Unknown Stories


1870's Photo Portrait of Man in Traveling Embossed Union Case (LEO Design)


These days, we take photos—and photo-taking—for granted.  The most famous (or vain) amongst us may be captured in multiple photo clicks every day.  Some of these photos may even be shot by the subject himself!  (Vulgar? I'll let the reader decide.)  But, in the Nineteenth Century, when photography was fairly new (and a highly-specialized undertaking), ordinary people might only take two or three photos in their entire lifetimes: at marriage, before going-off to war, after establishing a successful business.  Wealthy families may have a studio portrait taken of the family with young children—or, perhaps, just the children alone.  In the early Twentieth Century, as photography became more common (and less expensive), tourists might encounter opportunities to take "novelty shots" while on holiday, perhaps crouched in a barrel at Niagara Falls or "rowing" a canoe at Coney Island.

One of the great leaps-forward for amateur photography was Kodak's introduction of the "Brownie" camera in 1900.  Sold for $1.00, the Brownie made photography affordable for the non-professional.  Of course, photographers had to buy film and have it developed in a professional lab.  Photography wasn't "mindless and free" as it was to become with the advent of the mobile phone camera in the Twenty-First Century.  And what a difference that invention made!  I suspect (but have no data to prove it) that more photos have been taken in the first 22 years of the Twenty-First Century than in all of human history that preceded it.

The portrait above captures a young-ish man, dressed-up for the occasion.  The photo was taken by a professional photographer and mounted in an embossed "Union Case"—a protective and padded "book" which was convenient for travel. We'll never know this man's story.  The photo was likely taken in the 1870's, meaning this man was not heading off to fight in the Civil War.  But, perhaps, he had returned from it?  Perhaps this photo was an indulgence—taken to celebrate his safe return after the war?  Though we'll never know his backstory, that doesn't have to prevent one from "imprinting" one's own romantic and thrilling biography upon this nameless gent.  Click on the photo to learn more about this picture.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248