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2019 Exhibit

2019 Exhibit: Picturing West Virginia

Early Photography in the Mountain State

A poster advertising WV Day 2019: Picturing West Virginia. It is a brown background with an ornate lighter brown design. In the middle is a gold-brown frame surrounding a black and white image of 12 people of varying ages, some holding instruments

This exhibit explores the history of photography using examples from collections of the West Virginia & Regional History Center. The exhibit documents photographic processes, formats, and equipment, from daguerreotypes to wet plates to brownie cameras, of the 19th and early 20th century. It also touches upon the ways photography impacted West Virginians and the world.

To access PDF slideshows of the exhibit, please use the following:

Gallery 1: Early Photography in the Mountain State, 1840-1915

The 2019 West Virginia Day exhibition “Picturing West Virginia: Early Photography in the Mountain State, 1840-1915” explores the history of photography using examples from collections of the West Virginia & Regional History Center. The exhibit documents photographic processes, formats, and equipment from daguerreotypes to wet plates to brownie cameras, of the 19th and early 20th century. It also touches upon the ways photography impacted West Virginians and the world.

The WVRHC extends a special thanks to Morgantown photographer and collector Ron Rittenhouse for his expertise and loan of several cameras and photographs which have greatly enhanced this exhibit.

The Camera Obscura

An illustration demonstrating the usage of the camera obscura. It is a large box, with a small hole on one wall. A person stands inside the box and looks at an image from the outside projected upside down on the opposite wall.

Attempts at capturing images date back to ancient times. The camera obscura, or pinhole camera, was known to the Chinese and Greeks more than 2,000 years ago. It consists of a dark chamber (camera) with a hole, and later a lens, in one side. Images from outside the chamber are projected through the hole onto the opposite wall of the chamber. The images appear reversed and upside down. A mirror can be added to flip the images for a normal view. The camera obscura can be used to view eclipses without damaging the eyes. It was also commonly used by artists to assist them in creating proportionally correct drawings.

Pioneers of Photography

A black and white image of a man wearing a waistcoat, high-collared shirt, jacket, and a bowtie. He has parted, curly hair, a mustache and a neutral expression

The camera obscura enabled the projection of images. The invention of methods to permanently capture images did not occur until much later. In 1777, Johann Schulze discovered that silver salts could be darkened through exposure to light. He demonstrated his discovery by making words appear in the salts by exposing them to sunlight. While he did not attempt to “fix” (make permanent) the images he produced, his discoveries, combined with the camera obscura, provided the basics needed for the invention of photography.

A little more than a hundred years later, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, building upon earlier work of Nicephore Niepce, invented the first successful photograph medium, the “daguerreotype.” Daguerre discovered that a copper plate coated in iodized silver, placed in a camera obscura and exposed to light for five to seven minutes, would hold a latent image. After exposure, the image could be further developed by putting it in another box and subjecting it to mercury vapor. The image could then be permanently fixed by washing it with  a solution containing table salt to dissolve the unexposed silver iodide. What was left was an image with a mirror-like reflective quality. In 1839, Daguerre sold full rights to his invention to the French government and published a pamphlet that described all the details of the process which became a best seller. Photography would soon become a burgeoning industry around the world, particularly in America.

The Daguerreotype

A black and white image of a middle-aged couple. The woman on the left wears a white cap, white shirt, and matching skirt and jacket. The man wears a waistcoat, bowtie, and jacket. The woman has a hand on the man's shoulder. They look into the camera

Above: William and Eliza Foster, parents of songwriter Stephen Foster

Daguerre’s process produced a direct positive, meaning no negative was created. The daguerreotype could not be reproduced unless photographed itself. Within a year of the publication of the process, improvements in camera lenses and sensitized plates shortened the exposure time to five to forty seconds. This made daguerreotypes practical and ideal for portraiture. Unless a prism was used in the camera to correct the image, daguerreotypes are laterally reversed meaning that text will appear backwards or wedding rings appear on the right hand instead of left.

A black and white image of a man in a white high-collared shirt, a bowtie, and jacket. His hair is styled neatly and he looks off to the right thoughtfully.

Above: Nathaniel Bailee


Daguerreotypes were made in standard sizes ranging from a whole plate of 8½ by 6½ inches to a sixth plate of 2¾ by 3¼ inches. Sixth plates and quarter plates (3¼ by 4¼ inches) were the most common. Portraits were often colored by hand to add blush to the cheeks and sometimes gold was applied to jewelry. The daguerreotype plate was then placed under glass in a case sometimes with a mat and preserver.

A woman wearing a rounded bonnet-style hat with a ribbon tied under her chin. She wears a dress, gloves, and a long coat and looks into the camera as she sits. one hand is on her lap, and on rests on a surface to her right

Side by side: a box with a decorative design on the front, and to the right a framed portrait of a woman in a low shoulder dress and a short necklace. Her hair is parted in the middle and twisted into an updo and she looks into the camera.

A portrait of a young man in a jacket, vest, and bowtie, with his hair styled in neat wavy style, he looks into the camera. His face is a peachy color and his suit is black

A middle aged man with a high necked white shirt, a bow tie, a jacket, and wavy hair on the sides of his head, the middle of his head is bald. He looks seriously into the camera.

