigelow Lyman G, photographer, 127 park
– Bigelow & Taylor (Edwin B Bigelow, Elmer W Taylor), photographers 244 Woodward ave.
– Diehl Ambrose J, operator J E Watson, h 14 Barclay.
– Watson J E, 41 and 43 Monroe ave.

1880
– Bracy Frank C, photographer, G Watson, rooms 94 Gratiot ave.
– Diehl Ambrose J, photographer J E Watson, rooms 317 Jefferson ave
– Watson J E, photographer, 41 and 43 Monroe ave.

1881
– no entries for Bracy or Diehl
– Watson Joseph E., photographer, 41 and 43 Monroe ave, bds 264 1st.

1882
– Bracy Diehl & Co (Frank C Bracy, A J Diehl, A Lapham), Artistic Photographers 35 to 39 Monroe ave
– Bracy Frank C (Bracy Diehl & Co), rooms 39 Monroe ave.
– Bracy Lemuel, printer Bracy Diehl & Co, rooms 39 Monroe ave
– Diehl Ambrose J (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 113 Catherine
– Enright Miss Mary E, clk Bracy, Diehl & Co, bds 247 Jefferson ave.
– Gardner Eugene, clk Bracy Diehl & Co, bds 113 Catherine
– Lapham Abraham (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 67 Montcalm e.

1883
– Anthony Miss Josephine, finisher Bracy, Diehl & Co., bds 121 Porter
– Bracy Diehl & Co (Frank C Bracy, A J Diehl, A Lapham), Artistic Photographers 35 to 39 Monroe ave
– Diehl Ambrose J (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 200 Locust
– Coman Miss Annie S, clk Bracy, Diehl & Co, bds 45 Miami ave
– Lapham Abraham (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 73 Montcalm e.

1884
– Bracy Diehl & Co (Frank C Bracy, A J Diehl, A Lapham), Artistic Photographers 35, 37 & 39 Monroe ave
– Bracy Frank C (Bracy Diehl & Co), bds 79 Miami ave.
– Bracy Lemuel, printer Bracy Diehl & Co, h 143 Sycamore ave
– Colman Miss Annie S, clk A J Diehl & Co, bds 45 Miami ave
– Diehl Ambrose J (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 200 Locust
– Johnson Ralph, printer Bracy Diehl & Co, h 302 2d
– Lapham Abraham (Bracy Diehl & Co), h 671 Montcalm e.

1885
– Bracy Frank C, photographer, h 145 Sycamore
– Bracy Lemuel A, printer A J Diehl & Co, h 111 Catherine
– Colman Miss Anna S, clk A J Diehl & Co, bds 45 Miami ave
– Diehl A J & Co (Ambrose J Diehl Abram Lapham), Photographers 35 to 39 Monroe ave
– Diehl Ambrose J (A J Diehl & Co), h 109 Catherine
– Lapham Abram (A J Diehl & Co), h 74 Montcalm e
– Winiker Edward J, printer A J Diehl & Co, bds 120 Hastings

1886
– Bracy Lemuel A, photographer A J Diehl & Co, h 111 Catherine
– Colman Miss Anna S, clk A J Diehl & Co, bds 120 Miami ave
– Diehl Ambrose J (A J Diehl & Co), h 109 Catherine
– Diehl A J & Co (Ambrose J Diehl, Charles Merbach, Abraham Lapham), Photographers 246 Woodward ave
– Lapham Abraham (A J Diehl & Co), real est, h 651 Trumbull Ave
– Merbach Charles J (A J Diehl & Co), h 269 St Aubin ave
– Schmidt John, apprentice A J Diehl & Co, bds 326 Hastings
– Tromby Maxim A, retoucher, A J Diehl & Co, h 141 Adams ave e
– Winiker Edward J, printer A J Diehl & Co, bds 120 Hastings

1887
– Diehl Ambrose J (Diehl & Sharpsteen), h 109 Catherine
– Diehl & Sharpsteen, 246 Woodward ave
– Sharpsteen Samuel (Diehl & Sharpsteen) bds 250 Woodward ave
– Winiker Joseph E photographer Diehl & Sharpsteen, bds 120 Hastings

1888
– Ambrose J. Diehl, photographer, Bracy & Gibson, h 109 Catherine
– Bracy & Gibson, 246 Woodward av.
– Bracy Frank C (Bracy & Gibson), h 145 Sycamore
– Bracy & Gibson (Frank C Bracy, Jefferson J Gibson), photographers, 246 Woodward av
– Cowen Miss Ina, clk Bracy & Gibson, bds 346 5th.
– Winiker Edward J, printer Bracy & Gibson, bds 243 Croghan

