I have a downstairs neighbour (also a knitter) who, in the course of her work, often comes across interesting objects. She sometimes brings these up to show me, and together we will enthuse over a gorgeous set of art-deco buttons or an ancient pair of butter-pats. The other day she brought up a very special object, which I thought you’d like to see.
It resembles a small bible, but it isn’t.
One clasp is broken, but the other is in fine shape. The pages are heavy, gilt-edged.
Shall we look inside?
On the first leaf is a print of a young and grieving Queen Victoria.
It is a photograph album. A typically Victorian repository of memory.
The style of the clasped book, and the particular settings of the cartes-de-visites dates it, I’d say, to the late 1860s.
But there are many types of studio portrait in here, from the 1850s to the 1890s.
This fragile-looking woman has a face that seems to recede from the camera. Her shawl is simple and heavy – perhaps the property of a photographer who requires some drapery to set this pale and light-boned figure off against the studio background.
I love the drape of the mantle over the crinoline; the detail around the skirt; the combination of the mantle’s internal pockets with the rather elaborate corded bag.
You can almost hear the rustle of her dark, heavy silks.
His beard-quiff combo is really quite extraordinary.
And I love the jewelery and piled hair of this woman of later era, who appears in the album several times.
To whose memories do these faces, long dead, belong?