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HomeContentsThemes > Props


806.01   19th Century Photographic Studios - Properties, accessories and novelties
806.02   A contemporary thought on the properties, accessories and novelties used in 19th studios
806.03   Props, accessories and novelties: Head rests - illustrations
806.04   Props, accessories and novelties: Head rests - photographs
806.05   Props, accessories and novelties: Chairs
806.06   Props, accessories and novelties: Chairs - Illustrations
806.07   Props, accessories and novelties: Posing chairs for children
806.08   Props, accessories and novelties: Posing furniture with restraints
806.09   Props, accessories and novelties: Tables
806.10   Props, accessories and novelties: Benches
806.11   Props, accessories and novelties: Curtains
806.12   Props, accessories and novelties: Columns, plinths and pedestals
806.13   Props, accessories and novelties: Balustrades
806.14   Props, accessories and novelties: Staircases
806.15   Props, accessories and novelties: Rustic fences, gates, trees and stumps
806.16   Props, accessories and novelties: Swings
806.17   Props, accessories and novelties: Cameras
806.18   Props, accessories and novelties: Toys
806.19   Props, accessories and novelties: Horses
806.20   Watch-the-birdie
This theme includes example sections and will be revised and added to as we proceed. Suggestions for additions, improvements and the correction of factual errors are always appreciated. 
Status: Collect > Document > Analyse > Improve
806.01   Studio necessities >  19th Century Photographic Studios - Properties, accessories and novelties 
This listing which will be improved over time lists the commonest properties[1] to be seen in nineteenth century studio portraits.
Interior scenes - Visible
  • Chairs and sofas (vast variety of posing furniture - some specifically for babies and small children)
  • Benches
  • Tables
  • Desks
  • Columns, plinths and pedestals (innumerable styles, heights and widths)
  • Mantels and fireplaces
  • Day beds (a more common item in the Mediterranean and Middle East and found in photographs by the Zangaki Brothers and Pascal Sebah.)
  • Beds (They only appear in post-mortem, erotic or art studio photographs. Most post-mortem photographs were carried out in the home but there were cases when the body of a child or deceased loved one was taken to a studio to preserve a memory. In the cases where children are shown in bedrooms such as some of the Lewis Carroll's albumen prints it is now regarded as questionable.)
  • Drapery (heavy fabrics, drapes, curtains, throws)
  • Carpets, rugs, furs and other floor coverings
  • Large ceramic pots and urns
  • Plant and fern stands, planters and artificial plants
  • Windows
  • Screens
Interior scenes - Rarely visible
Exterior scenes - Visible
  • Rustic fences, gates, trees and stumps
  • Porches
  • Bridges
  • Balustrades
  • Benches (rustic wood and stone)
  • Statues
  • Pedestals
  • Stone walls
  • Park gates
  • Artificial grass, or furs used to indicate grass
  • Branches, twigs, tree trunks and tree limbs (real or papier mache)
  • Rocks
  • Simulated snow (using furs or rock salt)
  • Swings
  • Entire rustic buildings and temples
  • Transportation (mockups of sledges, hot air balloons, trains, row boats and later cars and planes)