1889
– Diehl Ambrose J, photographer J J Gibson, h 109 Catherine
– Gibson J J, photographer, 246 Woodward av.
– Ladd B W, photographer, 22 Witherell
– Bracy Frank C, h 658 Fourteenth av

1890
– Ambrose J. Diehl, 109 Catherine
– Ambrose J. Diehl, Burrell W. Ladd & Jefferson J. Gibson, 246 Woodward Avenue & 82 Gratiot Avenue, Photographers

1891
– Diehl Ambrose J (Angell, Diehl & Co), h 109 Catherine
– Angell, Diehl & Co, photographers, 246 Woodward av

1892
– no entries for Bracy, Ladd or Gibson
– Angell George R, photographic materials, 216 Woodward av.
– Diehl Andrew J [sic], removed to Grand Rapids, Mich.
– Earle Photo Co, 246 Woodward av.
– Ladd Burrell W, 173 Canfied ave e

Although the last Diehl entry in this list is for an “Andrew J,” it seems likely this is a misprint for “Ambrose J.” I discovered recently that Ambrose J. Diehl is the common factor between all of these Detroit photographs, and this was due to the simple fact that he was married to the sister of the owner of the photograph album. It seems likely that the album owner, her husband and children, as well as her sister and her children, were all photographed by Ambrose Diehl at one time or another. The Diehls did indeed move to Grand Rapids in the early 1890s, where they are shown living in Hastings Street in the 1900 census. They returned to Detroit around 1905-1906, where Ambrose continued to work as a photographer, but apparently as an employee rather than owner of his own studio.

Going back to the list taken from the city directories, I was then able to construct the following detailed timeline for Ambrose Diehl.

1876 Diehl employed as operator in the studio of Lyman G. Bigelow, 244 Woodward Avenue
1877 A.J. Diehl operated a studio at 98 Farrar
1878 unknown
1879-1880 Diehl employed as an operator in the studio of J.E. Watson, 41 & 43 Monroe Avenue
1881 unknown
1882-1884 In partnership with Frank C. Bracy and Abraham Lapham as Bracy, Diehl & Co., 35-39 Monroe Avenue
1885 In partnership with Abraham Lapham as A.J. Diehl & Co., 35-39 Monroe Avenue
1886 In partnership with Charles Merbach and Abraham Lapham as A.J. Diehl & Co., 35-39 Monroe Avenue
1887 In partnership with Samuel Sharpsteen as Diehl & Sharpsteen, 246 Woodward Avenue
1888 Diehl employed as a photographer in studio of Bracy & Gibson, 246 Woodward Avenue
1889 Diehl employed as a photographer in studio of J.J. Gibson, 246 Woodward Avenue
1890 Diehl in partnership with Burrell W. Ladd and Jefferson J. Gibson as Diehl, Ladd & Co., 246 Woodward Avenue & 82 Gratiot Avenue
1891 Diehl in partnership with George R. Angell as Angell, Diehl & Co., 246 Woodward Avenue
1892 Diehl sold business to Earle Photo Co. (inc. 31 Mar 1892) and moved to Grand Rapids, Kent, Michigan
1893-1905 Worked as a photographer in Grand Rapids, status unknown
1906 Diehl employed as a photographer in studio of H.N. Imrie,
1907-1923 Worked as a photographer in Detroit, status unknown

Perhaps Ambrose Diehl was a particularly difficult person to work with, as each of his employment periods and partnerships never seemed to last very long. However, I have noticed that many of the other photographers in Detroit show similarly fluid employment/business histories, so it seems more likely that it was just a rather cut-throat business to be in. The great benefit for us is that the names and studio addresses of the card mounts can provide quite specific dates for the portraits.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portrait of Ella Wheeler
probably taken by A.J. Diehl c.1879-1880, at the studio of
J.E. Watson, 41 & 43 Monroe Avenue, Detroit
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
The first portrait was therefore taken at Watson’s Monroe Avenue studio, probably by Ambrose Diehl who was working there as a photographic operator from 1879 to 1880. Ella Wheeler née Winnett (1857-1924) married Byron C. Wheeler (1829-1891) at Blissfield, Lenawee County, Michigan in April 1878. Initially they lived in Grand Ledge in Eaton County, where their first son Maurice was born in July 1880, and it seems liklely that Ella had this portrait taken during a visit to her sister in Detroit, prior to the birth of Maurice. The hat is quite something!

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portraits of Ella and Byron C. Wheeler
Taken c. 1882-1884 at Bracy, Diehl & Co, 35-39 Monroe Avenue, Detroit
Images © and collection of Brett Payne
Ella returned to her brother-in-law’s studio, where he was now a partner, with her husband some three or four years later, probably at around the time they moved to New London in Huron County, Ohio. She would have their second son Walter in 1886. The pose is almost identical, and Ella’s fascination with decorative hats has endured.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portrait, possibly of Howard Diehl & unidentified sister
Taken c.1888 at Bracy & Gibson, 246 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
I believe that Ella’s sister Lizzie Diehl sent her this portrait of her own two children around 1888, at which time Ella and her husband were running a saloon in New London. Ella had a second son Winnett, born in April 1888.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portrait, possibly of Lizzie Diehl
Taken c.1890 at Ladd, Diehl & Co., 246 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
I think that Lizzie sent this portrait of herself to Ella in 1890, the year that Lizzie had a third child Raymond, and Ella’s second son Walter died.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portraits of Maurice B. and Winnett W. Wheeler
Taken c.1891 at Angell & Diehl, 246 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Ella returned to Ambrose’s studio in 1891 for portraits of her two surviving boys, Maurice and Winnett. A third portrait with identical card mount from the album, shown below, appears to be of Lizzie’s son Howard, then aged nine.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Cabinet card portrait, probably of Howard Diehl
Taken c.1891 at Angell & Diehl, 246 Woodward Avenue, Detroit
Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Ella’s husband Byron died in April 1891, and after taking care of the saloon business Ella moved to live with her brother’s in Montana around July. From the evidence of these photographs, taken c.1891 she may have gone there via her sister’s in Detroit.


I was also able to find on the net several other photographs from the studios that Ambrose Diehl was associated with, and out of interest I’ve reproduced a selection of these here. Hopefully they will be of use to someone else trying to date a Diehl photo.

Image © and courtesy of DeadFred
Archie MacMillan, c.1882-1884
by Bracy, Diehl & Co., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of DeadFred
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Unidentified woman, c.1882-1884
by Bracy, Diehl & Co., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Image © and courtesy of University of Michigan Library Repository
Unidentified woman, c.1882-1884
by Bracy, Diehl & Co., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of University of Michigan Library Repository
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Unidentified woman with children, c.1885-1886
by A.J. Diehl & Co., 35 to 39 Monroe Ave., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Unidentified woman, c.1885-1886
by A.J. Diehl & Co., 35 to 39 Monroe Ave., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Unidentified woman, c.1885-1886
by A.J. Diehl & Co., 35 to 39 Monroe Ave., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of grannyspalapa on eBay
Image © and courtesy of the NYPL Digital Gallery
Ed Hanlon, Detroit, c.1885-1886
by A.J. Diehl & Co., 35 to 39 Monroe Ave., Detroit
Image © and courtesy of NYPL Digital Gallery

Unidentified man with magnificent moustache, c.1892
by the Earle Photo Co. 246 Woodward Ave., Detroit
successors to Angell & Diehl

1892 Advertisement for Earle Photo Co.
References

City Directories for Detroit, Michigan from Footnote.com

Palmquist, Peter E. (ed.) (2000) Photographers: A Sourcebook for Historical Research, Nevada City: Carl Mautz Publishing, 154p, ISBN 1-887694-18-X

Federal Census of the United States from Ancestry.com

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~ by gluepot on Sunday, June 6, 2010.

6 Responses to “Dating photos with the aid of trade directories”

  1. What a great way to narrow down photographic studios! I have a few I'd love to figure out myself and you've given me the tools to do it. Thanks again, Brett!

  2. Thanks Patti. I should warn you, though, that this is a particularly good example of how it can work well. More often, you won't be able to pin dates down so precisely using this method, either because the information is unavailable, or because the photographer remained at the same address for many years. However, it is another useful tool in the toolbox!

  3. >The 'loose' piece of paper to which you refer was actually glued by the photographer to the back of the carte de visite so that it could be flipped over to protect the front surface.I'm not sure why people left them in situ once they were put into an album as, I do agree, they get in the way afterwards.Diana

  4. >Hi Diana – Thanks for your comment, which I think was meant to go on a different posting, but no matter. I'm aware of tissue covers, which you have described, and they are quite different from what I was referring to. The loose paper between the backs of the mounted photos was somewhat thicker, but not quite card. Regards, Brett

  5. >I have an old photo album with the J.E. Watson logo on some of the photos, but the adddress is 236 Woodward Avenue. Is there any way to trace this album back to the rightful owners?

  6. >Hi Deb – I'm afraid there is no short answer to this question, I suppose because it depends on so many factors, including whether there are any other identifying names, locations or marks in the album. If there are none, then probably the chances are slim, but this is exactly what I will be trying to do with another album in my collection from Cleveland, Ohio, which I'm currently writing about here. It has a name on the back of one photograph, and that's it, but I'm hopeful that some day, it may be possible to discover who owned it. Then, perhaps, living descendants or family members may be tracked down, but it won't be an easy or quick process. The thrill, of course, is in the hunt.Regards, Brett

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