A framed image of a middle-aged man and woman, the man has graying hair and a jacket and bowtie, the woman has curled hair and a dress with a lacy white collar. To the left is a pocket watch-sized device with a picture of a young man inside

Three young boys, each wearing white shirts under dark jackets, with styled, parted hair, look into the camera

Shown here are Mary Matilda Bailee (top left); William G. Battelle and friends (top right); William Battelle a few years later (bottom, second from left); Anna Battelle (bottom, furthest left); Anna and Thomas Real (bottom, furthest right); and M. A. Valentine (bottom, third from left).

Photograph Cases

Four photo cases sit against a blue background. The upper left is a worn light brown, the bottom left is a dark brown, the top right is a dark color with gold ornamentation around the border and a sunburst, bottom right has a detailed floral design

A brown photo case with an intricate design, inset into the material, a frame and detailed ornamentation at the corners, and a

A dark cool brown photo case with curved details forming a framing pattern on the front

A horizontal octagon shaped photo case, medium brown, with a design of a girl and a sheep in the middle, standing on grass, and with flowers behind them

A tall rectangular, dark brown photo case with a swirling inset design, and a gold oval in the middle

Daguerreotypes and ambrotypes (and sometimes tintypes) were generally housed in photograph cases that ranged from simply decorated to highly ornate. While many were made of wood covered in leather, photograph cases were among the first items made of thermal plastic, a biodegradable moldable material that preceded petroleum-based plastic.


A fold-out photo case with a picture inside of a white man with slicked back dark hair, a jacket, and a dark colored shirt looking into the camera.

The ambrotype used a polished plate of glass as its base. The emulsified plate was underexposed in a camera and sometimes bleached after being developed, creating a light white silver image. To make it appear positive, the glass base was backed with black cloth, paper, metal, or paint. Like the daguerreotype, the ambrotype is a direct positive image.

Two similar looking white men with dark hair, the one on the left has slightly longer hair and sideburns and the one on the right has a short beard. They both wear suit jackets, white shirts, and bowties.

Above: William G. Brown and Daniel T. Farnsworth, WV politicians

A small ornately framed photo of a man with styled dark hair, a dark suit jacket and vest, a white shirt and bowtie. He looks into the camera.

An oval shaped ornately framed photo of a young woman, wearing her hair parted in the center and in an updo, and a wide-necked dress

An oval shaped, ornately framed photo of a woman in a plaid dress with a white collar holding a baby wearing a long white smock

A photo of a baby, framed by an ornate golden frame

Ambrotypes were also hand colored and put in cases but they do not have the reflective look of a daguerreotype. They are not usually laterally reversed like daguerreotypes, as the glass base could be flipped over in the case to show the correct view. Cheaper than daguerreotypes, ambrotypes peaked in popularity in the mid-1850s. The ambrotypes shown here date from the 1850s. Pictured, from left to right, are J. P. Gardner, Anna Battelle, Anna and James Battelle, and James Battelle at four months.

The Wet Collodion Process

A diagram illustrating the wet collodion process. It is divided into 4 steps from top left to right, and from bottom left to right: polishing the plate, coating the plate, sensitizing the plate and developing the plate.

The wet collodion emulsion process was developed in 1848 and made available to the public in 1851. In this process, collodion (a mixture of nitrated cellulose, ether, and alcohol) was poured over the base material (usually glass or tin) which was then soaked in a silver nitrate solution. While still wet, the base was then placed in a holder, exposed in a camera, and then developed.

This process had to happen quickly - typically within fifteen minutes - so it was better suited for portraits taken in a studio. For photographs outside of a studio, the photographer had to have all of his equipment and chemicals on site and set up a mobile photo lab. The collodion process was in popular use until around 1880. It was used to make ambrotypes, tintypes, and wet plate negatives.

Photographer and His Equipment Wagon, Morgantown, WV circa 1900

A man in a suit stands in front of a small wooden cart with large wheels and an umbrella over top, pulled by a horse.

Photographers using the wet collodion process who wanted to photograph outside or have a mobile studio had to carry a significant amount of equipment and chemicals with them to be able to take the photos and then develop them onsite. The umbrella on the photographer’s wagon served as the roof of his portable darkroom.


Black and white image of a white man with thick, wavy dark hair and a medium length beard looks contended into the camera. He wears a white shirt and a velvet jacket
A white boy sits in a wheelchair, a hand resting on his lap. He wears slacks, a white shirt, a suit jacket and a bowtie, and looks thoughtfully into the camera.

The tintype, another direct positive image, produced using the wet collodion process, was introduced around 1856. As indicated by its name, the base of the tintype was tin plate. Tintypes could be hand colored and placed in cases, but they were often put in paper mounts or albums or just left loose. They were less expensive than both daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. Tintypes were very popular with Civil War soldiers who would send them to their families at home.

