Two in One

I purchased this photo because I’d never seen one like it. It was made in 1892 at the Woolfall & Welcome photography studio. The business was in Pittsfield, a city near the western edge of Massachusetts. There are few examples on the web of the work of Woolfall & Welcome, so my guess is that they weren’t in business very long.

CDV mugshot, Collection of the author

For those of you who’ve grown up in the era of electronic images, you may be surprised to know that this photo was not easy to make. The photographer had to make two glass plate negatives—one of the standing man and one of the close up of his head (minus hat). He or she had to expose each negative separately while masking out the other part of the photo. Did I mention that all that fiddling around with fragile glass negatives and masks had to be done in the dark? It’s also possible that the two photos were printed separately, pieced together, rephotographed and printed. Either way, it was a lot of work, which explains why few photos like this were made.

This is a rogues’ gallery photograph—aka a mugshot. It’s a CDV, or carte de visite, a playing card sized photo mounted on a piece of cardboard. CDVs were very popular in the nineteenth century. In non-police settings, they were often used as calling cards that might be left at someone’s home or office after a visit. But this CDV was made to help police identify the man in the future, should he be arrested again.

For purposes of identification, the close up is better than the standing portrait. Although it’s the size of a postage stamp, it provides a fairly clear view of the man’s face and head. In the standing photo, his face is too fuzzy to be of much use. We can see his clothing, but it’s pretty generic-looking.

I wish I could give you the lowdown on “James Harnam,” the man in the photos, but I haven’t been able to find out anything about him or the circumstances surrounding his arrest. All I know is the information written on the verso:

I’m not sure if the background is the jail or the photography studio. Based on the scruffy-looking brick walls, I’d guess it’s the jail. At this point in time, most police stations did not own a camera. Either the photographer would bring his equipment to the jail or the arrested individual was taken to a nearby photo studio to be photographed. Wouldn’t it have been fun to have a handcuffed person seated nearby while waiting to have your picture made?

There’s information stamped near the bottom on the back of the CDV: M. H. Pease. STATE POLICE. LEE MASS

The photo was evidently in the collection of Moses H. Pease. Per the 1860 and 1870 federal censuses, Pease was born in Connecticut in 1835 and worked as a deputy sheriff in Lee, Massachusetts, about ten miles south of Pittsfield. In 1880, according to the census, he was employed as a judge. According to an 1899 Roster of the Massachusetts District Police, Pease was then a member of the “Detective Department” in the Western District. According to Massachusetts death records, he died on March 4, 1901 in Lee.

9 thoughts on “Two in One

  1. Love this image, so unusual! I think you’re right and the jail building is the backdrop. Might his surname be Farnam? I noticed under complexion it reads Florid (having a red or flushed complexion, which I love having this descriptor as it makes imagining him in color so much more interesting), and the F looks just like the first letter in the surname.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.