Yours Very Sincerely, Agnes Blass

Inscribed “Yours Very Sincerely, Agnes Blass, taken July 1902, to Mrs. G. Sander,” this busy, slightly over-sized cabinet card portrait looks much more back to the 19th century than it does forward to the 20th.

Although attempting to highlight the subject’s rather striking gown, the Julius Hebbel studio operator overwhelmed the dress with clutter representing some of the 1880s’  typical props: a sentimental rural landscape backdrop (the visible edge of which reveals the studio’s “back stage”), artificial flowers and Hebbel’s ubiquitous Victorian wicker screen.

Miss Blass is posed in profile to highlight the ornamentation on the gown’s filmy overskirt and small gathered train, but somehow the lighting has produced a deep shadow that makes the young women look as if she has a black eye.

Louisa Agness Blass was born 1 December 1872 in Washington County, Ohio to Bavarian immigrants Jacob Blass (1834-1890) and Catherine (Barthell) Blass (1835-1920).

Jacob Blass was apparently a pastor of the German Reformed church who served congregations in Baltimore, Pennsylvania and Indiana, including St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed Church in Erie, Pa., Emmanuel Church (now part of the United Church of Christ) in Meadville, Pa., and St. John’s Evangelical Church, Evansville, Ind.

A 1901 Baltimore Sun article on the 50th anniversary of the “First German United Evangelical Lutheran Church” noted Jacob Blass as a former pastor, and said the church was  located on Eastern Avenue near Broadway, but this may not be accurate.

The Blasses lived in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore in 1880. There is an Evangelical United Church of Christ at Dillon Street and S. East Avenue in Canton, but it’s unclear whether this congregation has any relation to the one served by Blass.

Agness and her mother made their home with Agness’ brother, Reverend Julius Blass (1861-1902). According to a family history researcher on, Agness became the second wife of Erie, Pa. cigar manufacturer Henry Mueller and step-mother to Henry’s daughter Thelma Mueller.

Reverend Julius Blass was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1882 after studying at the Meadville Theological School, Meadville,  Pa.. He died on 5 April 1902 in Baltimore (Baltimore Sun, 6 April 1902).

Agness’ brother John Henry Blass became a pharmacist, and in 1902 kept a drug store at 410 N. Gay Street, next door to the Hebbel Studio at 409 N. Gay Street, so having her portrait taken there would have been quite convenient.

Jacob Blass, Catherine Blass and Julius Blass are buried in Erie Cemetery, Erie, Pa.

The funeral directors H. Sander and Sons were charged with conveying the Reverend Julius Blass’ remains back to Erie, Pa. for burial. Agness Blass presented this portrait to “Mrs. G. Sander,” who likely was the wife of George A. Sander, Henry Sander’s son and a member of the family firm.

Hebbel Young Marrieds

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was fortunate to acquire two cabinet card photographs of the same young couple, both taken at the Julius Hebbel Studio on North Gay Street ca. 1896-1905.

Here, a young married couple is portrayed with a vignetted bust pose in which the figures nearly fill the horizontal frame. The post just previous displays and discusses this couple’s full-length standing wedding portrait.

According to clothing historian Joan Severa, the balloon-like leg o’mutton sleeve reached its apogee and then began to deflate ca. 1895-1896. The sleeves on this young matron’s white dress appear, then, to be post-1896: still puffed at the shoulder, with elaborate lace trimmings on shoulder and bodice.

While hard to discern because of fading, the dress may have a “bertha” collar, which Severa defines as “a deep fall of lace or silk, usually gathered, of equal length all around and set on with the top edge of the shoulder-line” (Dressed for the Photographer, 541).

Her hairstyle, pulled tightly back with soft short bangs, was going out of fashion by 1896, says Severa. Bangs were beginning to be “flattened down from a central part into waves along the temples” (Dressed for the photographer, 470).

The couple chose the same card mount for this later photograph as for their wedding portrait: black, with gold serrated edges and gilt lettering, ca. 1890-1900.

