A Mysterious Family Photograph, 1895 — with Dog!

Pets Blog 1 July 15_0009
Cabinet card photograph, dated 1895 on verso. Photographer unknown.

Here’s a mystery for you!  As I recall, I found this photograph at a paper show, and the seller knew nothing about it.    It is dated “1895” in pencil on the back. Here’s how I parse it.

Given that the picture is taken in the corner of a room, and the child on the right has been cut off, I thnk that this was taken by an amateur photographer.   I interpret the two crayon portraits on the easels as the grandparents of this attractive brood of youngsters.  “Crayon portraits” are enlarged photographs enhanced with charcoal or crayon.  They were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s because they offered the impressive size of painted portraits with the accuracy of the photographic image — and at an accessible price point. Photographers actually made most of their money on these by selling the pictures in fancy frames.

Why the dog is included is unknown — I’d like to think he or she is an honorary grandchild!  But it is amusing that the dog is seated higher than most of the children, and that he gets a lot of space in the image, while the kids are sort of squashed together, and the little boy on the right is only half a child.  Note that the dog is looking directly at the photographer and is holding very still while some of the children are squirming.

I can — and have — made up stories about this photograph.  Try your hand at one.  If you make up a good one, I’ll publish it!


  1. Hi, KC, I wonder if the photo is done in a photographer’s studio. The edge of the painted backdrop, set against a supporting board, can be seen at the left when the photo image is enlarged. The bricks of the wall and perhaps a window or door sill may be visible there as well. It seems that the group is just too large to fit in the space available! Perhaps the child at far right just happened to step to the side when the photo was taken so s/he ended-up stepping part way out of the frame. Certainly why the dog is included is a mystery. Perhaps he was set up on the chair so he would show up and not get trampled by the kids! And if he were on the floor he would undoubtedly be a distraction to the children who would probably want to play with him. I’m curious about the function of the small tin or sheet metal pitcher on the table in the left side of the photo.

    • Good looking about the backdrop. It always takes more than one set of eyes! I am still inclined to think that this is an amateur photograph, but now I wonder about the studio set-up.

  2. What a great photo…….I think the kids are all the grandchildren of the couple who are deceased and are remembered this way.

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