Two tinype images on a dark blue background. The top has a yellow-brown frame and is a photo of a family, the bottom is a photo of a young child. To the left of the photo is a photocase.
An open photo book showing two tintype images, one framed on each page. The one on the left shows a man in a uniform, framed by concentric lines. The one on the left shows a man, and the photo is framed by several flowers.
A selection of nine tintype portraits displayed on a blue background.
At tintype of a soldier wearing a uniform. The portrait is oval-shaped and the frame is an ornate bronzy-gold color.
A tintype portrait of a family, two parents, an older boy, a girl, and a young boy. The parents sit in front while the children stand behind them.
Three tintypes, one is images inside a locket, on is a small circular portrait, and the third is a rectangular portrait of a person sitting in a wooden chair outside.
two tintype portraits, the one on the left is a small oval surrounded by a large cream colored framing card. the one on the left is a rectangle with rounded corners, a portrait of a young man.
Two tintype portraits, both small ovals surrounded by a cream colored photo card. One is a young woman, and the other is a baby in a white gown.

Tintype Camera

A tintype portrait of a young woman next to a red, detailed photo case.
Two tintype portraits, one gray and white of two women, the other a cream background portrait of a young woman
three tintype portraits: one of a young woman, one of a small child, and one of a young man.
An image of a tintype camera, a large black box with a round lens on one side.

Tintype cameras produced photographic images from collodion wet tinplate. After exposure, the plate was dropped into a canister attached to the camera bottom for ten minute processing. The finished product was a 2x2 image on thin sheet metal.

Century Portrait Studio Camera, circa 1904

A studio camera from the early 1900s made of mahogany wood, with a cherry base and brass hardware.

This studio camera has a mahogany wood body with a cherry wood base and brass hardware. It used dry plates to produce 5x7 to 6.5x8.5 images. A brass plate attached to this camera below the lens reads “Century – Nicoll’s Art Store Photographic Supplies, 1231 Market Street, Wheeling, West Va.”

From Negative to Positive: Albumen Prints

A yellow-toned picture of a large two-story building, with balcony decks and a stone chimney. Several men stand out front.

Above: A group photo outside of Raleigh House Hotel, Raleigh County, W. Va.

The development of the collodion wet plate negative changed the primary photographic method from direct positives (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) to the system of printing positives from negatives. As a result, using albumen printing on paper became the most popular printing process in the 19th century. In fact, albumen prints from wet collodion glass negatives comprise 80 percent of all 19th century photographs that survive today.

Albumen Prints

A gold-toned picture of a man in a suit, bowler hat, and carrying a cane. He has a thick mustache and is standing in a doorway

A reddish-brown toned image of a woman wearing a dark-colored high necked dress. Her hair is up and here hands rest on top of a table to her right.

The use of albumen (egg white) as part of an emulsion mixture simplified the photographic process. Paper could be coated with the albumen emulsion, dried, and stored. When it was time for use, the paper would be sensitized by floating it in a silver nitrate solution and used immediately by placing it in contact with a glass plate negative (usually created by the wet collodion process) then exposed to the sun in a printing frame until the print had the preferred level of darkness.

A picture of a large building with three stories, six windows on the front and a large porch wrapping around the ground level. The picture has a faded, white hue.

A group of 7 men and women standing at the triangular mouth of a cave, or rock formation. One woman holds an acoustic guitar.

Yellowing discoloration is strongly associated with albumen prints. Albumen yellowed in part because of the use of gold chloride in the fixing process as well as the natural aging of the egg albumen. Another characteristic of albumen prints is small cracking in the emulsion. Most albumen prints were made on thin paper and so they were mounted on cards.

Cabinet Cards

A cabinet card of a white middle-aged man with a high-necked shirt, necktie, and jacket. This is John Brown.  A cabinet card of an older man with white hair and a white beard, sitting in a wooden chair with a baby wearing a white gown on his lap.

When CDVs began to decrease in popularity, larger card mounted photographs were introduced. Standard cabinet card prints measured 4½ by 6¼ inches. The mounting cards routinely included ornate decorations as well as the name of the photographer and studio. Cabinet cards and larger card mounted photographs were popular well into the 20th century. The cabinet cards shown here are albumen prints. The men pictured are prominent figures in West Virginia history. Can you identify them?

Salted Paper Prints

A cream and sepia low contrast image of a man with a beard, wavy hair, a jacket and a necktie. He looks off to the side thoughtfully.
A tan and grey image of a man with a stern face and high cheekbones wearing a neck tie and a jacket. His hair is medium length and thin. He is wearing small, round spectacles.

The calotype process used a paper negative to create a salted paper print. It was in use at the same time as the daguerreotype but never achieved wide popularity due to patent restrictions and the fuzzy quality of prints in which paper grain was visible. The calotype also lacked the range of tones that were seen in daguerreotypes. Still, the calotype is an early example of the negative to positive process that would eventually dominate after the development of the wet collodion negative and albumen print paper. Although the calotype process didn’t catch on in a big way, salted paper continued to be used and was paired with the wet collodion and other types of negatives to create prints in the late 19th century. These salt prints feature images of West Virginia politicians Albert Gallatin Jenkins and Zedekiah Kidwell.

Partridge's Gallery

Several documents from Asa C. Partridge concerning taking a photograph of the WV senate.
An image of a man with a mustache and a necktie looking to the side.  A portrait of a woman on a cream background. She wears a dress, a bonnet, and has her dark hair parted down the middle. She looks straight into the camera.

Pioneer photographer Asa C. Partridge settled in Wheeling in 1848. Wheeling city directories show that he was operating a photography studio and gallery by at least the mid-1850s and it is likely that he began his business not long after his arrival. In 1867, Partridge wrote the letter shown here requesting an opportunity to take a photograph of the West Virginia Senate. The two cent stamp on the back on one example represents payment of a federal luxury tax on photography that was in effect from 1864 to 1866.

Photography and Art: Winter Landscape by William H. Partridge (1858-1938)

A portrait, painted-over photo photo of a narrow path running through snow-covered ground. Three thin trees with brownish orange leave stand. In the distance, water and hills. The sky is a pale blue. It is a small rectangle in a large gold frame.

Recognition of photography as an art form, and the photographer as an artist, dates back to the very beginning of photography. In fact, many early photographers were also painters, graphic artists and illustrators. The great American landscape painter Worthington Whittredge worked as a ‘daguerrean artist’ in the Midwest before moving in 1843 to Charleston where he launched a career as one of the nation’s leading painters. Nearly all photographic studios during the nineteenth century provided the service of “finishing” photos by adding hand coloring in oil, watercolor, charcoal or other media.

The son of pioneer Wheeling photographer Asa C. Partridge, William H. Partridge “finished” photos in his father’s studio in Wheeling and later in Massachusetts before pursuing a career as a prominent American landscape painter during the early 20th century.

The Carte de Visite

A young adult man, with neatly styled dark hair, a mustache, and high cheekbones wears a high-collared white shirt, necktie and jacket. He looks off to his left

Cartes de visite, commonly referred to as CDVs, were named after (and the same size as) French calling cards. When they were first introduced in the 1850s it was thought that they would soon replace calling cards altogether, though that did not happen. They did, however, become incredibly popular beginning in 1859 and lasting through the early 1870s. In 1863, they inspired such a collecting furor that journalists coined the term “cardomania” to describe the craze. Boston physician and photography enthusiast Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested several reasons for the trend, “It is cheapest, most portable, requires no machine to look at it with, can be seen by several persons at the same time…”

A young woman in a high-necked, long sleeved dress rests her arms on a blanket. She has dark hair in an updo, with her bangs curled and she stares thoughtfully to her right. A yellowed image of an older man, with a long white beard, and medium length grayish white hair on the sides of his head. He wears a jacket and stares to his right.

The standard CDV is 4 ½ by 2 ½ inches in size and consists of a small portrait photograph mounted on a card backing. Most of the photographs were albumen prints created from wet collodion negatives, though sometimes other paper prints such as salt or gelatin prints were used. To created CDVs, photographers used a special camera that had multiple lenses and a moveable plate holder that captured several images at once. This enabled the mass production of the photographs. Some studios printed thousands each day.

A young man with medium length dark hair, parted to the side and styled neatly. He wears a bowtie, white shirt and jacket. He has a long, narrow face and looks thoughtful.A man with a short beard and short, parted hair stands outside. He is wearing a suit and a bowtie.A black woman wearing a plaid dress and white neckerchief and head wrap holds a baby on her lap. The baby is wearing a white gown. A yellowed image card of the front of the governor's house, a large building with four tall columns and steps leading to a large door. A stone or brick pathway leads through a garden and to the base of the steps.

“Secure the shadow ere the substance fades” was one of the earliest advertising slogans used by mid-19th century photographers to prompt the sale of photographs, particularly CDVs. The ads encouraged the public to capture images of family and friends before their loved ones were gone, but the idea of sharing these convenient “likenesses” took on a life of its own. The proliferation of cartes de visite in households across America inspired another innovation that took the nation by storm—the photograph album.

“Stonewall” Jackson Family Carte de Visite Photo Album

Two side-by side portraits of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, a white man with dark hair, a beard (in one image) and  short hair and sideburns (in the other).
Two side-by-side carte de visite images, the left of a young woman in a dark colored gown and the right a young boy with neatly parted hair

This album belonged to George Jackson, double cousin of General “Stonewall” Jackson. The top page holds two CDVs of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, on the bottom are CDVs of his sister, Laura Jackson Arnold and her son, Stark Arnold.

Three CDV images displayed on a dark blue mounting board: two landscapes and one of three women wearing wide-brimmed hats
Three CDV images mounted on a dark blue background: a young man standing by a chair, a baby in a dark colored outfit sitting up, and a man with one hand resting on the edge of a piece of furniture.
A selection of six CDV images against a dark blue mounting board: two gods, a black man sitting in a chair, a white man sitting, a group of four people, a black woman in a long dress, and a young white woman from the shoulders up.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of CDVs reside in the collections of the West Virginia & Regional History Center. The CDVs pictured here are all examples of albumen prints attached to a mounting card.

A selection of 6 CDV images: a young white man wearing a tie, woman standing in a long dress, a woman standing with her hand on a chair, a young girl in a dress, a man with a long beard, and a young woman with her back to the camera, facing to the side.
A selection of 6 CDV images: three people posing together, a young man, a baby in a long white gown, a young boy in a chair, a young woman, and a man with glasses and a dark beard
A selection of 6 CDV imagesa selection of 6 cdv images

Glass Plate Negatives

A glass plate negative of a man with a mustache sitting on a wooden chair with his feet up

A glass plate negative of a wheeled cart with an American flag on display

The glass plate negative, which produced a clearer, sharper image than earlier photographic methods, revolutionized photography in the second half of the 19th century. The collodion wet plate negative, primarily popular from the 1860s to the 1880s, essentially changed the primary photographic method from direct positives (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes) to the system of printing positives from negatives.