If you compare the tone of the two prints, this one appears much less golden-hued than their wedding portrait. Hebbel may have chosen the newer, faster-exposing dry gelatin bromide plate for this photograph, which was widely available by 1895.

The back of the card mount features advertising that fills the entire space. Its Beaux Arts frame of living branches encloses a tableau of trailing morning glories, a camera accompanied by an artist’s palette, and examples of the photographer’s work. This common visual trope associated the photographic craft with the fine arts and suggested the camera’s superior capacity to capture nature.

Hebbel Newlyweds

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“It is the sleeve and its changes,” writes clothing historian Joan Severa, “that gives the best dating tool for the nineties” (Dressed for the Photographer, 458). This bride’s leg o’mutton sleeves date the photograph to ca. 1895-1900. If you look closely, the sleeve appears to have a double puff and to end just below the elbow in a loose gathered lace cuff.

White for wedding dresses, pioneered by Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding gown, had become traditional by the early 1890s.

The groom wears a morning or cutaway coat, typical fashionable formal day-wear for Victorian men.

The black  mount, with its gold serrated edges and relatively elaborate advertising on the back, was in wide use between 1890 and 1899.

The address indicates that the photographer occupied two spaces, 409 and 411 North Gay Street. According to his obituary, Julius Hebbel (1853-1905) owned two studio spaces on North Gay Street at the time of his death.

The term “instantaneous,” according to Lou W. McCulloch, referred in cabinet card photography to “short durations of exposure.”  Faster exposure times became possible with the invention of the gelatin-bromide dry plate by George Eastman in 1881.

The sepia tone of this photo suggests, however, that Hebbel was still using wet-plate process albumen paper and washing it chloride of gold. McCulloch says both processes were in use up to about 1895 (Card Photographs, A Guide to Their History and Value, 47.)

Sailor from the USS Matchless, Hebbel Studio

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This cabinet card photograph portrait of a sailor from the USS Matchless was taken at the Julius Hebbel Studio at 409 and 411 North Gay Street, Baltimore, ca. 1890-1900.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Matchless was a schooner assigned to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1885-1919. Built in 1859 at Key West, Florida, the Matchless was refitted in 1895.

NOAA has documented the Matchless’  role in several emergencies on land and sea.

Given when it was built, the schooner was probably active in the Union Navy during the Civil War. I’ve found one scholarly reference to the Matchless‘ role in the Union occupation of Ft. Myers, Florida in 1864 (Solomon, “Southern Extremities: The Significance of Ft. Myers in the Civil War,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, 72:2, Oct 1993, 129-152). If you know more about this ship’s history, leave us a comment.

Like many Hebbel portraits, this photograph makes use of one of the studio’s elaborate wickerwork chairs. The mount’s serrated edges and relatively elaborate advertising on the reverse are typical of the 1890s.

Although difficult to discern in this digital image, the photograph has been subjected to the “cameo” process, in which a press was employed to create a raised oval surface.  A number of specialized cameo presses with interchangeable dies were marketed to photographers from 1868 on (Darrah, Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, 190). The surface has also been varnished to create a highly smooth and polished effect.

Sailor in the Maryland Naval Militia, ca. 1915

This photo by Max J. Reissert was sent to me by my genealogy buddy and shirttail cousin, Janet Canapp. She found it in a family album and has been researching the photograph and uniform to get an idea of who it might be.

The young man is wearing what appears to be a ca. World War I naval uniform, with puttees, maybe made of canvas. Under a microscope, Janet says the initials on his cap are M N G. Maryland had a naval militia as part of its national guard, so our best guess is that the initials stand for “Maryland National Guard.”

The operator chose a rather incongruous garden motif for a background. The young sailor stands tall and smiling, clearly proud of his position. Note the base of the posing stand visible behind his feet.

Reissert’s studio had been occupied by Julius Hebbel ca. 1889-1904. Reissert and his wife are both listed as photographers on N. Gay Street in the 1910 census.

Born about 1867 in Germany, Reissert immigrated to the U.S. in 1897 and was still active as a photographer in 1930.

