Who Do You Think You Are?
Does this photograph show my grandfather?
QI believe this to be an ambrotype of my grandfather, William Mellett, born November 1869. The boy in the picture is pushing a bread cart, and William did become a master baker. I’m guessing he is a teenager in this photo, so that would date it to the 1880s. Were ambrotypes still available as late as that?
AAmbrotypes – or wet collodion positive photographs – were pioneered in 1852 as an early plate-based photographic format.
The original glass negative from the camera was treated with chemicals and one side blackened to create an apparently positive photograph. Ambrotype portraits set inside the photographer’s studio were superseded by novel card-mounted carte de visite prints in the early 1860s. However, outdoor ambrotypes were continuously produced until at least 1890 by open-air photographers operating in the street, on the beach, in local parks and at public venues like fairs.
Ambrotypes were usually set into a metal surround (a ‘mat’/‘matte’), as this photograph is. However, without seeing your physical picture, I’m not certain whether it is a glass ambrotype, or possibly a ‘tintype’ photograph on a thin iron plate. Both were affordable, popular late-Victorian photographs depicting open-air subjects and were similarly framed. Hopefully you can verify the format by viewing the back. Regardless, this street scene shows a young baker or delivery boy pushing his handcart. His appearance can be firmly dated to the early to mid-1880s, nicely supporting the likelihood that he is your grandfather. Jayne Shrimpton
This is a typical late-Victorian outdoor photograph: either an ambrotype or tintype, which were both presented in an ornate brass or cheaper pinchbeck surround called a ‘mat’ or ‘matte’.
The low crown and slightly upturned brim of his bowler are typical of the early to mid-1880s (no later than 1886), providing an important fashion dating clue.
The youth wears a smart three-piece lounge suit, polished boots and bowler hat for his public-facing role delivering or selling loaves for a bakery.
Lounge jackets (as here) and fashionable morning coats were slim-fitting and generally had small, high lapels in the 1880s.
The delivery boy is dressed as a young adult in long trousers (rather than boys’ knickerbockers), so must be aged at least 11 or 12 years old. Wendy’s grandfather William Mellett would have been 12–17 when this photo was taken.
There’s a good chance that he commissioned this special photograph from a local street photographer to mark the start of his apprenticeship, a new job or promotion at work.