When was my great grandfather Nathaniel photographed?
QCould you give me some idea of when these photos were taken? They are both of the same man – my great grandfather, Nathaniel Conway, who was born in 1853 and died in 1923. He spent all his working life with the London and North Western Railway Company, mostly as a train guard. Ronald Jones
AThese are both professional studio portraits, but without views of the card mounts or photographer details to investigate, we must date them from the visual images – essentially, from your ancestor’s appearance. Nathaniel wears smart fashionable dress in both photographs, not his railway uniform, so their context seems to be personal, rather than work-related.
In the close-up portrait, his stylish threepiece lounge suit is typical of the 1880s and early 1890s. Key dating details include his jacket and waistcoat buttoning high with small, neat lapels, and a starched winged late-Victorian collar accessorised with a formal bow tie. He looks significantly older, thinner and with greying hair, in the threequarter-length photograph. Here he wears the more relaxed lounge suit of the early 1900s/ pre-First World War era, with a modern shirt collar and knotted tie. Unless other plausible occasions occur to you, wider photographic evidence suggests that your great grandfather may have had these photographs taken to record milestone birthdays.
1LANDMARK OCCASIONJudging from Nathaniel’s appearance and the date range, I would suggest that this photograph may have been taken in 1893 to celebrate his landmark 40th birthday.2FASHIONABLE ACCESSORYIn the 1880s and early 1890s, men’s suits were often edged with silk braid binding, as seen here; a white handkerchief in the top pocket became a fashionable accessory.3MILESTONE IMAGEIt is possible that your great grandfather had this photograph taken in order to mark his milestone 55th or 60th birthday in 1908 or 1913, or perhaps his retirement from work.4AMODERN LOOKBy around 1904–1905, this more modern, turned-down shirt collar and long knotted tie were usual for daywear, although collars remained heavily starched.5EDWARDIAN LAPELSJacket lapels grew progressively longer during the early 1900s, and the shape and size of these lapels suggest a date in the mid-to-late Edwardian era.