A glass plate negative of a woman with curly hair wearing a hat

A glass plate negative of a street with horses and a cart

Glass plate negative of a woman pushing a baby pram

glass plate negative of the outdoors, showing trees and a saw mill

The introduction of gelatin emulsion in the late 1870s significantly changed photography and is still the most commonly used emulsion to this day. Gelatin emulsion is a dry process that is used to create both negatives and positives. The medium was bulk manufactured enabling photographers to purchase paper, glass, and later film that was ready for use. Unlike the cumbersome and complex wet collodion process, gelatin emulsions worked quickly and were more portable, making it simpler for amateur photographers to take up the hobby.

An older woman with white hair and glasses sits in a wooden chair with her arms resting on the arms of the chair. She wears a dark colored dress with layers of fabric on the skirt. She looks thoughtfully into the camera A glass plate negative of the same image of the older woman in the chair

The image of labor leader Mary Harris “Mother” Jones seated in a wooden chair is similar to what would have been produced by the 11x14 glass plate negative seen above.

Gelatin dry plate glass negatives first became available in 1879 and remained in use until approximately 1920. These plates were thinner than earlier glass plates and came in standardized sizes of 4x5, 5x7, 8x10, and 11x14. They were coated in an even layer of the gelatin emulsion. Gelatin glass plate negative images are generally more starkly contrasted in their black and white whereas wet collodion plates exhibit cream and gray tones.

Young Man Holding Camera, Foxburg, PA, circa 1900

A black and white photo of a young boy wearing a hat and suit jacket stands on wet sidewalk holding a camera.

The camera box rests on the ground next to the boy. This image comes from the James Edwin Green collection. Green was a photographer in St. Marys, West Virginia as well as in Foxburg.


A stereoscope—a large box with a set of lenses to look through

A stereograph image of a large white building with a crowd of people in front. The same image is repeated side by side.

Stereographs are card mounted photographs made through assorted photograph processes, that offer two images placed side by side on a single card. The images are usually made simultaneously by a camera with two lenses placed adjacent to each other so as to recreate the view that a person would have looking through two eyes. When viewed through a special viewer the stereoscope stereographs exhibit a three dimensional effect.

A stereograph slide of railroad tracks with a person standing on the left A stereograph slide of the outdoors where several people stand in a row

A stereograph slide of hills and valleys in Wheeling, WV Stereograph slide showing river rapids

Stereograph of a large field with a large building in the distance. Stereograph slide of the edge of a large hill covered in trees, right on the edge of a body of water

While early stereographs were made using both daguerreotypes and ambrotypes the introduction of the albumen print increased the format’s popularity during the 1850 s The popularity of CDVs minimized interest in stereographs during the 1860 s, but their popularity resurged after the card craze died down The stereoview remained in common use well into the 20th century.

Stereograph slide of a steamboat

Stereograph of railroad tracks leading into tunnel.

Stereograph slide of a river and industrial wharf.

Stereograph slide of a river, running through open fields and hills

Stereograph of brick buildings nestled in trees and hills

Stereograph of Cheat River trestle work


A displayed stereoscope, set up for viewing. Displayed on a blue pedestal.

Handheld Stereoscope,1861 (left)Oliver Wendell Holmes, father of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was the inventor of the handheld and much more economical stereo viewer. The viewer has the same essential elements as the more elaborate tabletop viewer including two prismatic lenses and an easel for holding the cards.

Tabletop Stereoscope, patented circa1865 (right) This collapsible stereoscopic viewer is set up to view the stereocard resting on the easel shelf. Folded under the platform is a large magnifying lens. When the stereo viewer is folded down and the magnifying lens is raised, the stereocard is replaced on the easel with a single print for magnified viewing. The viewer is now converted to a graphoscope. The base has several notches to adjust the level of the viewers, and the easel holding the image can be moved vertically and horizontally.

Virginia Deskins of Russell County, VA, circa 1905

A young woman with her hair pulled back in a white dress and a plaid necktie holds a stereoscope in her left hand. She sits in front of a worn picket fence. Behind the fence, are two trees.

Deskins is holding a stereoscope. She is a distant relative of WVRHC staff member Catherine Rakowski.

Gallery 2:

The First West Virginia Selfie? Self-Portrait by James Green, 1909

Photo of a man sitting in a wooden chair with his feet up, next to an old fashioned stove with pans and a kettle on top, he looks with focus at a needle and thread in his hands

The practice of taking one’s own picture is so prevalent today that in 2013 the Oxford English Dictionary chose “selfie” as the new word of the year. Like portrait painters, however, photographers have been taking self-portraits since photography came into existence.

Photographer James Green who was active in St. Mary's, Pleasants County, and in Foxburg, PA took this “selfie” using a piece of yarn. One end is attached to the camera’s shutter and the other end is tied to his toe to trigger the shutter. The photo shows James trying to darn his socks while missing his wife, Edith, who was recovering from the birth of their daughter. Edith was not only handy with a needle but was James’ photography assistant. The print is from a glass plate negative in the James Green Collection, A&M 3460, WVRHC. 