When examining a photograph it can be important to see if the items in the studio match the ethnicity of the sitter. For example if the sitter is Chinese is the style of the table and chair also in the Chinese style or European. 
806.02   Studio necessities >  A contemporary thought on the properties, accessories and novelties used in 19th studios 
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A piece in the 1862 The Photographic Journal being the Journal of the Photographic Society captured the difficulty with the selection of studio props:
There is always too much of the studio in these carte de visite portraits. We do not merely refer to the extraordinary backgrounds which some of these operators employ. Why a respectable old lady is to be represented as sitting without her bonnet in a chair placed upon a Brussels carpet in the middle of a terraced garden, is always very perplexing; and it is equally difficult to understand what the foundation can be for the theory, which seems to have possessed the minds of several of the photographers, that the middle-aged men of England generally spend their lives leaning against a Corinthian pillar, with a heavy curtain flapping about their legs, turning their backs to a magnificent view, and obviously standing in a frightful thorough draught.[2]
The point is well made and the situation becomes increasingly bizarre when the symbols of western civilization, such as Greek columns, were used as studio props around the world and we see Krooboys / Cabindas resting on a column[3], an anthropological Portrait of Two Men, Ainu from Saghelieu, Both in Costume, One with Earring in front of an inappropriate western painted studio background[4] and a semi-naked Aboriginal group photographed by Courret Hermanos posed in front of a background of a western house interior complete with that "heavy curtain".[5]  
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806.03   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Head rests - illustrations 
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806.04   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Head rests - photographs 
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806.05   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Chairs 
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From the earliest days of photography chairs were an essential component of the photographic studio. On rare occassions examples of the furniture from an early studio survives such as a padded chair from the Southworth & Hawes studio in Boston.[6]  
Exposure time may have been a factor when light levels necessitated holding a position and comfort of the sitter whilst retaining the required position was essential.[7] Early on any chair would do and this was quickly followed by patent designs for "posing chairs"[8], for adults and childen, that were specifically designed with the needs of the photographer in mind.[9] Manufacturing companies constructed the chairs and either sold them direct to photographers or through photographic supply houses, wholesalers and distributers.
The colour choice for the button back velvet can be guessed at from surviving hand-painted photographs and was usually a deep red but could come in any colour.[10] Chairs were also upholstered using raw silk and leather. 
806.06   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Chairs - Illustrations 
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Currently there is no resource that provides detailed listings of studio props and their manufacturers and the analysis of trade catalogues of manufacturers and supply houses still needs to be carried out.[11] By going through Google Books and selecting images we can start to bring together examples for some of the American companies involved:
Wilson Hood & Co.
No. 825 Arch Street, Philadelphia, Pa, USA  
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George Knell
No. 130 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pa, USA  
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C.A. Schindler
P.O. Box 63, West Hoboken, N.J.  
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Adjustable backs, fixed or revolving seats, padded arm rests to lean on, carved designs, decorative tassels and fringes were all features of studio chairs and there were patents for the different designs.[12]
An 1873 of a Phenix posing chair highlighted its' flexibility for both adults and children.
There has never been a cheap posing chair offered to the photographer, which embraced so many advantages as this.
It is elegant, graceful, easy, and commodious, requiring no head or body rest. The back can be raised or lowered at pleasure, having a play of eighteen inches on wrought iron guides. It is supplied with two sidearms, which are adjustable with thumbscrews. These arms lift out, and in their places the legs of the child's chair or attachment, are substituted. This attachment may also be raised, lowered, or fixed, at any desired height, the child's feet resting on the seat of the large chair.
The seat of child's attachment revolves, and the head-rest is movable forward, backward, or sideways. The large chair and child's attachment are upholstered handsomely in drab velveteen, and the arms and body are trimmed with eight inch fringe.[13]
806.07   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Posing chairs for children 
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806.08   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Posing furniture with restraints 
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806.09   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Tables 
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806.10   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Benches 
806.11   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Curtains 
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806.12   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Columns, plinths and pedestals 
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806.13   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Balustrades 
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806.14   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Staircases 
806.15   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Rustic fences, gates, trees and stumps 
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806.16   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Swings 
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806.17   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Cameras 
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806.18   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Toys 
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The variety of toys used within a photographic studio would have been, and are, as varied as the photographers and dependent upon their imaginations, what worked and their financial means. With many of the items seen in stusdio photographs it is difficult to discern whether the child arrived with the toy or the photographer supplied it. If one had an extended sequence from a single studio with the same prop occurring with multiple children one could reasonably argue that the toy belonged to the studio.[14] 
806.19   Studio necessities >  Props, accessories and novelties: Horses 
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806.20   Studio necessities >  Watch-the-birdie 
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The "Watch-the-birdie" accessory was used to amuse and distract children during a portrait session.[15] The types vary with some using a squeeze bulb that forced air through a rubber hose into a water filled chamber beneath the the bird-like toy. The bird makes a warbling and whistling sound when the bulb is squeezed. In 1923 an American patent was issued to Oscar Schwarzkopf for a "toy bird songster"[16] for this purpose.
The phrase "Watch the bird" was obviously sufficiently common in America and Europe that films were made with the title.[17] 

