Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Jumpstart Tip #17 - Dating a Photographer's Mark

Ditota Family, Cleveland, OH

The best way for me to share this tip is to describe a challenge that I faced with a photograph from my own family. The image (shown below) is a formal portrait of four adult men and a young boy. The men are all dressed in 3-piece suits and holding cigars. The first clue I had was that it was among my maternal grandmother's possessions and passed to me upon her death. So, I could somewhat safely assume the photo belonged to that 'half' of my family tree (meaning, not my paternal half). Now, it's entirely possible this isn't a family connection at all - it may be a portrait of some special friends, but in either case I'll want to understand why it was given to and then saved for all those years by my grandmother.

My family was/is from Waterbury, Connecticut. As far as I knew, all my research had shown arrivals from Italy coming straight to Waterbury and staying there, not traveling or migrating to any other part of the United States. The photograph has a photographers stamp on the cardboard mounting - it reads:
Fine Art Studio Co.
2096 Murray Hill Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio
(S.A.) Garfield 534 R.

Certainly photographic experts (see Maureen Taylor's website) can tell you the likely time period based on the photographic technique and clothing, but there is a also a relatively simple way to narrow the timeframe when the photo was taken.

Consulting a collection of City Directories for Cleveland, Ohio, you can find a listing for the photographer and match the address to a date. Some businesses operated for decades, but moved multiple times for various reasons. You may find that you can narrow the date range to within just a few years.

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