A light blue colored image of four men in hats standing outside.
A blue tinted image of several people standing outside the front of a large house. Two are holding bicycles.

Cyanotypes are paper prints immediately recognizable by their blue color. The cyanotype process was in use as early as the 1840s but didn’t reach popularity until the 1880s. Inexpensive and easy to process, they were favored by amateur photographers while professional photographers often used them as proofs to decide which images they would select for printing. The cyanotype is the forerunner of the modern blueprint. 

A blue tinted image of five men standing outside.

A faded blue tinted image of people sitting outside, facing the camera and backs to a tent. they stand against a log fence.

A faded dark blue portrait orientation photo of the outdoors: a large clearing full of small rocks, trees on either side, and a large, tree-covered mountain in the background. Along the bottom is written "Elkhorn Creek"

A vibrant blue tinted image of a bridge construction site: a stone wall stands behind four men who stand among a large pile of the stone slabs used to build it.

A photo album open to two cyanotypes: the left a long two-story building and the right a large house with a porch.

Panoramic Photography

Three panoramic photos of landsccapes

Shown here are panoramic views of the Copley Heirs Well #1 in Sand Fork District, Lewis County (top); the Potomac River at Shepherdstown (middle), and the coal community of Price Hill, W. Va. (bottom). 

While the ability to take a panoramic photograph is standard on digital cameras today, the roots of panoramic photography date back to the beginning of photography. The earliest panoramic views were created by shooting scenery in sections and then placing the resulting photographs next to each other to get the desired effects. By the end of the 19th century, special cameras were developed to take panoramic views. These included the swing-lens cameras in which the lens rotated while the film remained stationary, and the 360-degree rotation camera in which both the camera and the film rotated. The mass produced panoramic Al-Vista camera, introduced in 1898, and the Kodak #4 which came out a year later, were both swing-lens cameras. They used roll film and didn’t need a tripod.

Four framed panoramic photos of town and landscapes, hung on a cream colored wall.

Cirkut Camera

A cirkut camera next to a box of gears. The camera is a large black box, with a handle on top and a lens on an accordion-like appendage on the front of the camera.

The Cirkut camera was patented in 1904 and began production a few years later. Primarily used by professional photographers, the Cirkut was a 360 degree rotation camera with both the camera and the film rotating on a special tripod. The Cirkut camera was capable of making a twenty foot long 360 degree photograph. This No. 8 Cirkut Outfit was owned by the Johnston Studio in Fairmont. For this type of Cirkut, gears were cut specifically for each camera. 

A Significant Development: Gelatin Emulsion 

The introduction of gelatin emulsion in the late 1870s significantly changed photography and is still the most commonly used emulsion today. Gelatin emulsion is a dry process that is used to create both negatives and positives. The medium was bulk manufactured enabling photographers to purchase paper, glass, and later film that was ready for use. Unlike the cumbersome and complex wet collodion process, gelatin emulsions worked quickly and were more portable, making it simpler for amateur photographers to take up the hobby.

Gelatin printing paper came in two varieties, printing out paper and developing out paper. The printing out paper was placed in contact with a negative and exposed to light until the image appeared as desired, just as with the albumen printing paper. Gelatin developing out paper held a latent image that was unseen until it was placed in chemicals and developed. At the end of the 19th century, gelatin printing and developing papers along with collodion paper competed with albumen prints. Gelatin developing out paper eventually surpassed all others and has been the leading paper since 1910.

An image of a dirt road next to a fence. Trees and hills are in the distance, and a car pulled by horses stands in the foreground.

The development of the dry plate negative likely made it possible for brothers Thomas and Walter Biscoe to photograph their journey to Civil War battlefields in 1884. The Biscoes and family members traveled by buggy from Marietta, Ohio, through West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania taking over 200 photographs along the way. 

Victorian Photo Albums

A two-page spread of a photo album: on the right are four small  images, and on the right is one large portrait of a man with short hair and a mustache looking to his left.

A photo album, with a portrait of a man on the left page and a portrait of a woman in a white dress on the right.

The advent of photography brought about the invention of the photograph album. The first commercially produced photo album was developed in 1860. A decade later hundreds of styles of albums were available to consumers. Made with cloth and wood, they were filled with photos of family and friends as well as pictures of leading celebrities.

A photo album with an oval portrait of a woman on the left page and a  man on the right. the images have golden accents around the frames, and on the paper behind are detailed illustrations of flowers and greenery.

Above: this album, fitted with a music box, includes images of people from Elkins and Grafton and was created circa 1890.

"Magic Lantern," or Early Slide Projector, circa 1910

A magic lantern slide projector, a long black box with a lens at the front and a slide holder on the right side.

The 1600s witnessed the invention of the first lantern projectors which, illuminated by candles, cast images on walls if by “magic.” As the lantern projector evolved, the power for the light source improved, changing from candlelight, to oil lamp, to gas, to kerosene and finally electricity. The “Magic Lantern” shown here was gas powered with a thick lens to magnify the glass slide image onto a screen. Lantern slides during this era were generally black and white positives, sometimes colored by hand. They were used for presentations in lecture halls and theaters and also in the home. The Magic Lantern was the precursor of the modern 35 mm slide projector which was pervasive in American homes until the onset of digital photography.

