Winter Warmers

As the chill winds of winter begin to blow, I’ve looked back to see what the Victorians wore to keep themselves warm. The first image shows a small child enveloped in her fur-trimmed coat, with matching cape and what maybe a knitted hat. Her ensemble is completed by a pair of tiny, though sturdy, boots.

In photographs 2 and 3 above, capes are again featured, this time in some kind of fur. The woman standing in the second image sports a long, tight-fitting coat. The hats of all three women are adorned with either flowers or some other ornament. These costumes from the 1880s were probably worn in autumn or spring as they would offer very slight protection against wind, rain or snow.

The older women in images 5 and 6 seem pretty well prepared for anything that nature might throw at them. Not only do they have long outer garments, fabric gloves also feature in their outfits. Added to this, while one lady relies on a stylish umbrella to keep her dry, the other, standing by a desk, has invested in an early type of mackintosh. I do wonder though how their hats stood up to inclement conditions.

The same can be asked of the woman in image 4, probably from the 1870s. She wears a matching gown and jacket, with leather gloves covering her hands. Added to these garments is a rather large fur muff, where her hands could be inserted should the gloves prove insufficient for her needs. I get the impression that this lady usually avoided bad weather by travelling everywhere by coach.

I struggled to find any chaps in all-weather gear but the three examples show that they adjusted their usual dress of trousers, waistcoat and jacket by the addition of a more substantial overcoat. The young man relies on his bowler hat to keep his head warm with a smart overcoat  for the rest of his person. The boy in image 9 goes one step further in the quest for sartorial warmth. His collar and cuffs are trimmed with what appears to be astrakhan; evidently he was the son of an affluent Victorian family and dressed very much in the same style as his elders.

So, no anoraks or hoodies for our Victorian ancestors but they did look much smarter in those. AT least, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

Posted in photography | 1 Comment

A Double Take

As photography took centre stage in the 19th century dubious practices began to creep in. Such was the competition for customers, people were often accosted in the street, at fairs and race meetings by snappers hungry for sitters. Some photographers went further. They promised to summon up photographs of dear departed family members and friends. A third way in which photography was misused was by out and out plagiarism.


As the century wore on it became fashionable to collect images of the good, the great and the famous. Of course, photographers were more than willing to sell such delights to paying customers, especially if everyday business was a bit slow. However, less scrupulous photographers also got in on the act and pirated copies of popular celebrities began to appear. Only recently I found possible evidence of this practice when sorting through my own collection.

The image above was taken by Camille Silvy at his Bayswater studio, where he specialised in photographing members of the upper echelons of society. Although the identity of the sitter is not known, she was evidently a lady of high status, as her dress and demeanour show. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found a copy of this same photograph, this time with the name of a Swiss photographer, M. Vollenweider of Bern, on the reverse.

It was apparent that the image on the Swiss carte de visite was a copy of Silvy’s original, as the same backdrop appears in many other portraits from his studio. Added to this is the fact that the Swiss copy has less definition and a rather faded sepia tone. The Silvy photo is much crisper, allowing details such as the texture of the lace shawl to be seen in greater detail. However, there is one aspect of the Silvy image that puzzles me. It is evidently a cropped version of the photograph, as the Swiss copy shows more of the floor and slightly more of the window frame above the lady’s head.


It is possible that Silvy himself sent out his popular portraits to other photographers in order to boost his income at a time when he was experiencing financial and personal difficulties. In fact, when this image was made (in the mid-1860s) he was perhaps already thinking of returning to France, the country of his birth. By the late 1860s he  crossed the Channel for the last time, leaving behind  a lasting legacy of some sixteen or seventeen thousand photographic plates. These are now housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London and some of Silvy’s photographic portraits can be seen online. Sadly, though, not the one of the lady near the window, whose image made its way to Bern in Switzerland.





Posted in photography | 4 Comments

And the Parrot came too

This gallery contains 3 photos.

When you think of Victorian family portraits, animals aren’t the first thing that spring to mind. Usually a group would consist of  husband and wife or parents with their brood of children. Granny and Grandpa, as well as uncles aunts … Continue reading


September’s image

This gallery contains 2 photos.

This photo, of Mrs Patterson and Janet, was taken around the mid-1860s by J. Berra of Manchester. The gowns of the two women point towards middle class respectability, being stylishly restrained but evidently of fine quality. The dress of the … Continue reading

Gallery | 2 Comments

August’s image – an unusual character

This gallery contains 4 photos.

This image, taken at the studio of Jno. Davis & Sons, Barrow in Furness, is one of the more unusual offerings from my collection. Family portraits are ten a penny, as are studies of fashionable men and women. This photograph … Continue reading


Special Occasions

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Looking through the c-d-v photographs in my collection, it seems that many were taken to mark special occasions. A recent clutch of images, taken in 19th century Germany, gave several examples of this trend. This first image shows a chubby baby, … Continue reading


Fashion Parade

This gallery contains 3 photos.

One aspect of collecting carte de visite photographs is the ability it gives us to look back and see what our forebears were wearing during the second half of the 19th century. It has to be said that male attire altered somewhat … Continue reading