  1. Λ I know of no detailed analysis of the props used within photographic studios and if there is one I'd be most interested to learn about it - 
  2. Λ 15 December 1862,"Cartes de Visite of Celebrities", The Photographic Journal being the Journal of the Photographic Society, no. 128, p. 188 
  3. Λ José Agusto da Cunha Moraes, Krooboys / Cabindas, [Africa Occidental Album Photographico - Litterario por C. Moraes S, Ferreira], 1880 (ca), Albumen print, Private collection of Manuel Magalhaes 
  4. Λ Bronislaw Pilsudski, "Portrait of Two Men, Ainu from Saghelieu, Both in Costume, One with Earring", 1909, Photographic print, 5 x 6 ins (image) 8 x 10 ins (mount), National Museum of Natural History, Image ID: NAA INV 07034900 
  5. Λ Courret Hermanos, "An Aboriginal group", 1868 (ca), Carte de visite, National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3510476 
  6. Λ The Southworth & Hawes studio chair is in The Isenburg Collection @ AMC Toronto. 
  7. Λ One of the difficulties with a posing chair is that it can lead to a "standardized" approach to taking a portrait. Henry Peach Robinson, 1891, The Studio and What to Do in It, (Piper & Carter), p. 41 wrote:
    ... I protest against the enervating practice of giving a set of poses for the imitation of those idle and thoughtless operators who do not try to think for themselves and adapt their ideas to their subjects, but who place their sitters, no matter how unsuitable it may be to them, in the same position day after day, as if the posing chair was a sort of Procrustean bed on which everybody must be cut to the same size and shape and form, and brought to that state of imbecile appearance to which photography is popularly supposed to reduce its victims.
  8. Λ A.K.P. Trask, 1872, Trask's Practical Ferrotyper, (Philadephia: Benerman & Wilson), p. 51
    The principal accessories necessary to produce good stylish work is a posing-chair for standing and group pictures—one with the back to slide up and down, covered with a good light-drab velvet, and a good curtain. These can be used to great advantage in groups and single standing figures. Half-length and fancy posing, and sitting pictures, in fact many poses can be got on one of these chairs with or without the curtain.
  9. Λ Examples of posing chairs included the "Pharaoh's Revolving Chair" and "Pharaoh Chair no. 2" manufactured by George Knell, no. 130 Market Strret, Philadelphia, Pa or the "Phenix Posing Chair" by C.A. Schindler, "Manufacturer and Patentee", of Box 63, West Hoboken, N.J. who advertised in The Photographic Times, Volume 5, January 1875, no. 49, Advert 23 
  10. Λ In an 1871 advert published in The Photographer's Friend (Baltimore), vol. 1, for "Knell's Patent and Patent Designed Photographic Furniture - Pharaoh Chair, no. 2" it has the following description:
    PHARAOH CHAIR, no. 2,
    Has four legs instead of a screw and stand, but is the same otherwise as the Pharaoh Revolving Chair. The carving is very becoming and the upholstering is of a deep tufted design. Rep covering, any color.
  11. Λ If there is an analysis of studio props available or somebody is working on one I would be most interested to learn about it - 
  12. Λ Where museums have examples of surviving photographic studio furniture in their collections I'd be most interested to hear about it. If you are able to provide photographs I'd also be most grateful - 
  13. Λ October, 1873, "Phenix Posing Chair", The Photographic Times, vol. 3, no. 34, pp. 150-151 
  14. Λ Billy Parrott on Facebook (Carte de Visite and Cabinet Card Photography) on the 18 May 2014 requested prop inventory lists from photographic studios that described the range of toys. A further method of research would be to find lists from bankrupt studios or wills to see what evidence survives. 
  15. Λ The origin seems to be with C.W. Davis who used a trained canary who could sing on cue to relax the sitter. July 1879, Photographic News. I've not seen the original article but it is frequently referenced. For example: 
  16. Λ American patent: 1,445,362, filed: 12 January 1922, issued: 1923 
  17. Λ Films include:
    "Watch the Birdie", (dir. Lloyd French, 1935) short with Bob Hope
    "Watch the Birdie", (dir. Jack Donahue, 1950) with Red Skelton
    "Watch the Birdie", (dir. Giulio Alti, 1965)


HomeContents > Further research

General reading 
Tinsman, John W., 1887, 28 June (filed), Photographic accessory, (United States Patent Office) [Letters Patent No. 375,230; Application filed: June 28, 1887] [Δ
If you feel this list is missing a significant book or article please let me know - Alan - 
HomeThe business of photographyStudio necessities > Props 
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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > Props

Please submit suggestions for Online Exhibitions that will enhance this theme.
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Thumbnail19th Century Photographic Studios: Properties, accessories and novelties 
Title | Lightbox | Checklist
Released (February 24, 2010)

HomeVisual indexes > Props

Please submit suggestions for Visual Indexes to enhance this theme.
Alan -

ThumbnailH.D. Ward (North Adams, Massachusetts): H.D. Ward's photographic studio 
ThumbnailJ.E. Ericsson: Studio portrait of a photographer (1892-1912) 
ThumbnailJohnson (Cazenovia, NY): Photographic studio interior 
ThumbnailJoseph and Nettie Vail (Geneva, NY): J. & G. Vail's Photograph Gallery, Skylight Room 
ThumbnailUnidentified photographer: Photographic studio 
ThumbnailHead rests: Illustrations 
ThumbnailHead rests: Photographs 
ThumbnailPosing furniture with restraints 
ThumbnailPosing furniture: Illustrations 
ThumbnailPosing furniture: Photographs 
ThumbnailProps: Balustrades 
ThumbnailProps: Benches 
ThumbnailProps: Chairs 
ThumbnailProps: Childs posing chairs 
ThumbnailProps: Columns, plinths and pedestals 
ThumbnailProps: Curtains 
ThumbnailProps: Horses 
ThumbnailProps: Rustic fences, gates, trees and stumps 
ThumbnailProps: Staircases 
ThumbnailProps: Swings 
ThumbnailProps: Tables 
ThumbnailProps: Toys 
Refreshed: 27 July 2014, 17:06
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