A Selection of Magic Lantern Slides

A selection of twelve magic lantern slides displayed on a table. they show landscapes, houses, and various outdoor vistas. some are in color and others are black and white.

The images depict homes and gardens in Wheeling, Pittsburgh, and possibly other locations.

Photography for the Masses: Eastman Negatives

An image of a railroad yard with a train sitting on a track Image of a small building sitting next to the railroad tracks.

Above: these prints from Eastman Paper Stripping Negatives show the coal mining community of Stone Cliff, WV, where the Beury Coal and Coke Company operated, circa 1880-1900.

While the gelatin dry plate glass negative was a great advance in simplifying the photographic process, glass plates were easy to break. George Eastman addressed this issue by introducing gelatin paper stripping negatives in 1886. Made of paper coated in gelatin, the negative strips were placed on rolls and loaded on a roll holder inside a camera. In addition to solving the problem of fragile glass plates, the negative rolls eliminated the cumbersome need to change plates for each exposure. The photographer could simply advance the roll after each shot. These negatives produced round shaped prints that were mounted on a square. Eastman improved his invention the following year by introducing cellulose nitrate (rather than paper) film. Though this film would prove to have stability issues over time, the introduction of photographic negative film revolutionized the industry.

Eastman’s film along with the Kodak No. 1 and No. 2 cameras opened up photography to the masses. The slogan “you push the button, we do the rest” describes the ease of the whole process. When a person bought a camera, it came loaded with film. After the photographer took the pictures, advancing through the roll, the camera was sent back to the Eastman Kodak company to have the photos developed. The prints and the camera, reloaded with film, were returned to the photographer who was ready to start all over again.

Photography for the Masses: Kodak Cameras 

A small gold circular object shaped like a pocket watch.

Expo Watch Camera, ca. 1905 (above): This is a sub-miniature camera shaped like a pocket watch that used a special 25 cent film cassette for easy loading. Pictures were taken through the stem where the lens is located. The camera produced 5/8 X 7/8 inch pictures that could be enlarged to 3 1/2 X 5 1/2 inches in size. 

A large brass cube with two circular additions on the front.

The Kombi Camera, Patented in 1892 (above): This all brass, box camera made 25 exposures in 1 1/8 X 1 1/8 square format on one roll of film. The name “Kombi” was short for “combination.” The camera’s film magazine could be reloaded in the factory with developed film and then used as film viewer, a graphoscope, combining a camera and a viewer.

A large, black, rectangular cube shaped box, with a circular hole on the front and a leather handle on the top.

Brownie Box Camera No. 3 Model B, Patented in 1914 (above): The Brownie was an inexpensive camera made by Eastman Kodak that introduced the “snapshot” to the masses. 

A large rectangular black box with the front of the camera opened to reveal a lens

No. 2 Autographic Brownie Bellows Camera, Patented in 1908 (above): Made by Eastman Kodak, this camera included a metal pencil to add written information regarding the image on the film at the time of exposure.

Woman Holding Camera nears Pinewille, WV, circa 1915

A young woman in an ankle-length dress and curly hair in an updo stands outside. In her hands she holds a brownie bellows camera and looks down at it

The camera appears to be a Brownie Bellows, as seen in the previous slide.


A selection of four postcard images: a street in a town, a large field with hundreds of people, a large shipping vessel, and a large bridge over a river.

The history of the postcard dates back to 1861 when the U.S. Government passed legislation that permitted cards weighing one ounce or less to be sent through the U.S. mail. That year John Charlton copyrighted the first American postcard. Early postcards did not initially bear pictorial images. One side was reserved for the sender’s message while the other was generally marked “This side for address only.” Images were introduced gradually at the end of the 19th century. The modern postcard, with an illustrated cover and a reverse side divided into message and address sections, was introduced in 1907. The ensuing decades are now considered to be the “Golden Age of Postcards,” with millions of postcards printed. During this period photography enthusiasts could create their own postcards using a special Kodak camera that produced postcard size negatives that could be printed on postcard paper. 

A selection on 9 postcards, mostly wide open landscapes and city streets. Some are black and white and some have faint colors

A selection of 7 postcards: wide open mountain landscapes, city streets, two toddlers sitting together outside

Two colored postcard images, one of a street lined by buildings and one of a river with groves of trees on either side

A selection of 9 postcards: a toddler with a dog, several rivers and landscapes, an aerial view of a town, a valentines day image and a large building.

9 postcards including landscapes, large buildings, and a large group of people.

A selection of nine postcards including, railways, groups of people, a street downtown

A selection of 9 postcards, including illustrations, an american flag in front of a building, a railway tunnel, and town streets

The postcards seen here are just a tiny selection of postcards in the West Virginia & Regional History Center, which run well into the thousands.

Mourning Portraits 

A small coffin holding a baby, set among several wreaths and bunches of flowers.

A coffin holding a young person, surrounded by flowers and people

Post mortem portraits, painted or photographed, were part of the culture of grieving during the 19th century. Since dying usually occurred in the home followed by a vigil of mourning and remembering, having a last photograph of the deceased surrounded by family and friends was common. This was especially true when the lost loved one was an infant or a child. Photographing a dead child seems macabre today, but in many cases such a portrait would have been the only image of the child, alive or deceased, that a heartbroken family would have to cherish the memory of their baby.

