Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Cabinet Photo Native American Indian

This is a beautiful photograph of a Native American Indian.  His hair, face & clothing are very intricate and detailed.   This photograph is mounted on cardboard, with a photographer's printed name of Ellsworth Marks,  Clinton, Missouri.  The only problem is, this photo is almost certainly a reproduction.

This got me to thinking about what exactly is a reproduction, and how do you tell?  I'm certainly no expert, so these are very good questions for me.  And Cabinet Photos of American Indians seem to be prime reproduction material.  The originals are very expensive.

To me, a photo is original if it it is printed (in a non-digital manner) from the original negative.  So the original negative may be from the 1890s or so - if someone had that and took it to a dark room and printed the picture out yesterday, even on modern photographic paper, I would consider that original.  I suspect it would not be as valuable or collectible as something printed out in the 1890s with the technology & paper of the 1890s, but it would not be a reproduction. 

To me, a reproduction is a picture of a picture, whether that second picture was made with an old 35mm camera, or scanned into a computer.  Also if someone scanned an image of the negative into a computer then used photo shop to create a photo, that is obviously a reproduction. 

Someone went to the trouble to very carefully and skillfully mount this photograph on cardboard backing with photographer's information on it. It looks for all the world like a 19th century cabinet photo.If it was an original cabinet photo, a person may reasonably expect to receive hundreds of dollars for it - or more, depending.   But I've seen a lot of pictures like this (not this particular one, but cabinets of American Indians), and they're almost always considered reproductions.   The interesting thing is though, the people who say they are reproductions almost never say how they know that, so I'm left in the dark.

I'm familiar enough with late 19th century photographs to know that they are not black and white.  They are frequently very subtle shades of browns and grays, which are very hard to reproduce accurately in my eBay listings .  If a photo has a classic black and white look to it then it probably does not date from the 19th century. 

I also know that if a picture is printed off a computer, at some level you can see the pixels. Sometimes you can see it with the naked eye, sometimes you need a some magnification.  This one was definitely not printed from a computer.

Also, late 19th century photos are printed on very thin paper - this paper is not really thin, it looks to be a later vintage.  Maybe that's it, maybe that's how they tell, I'm not sure.

If I accept the fact that this is a repro, then at some point in the past someone used cardboard backing from Ellsworth Marks photography studio in Clinton, Missouri, and very skillfully mounted this photo on it, with an intent to deceive.   Maybe it was old Ellsworth himself, or maybe someone who came into possession of these items at a later time.  I don't know.  And I have no idea where the picture would have come from - did he get it from someone else?  Did he cut it out of a magazine (not likely).

This is probably a repro, if I am to believe stuff people say about photos like this.  Photos that are really too good to be true.  I just wish the people who seem so certain about these things would be a bit more open about how they know for sure. 

Even though this is most likely a reproduction, it is beautiful.  Chances are someone would like to have it.  I've scheduled it and others for sale in the eBay store, starting at about 10 PM tonight.  I'll be listing others throughout the week.

Update:  Sold!  (this one was a safe bet)


  1. I love when you post little mysteries here - sets me off researching. I always learn something. After looking at a lot of images this looks like it might be a Quapaw Indian. And I googled the photographer and found someone on ebay offering a few of his photos: Google also turned up other contemporary mentions of the photographer.

    But I'm sure you knew all this.

  2. Thanks - I was wondering what his tribe was. Here's a link where a person shows how she made a fake Cabinet Photo using photo shop: