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January 23, 2014

Do you ever stop to consider how serious life was for our ancestors?  No indoor plumbing or electricity, no advanced medicine or penicillin, no dental programs, no refrigeration, no telephones - these are just a few reasons why life was so extraordinarily hard for our forefathers and mothers.

Up until the early 1900's the infant mortality rate was horrifically high.  The average life span was less than 50 years and devastating farm accidents were a way of life.  All in all, I guess there really wasn't much to laugh about.

Most of the old black and white photographs that have survived show somber people who appear to be serious and pensive.

There are many opinions on why people weren't smiling in antique
photos - the embarrassment of poor dental care, the seriousness of sitting
for a photographer, and even the shutter speed of the old cameras required
that subjects remain perfectly still.
+~+~ Antique Photograph ~+~+ Beautiful girls and gowns all ready for the ball.  1899 Newark, Ohio.
But one of the main reasons why people didn't smile was because
the prevailing opinion of the 19th century upper class was that public
laughing and smiling was a sign of 'low character and theatricals'. 

Today we're going to see some very unusual antique
photographs - of people smiling and even laughing.

The top photo of Abraham Lincoln is the
one most commonly used by historians:
In the bottom photo he looks bemused and is almost
smiling.  It wasn't considered "Presidential enough."

This photo of Queen Victoria, taken in 1860, is
typical of the types of poses that were published:
File:Queen Victoria by JJE Mayall, 1860.png

And here is one of the rarest pictures 
of Queen Victoria ever published:
I think the date of the copyright
under her bouquet is Feb. 15, 1893.

I guess those are the names of the Geschaff children printed on
the lower right hand side of the photo.  The shy smile of the
little boy on the right is adorable.

It's heartening to know that people
in the 19th century valued their pets.

One sister is taking the photography session very serious
and the cutie on the left was probably giggling.

This matron appears to be suppressing a smile:

This photo would probably fall under the category of theatrical:

The photographer captured a relaxed moment for recent nursing graduates:
I'm sure the official picture was much more rigid and solemn.

A young European mother looks proud of her boys:

Little boys wore dresses until they were 2 or 3 years old.  This
little fellow looks tentative but happy to be holding his kitten.
Traveling photographers stopped at farm houses and gave people who
lived outside big cities the opportunity to have their likeness captured
for posterity.  Most sittings were outdoors if the weather was fair.

Twins?  These darling girls look happy
and healthy.  Love those cat-head hair bows!

Here is an extremely rare glimpse of a
photography sitting of a 19th century couple: 

The man must of teased his wife and it was
captured by the photographer.  I hope her cameo
was handed down to one of her granddaughters.

Today's post shows a different side of Victorian life that is rarely
portrayed in photographs.  It's nice to know that despite the
difficulties of the period a few happy moments were captured.


  1. I so loved this post (as with all of your posts) but, this post certainly stole my heart. I loved the children pics but the very last one is so adorable; what a sweet couple! Now that is true love. Thanks for making me smile!

  2. Love this post. I love historical photos and I have not seen the likes of these. Awesome.

  3. Well I never heard that before but it makes sense. There was so much to be serious about back then. I wonder in a couple of hundred years or so what people will be saying about the pictures we have.
    Patty at Home and Lifestyle Design

  4. Thanks for sharing such classic collection of photos.

  5. So very interesting. Love to just stare at all the details of the photos. My grandfather died of a Farm Accident in 1941. He took his shotgun out to kill some varmints that were in his corn, and laid the gun against the fence post, when he crawled through the bobbed wire, the gun fell, going off and killing him. I was 6 months old, so never new my grandfather.

  6. Oh I thoroughly enjoyed this post, the photos and the explanations taught me things I had not known. I do know it was a very tough life for most and as a farmer I know how much struggling went on. I am happy this generation realizes that. Great post. B

  7. Have always thought the explanation of "having to hold still" meant no smile but clearly not true for all.
    Love these pictures. Thank you for sharing.

  8. These are sweet - love the twins and the husband and wife in the last series. xo Karen

  9. Geschaft is "location" in German. Strasse is "street". Those must be the locations of the photo studios in Berlin.

    I love the four photos of the man and wife.