Art Nouveau Verso (A Maryland Volunteer Fireman, Continued)

This is the back of a cabinet card photograph of an unidentified volunteer fireman (see previous post for the front).  Its flowers and vines motifs are typical of Art Nouveau, a style that flourished from 1890 to 1905.

Julius Hebbel, like many other photographers, aspired to practice “artistic photography.” From the very beginning, photographers aspired to equal or even supercede painting and drawing. Others, like David Woodward, inventor of the”solar camera,” the  first widely-used enlarger, championed photography as an aid to painting.

Here, as flowers burst from the inner frame and the painter’s palette leads the eye across a rural bridge and deeper into the drawing,  the riot of the graphic artist’s imagination threatens to overwhelm photography’s claims.

A Turn-of-the Century Volunteer Fireman

This cabinet card photograph by Julius Hebbel was probably taken sometime between 1889 and 1920, when the Hebbel studio was located at 409-411 Gay Street in Baltimore.

The diamond die-cut border, chocolate brown mount, and elaborate, art nouveau flowers-and-vines advertisement on the verso suggest a date of 1890-1905.

The photographer chose a head-and-shoulders pose on a simple cream background, allowing the fireman’s uniform and gilt-trimmed cap to provide the portrait’s only embellishment.

The youthful, unidentified sitter looks off into the distance, as if scanning the horizon for smoke.

The initials on the sitter’s woolen bib-style shirt, E. B. V. F. C., don’t  match the names of any Maryland localities, according to my contact at the Maryland State Firemen’s Association.

“More likely,” he says, “is the probability of a visiting company from another state, most likely attending the Maryland State Firemen’s Association convention, several of which were held in Baltimore.

“It was not uncommon for companies from as far as New Jersey to send apparatus and manpower for these festive occasions. The conventions of old not only held parades, but also firematic contests such as hook up teams, pumping teams, and ladder teams. These contests were a source of great pride and usually attracted companies for 100 miles or more.

“Thus, [the company] most likely was from out of state. It could be East Berlin, PA located in Adams County, PA as I believe that company dates around 1890. They do use the number. one, but actually are incorporated at the Liberty Fire Company.

“It could also be East Brunswick, NJ, founded in 1906 that actually goes by Fire District No. 1. Either of these companies, or a variety of others, could be the mysterious EBVFC.”

If you have an idea which fire company is represented by the sitter’s shirt, please leave a comment.

Babies, Babies, Babies

While I’ve yet to come across a carte de visite of an infant, the era of the cabinet card photograph brought about an explosion of baby portraits.

For some reason, most babies were photographed solo. The prodigy was usually dressed in an extremely long white garment, probably a christening gown.

Here is a typical cabinet card photograph of a baby by the Julius Hebbel Studio. Hebbel babies were often photographed on one of his elaborate wicker seats.

Back Matters

This is the reverse of a Julius Hebbel Studio cabinet card. Studio advertising tended to grow more elaborate toward the end of the nineteenth century.

The front of the card depicts a young, well-dressed matron on a black mount (see previous post).

This card features a cherub with an artist’s palette amid palm fronds. According to William C. Darrah, cherubs were a popular motif in photographers’ advertising ca. 1875-1885, but Hebbel’s studio was located at 409 Gay Street from 1889 to 1904. The art nouveau-influenced typography Hebbel used suggests a date of ca. 1890-1905.

Leftover mounts were often used by photographers, so dating by mount style can be difficult.

Portrait of a Young Baltimore Matron

This young woman’s portrait, taken by the Julius Hebbel Studio in the late 19th century, is one of my favorites. Some may think the choice of a black mount and the jet beading on her dress indicate that the photo was a mourning memento.

The photographer has chosen to “vignette” his subject. Vignetting was a printing technique for shading the image gradually into the background. The elaborate embroidery and beading on her dress suggests this woman is from a prosperous family.

The warm ivory tone of the photograph is typical of albumen prints. An extract from hens’ eggs was used in the preparation of the paper.  Older albumen prints exhibit a characteristic crackled surface.