A sepia toned portrait of a small coffin surrounded by flowers and a toddler sat up next to it.

a black and white photo of a small coffin displayed in a sitting room

A person in a coffin that is propped up in front of a large group of people wearing black

WVRHC Staff Favorites 

A black and white image of several people, mostly women, sitting in the grass with picnic baskets, and wearing light colored clothes. The woman in the middle points at the camera

Above: Picnic group near Morgantown, circa 1910.

A reddish toned image of a large, brick two story image with several arched windows on the 2nd floor.

Above: State Institute Building on Main Street, Clarksburg, 1895.

Eight young men in baseball uniforms pose outside with their bats

Above: Grafton baseball team, circa 1890

Four people, 3 men and a boy, sit as one blows glass and the boy helps mold the glass.

Above: Glass blower and mold boy, Grafton, 1908

A large group of young black men and women, carrying various instruments

Above: Storer College band members, Harper’s Ferry, circa 1914

Black and white image of a trolley track, with a trolley in the distance

Above: Trolley on High Street near Pleasant Street, Morgantown, circa 1900

A large group of protestors carrying signs relating to boycotting Schwab Clothing Company. They stand on cobblestone streets.

Above: Boycotting Schwab Clothing Company, circa 1912

A group of several people in light-colored clothes standing on a dock made of logs overlooking the Cheat River. A woman holds a fishing rod over the edge of the dock

Above: Fishing on the Cheat River, Tucker County, circa 1900

A young man and a man with short dark hair and a thick mustache stand behind a butcher counter. The young man holds a tool and the older man holds two knives. they both stare into the camera

Above: Butchers in their shop, Morgantown, circa 1910

Three men sit barber chairs in front of a mirror. They wear white capes over their clothes.

Above: Charley Watts and Charley Summers at barbershop, Glady, circa 1910

A family sits at a wooden table in a field surrounded by trees, eating watermelon

Above: Green family eating watermelon on Orchards View Farm, Pleasants County

A group of girls pose in a grassy field surrounded by hedges. They wear white dresses and hold exercise balls in their hands.

Above: Aesthetic dance group, West Virginia University, circa 1900

Two women stand in a store next to a wood burning furnace/oven. The woman on the left is standing on a metal stepladder and pointing at the camera, and the woman on the right sits on the floor with a hand behind her head and gazes up at the other woman

Above: Interior of Jacob Zumbach Store, Helvetia

A woman with tan skin and dark hair wears a white high-necked gown and looks thoughtfully into the camera. In her hands, she holds a paper rolled up, with ribbon tied around the center

Above: Mary Clifford, Storer College, Harper’s Ferry, 1906

A woman and man stand in front of a cloth backdrop: the woman is wearing a dark dress with short sleeves and a white apron, and is holding a stopwatch up; the man is holding a small birdcage in one hand and pointing to his right with the other.

Above: Magician with his assistant, Grafton, circa 1915

A man sits on the stoop of a house holding a hunting rifle with a large turkey laying next to him. Behind him, a woman stands against the wall and looks down at him

Above: Gottfried and Marianne Aegerter with a turkey, Helvetia.

A group of men in work wear stand around a mine cart on a track outside in the woods

Above: Section crew at William, Tucker County, 1903

A road lined with two story houses, with people gathered on the porches and sidewalk. They watch a parade of wheeled floats pulled by horses.

Above: Labor Day parade, Morgantown, 1908

A train carrying log carts travels across a small bridge, surrounded by trees and mountains

Above: Scenic view of Shay locomotive and fully loaded log carts crossing bridge over the Cherry River, Nicholas County, 1902

An aerial view of Parkersburg, a city next to a river, you can see hills far off in the distance. Overhead, an airplane flies.

Above: Wright aeroplane flying over Parkersburg, circa 1910

An ornate bar, with two bartenders behind wearing white coats and hats, a man with a top hat stands with one foot up against the bar.

Above: Interior of bar, Grafton, circa 1890

A large group of young men and women sit outside holding various sports equipment

Above: Students at Alleghany Collegiate Institute pose with sports equipment, Alderson, circa 1900

A group of young black men wearing suits and hats hold various drums. One man in the center holds up a large american flag

Above: African American drummers, Morgantown, circa 1915

A large warehouse with high ceilings and windows where several women work at large sewing stations

Above: Finishing department at Empire Laundry, Clarksburg, 1914

A man with a shaved head wearing a jacket holds a brimmed hat and sits on a wooden porch swing. Next to him, a toddler sits barefoot. they both smile at the camera

Above: Man and small boy enjoy porch swing, Morgantown, circa 1905

A young woman in a layered checkered dress and large hat looks down and stands next to a young man in a white shirt. He looks down at her smiling and one of his hands are against her shoulder

Above: Young couple on a hilltop, Monongalia County, circa 1900

A large crowd of hundreds of people stand around a roller coaster.

Above: Crowds enjoy amusements at Luna Park, Charleston, circa 1915

Three young boys wearing suspenders and wide brimmed cowboy-style hats stand on the sidewalk in front of a house, each holding a leash attached to a goat.

Above: Three boys hold onto their goats, Monongalia County