Men in period attire in Hartford, Connecticut

When you first see this carte-de-visite from the early 1860s, you might get the feeling that something isn’t quite right.  That’s because the four men in the photo are wearing clothes from a different era.  I’m not sure, but I think they’re dressed in styles from the period of the American Revolution, almost a century earlier.  Were they professional actors?

The photo was taken at the studio of Daniel K. Prescott and Edwin P. Gage in Hartford, Connecticut.  The Connecticut Historical Society says the two photographers were in partnership under the name Prescott & Gage from about 1861 until 1865.  Those were the years of the Civil War.  From August 1864 to August 1866, the U.S. Congress collected a tax on photographs to generate funds for the war.  This photo has no revenue stamp on the back, so it was almost certainly made before August 1, 1864.

It does have an unusual inscription:

Men in Hartford by Prescott & Gage 3b

Found Aug. 9th 1889 on Market St. between 8th & 9th 

St Louis, MO


Someone whose initials were W.M.J. found (bought?) the photo in St. Louis, Missouri, some 25-28 years after it was taken.  St. Louis is 1,078 miles (1,734 km) from Hartford, Connecticut.

When I look at these men, the musical HAMILTON comes to mind, even though I’ve only seen a few clips from it.  Do you think they were professional actors?

Men in Hartford by Prescott & Gage 2d



38 thoughts on “Men in period attire in Hartford, Connecticut

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  1. When I first looked at the photo the socks and shoes definitely threw me off. I didn’t pick up on the suits until you mentioned they were dressed from a different time – made the socks and shoes more understandable. Actors seems like a good guess to me!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s funny that you noticed the socks and shoes first! The large buttons on their coats were what first caught my eye. Their outfits actually look comfortable and reasonably practical–except for the shoes. I can’t imagine walking on cobblestones or rough ground in those. If all you had to do was stand around and look good, or debate the Constitution or something, they’d be OK.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Could the photo have been made for a 75th anniversary celebration of the Constitutional Convention of 1787? A side note: my grandfather (born 1882) lived not far from the location where the photo was “found” in St. Louis!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, that’s really neat about your grandfather! He must have known Market Street quite well. I hadn’t thought of a 75th anniversary celebration, but that seems like a good possibility. Certainly there were a lot of patriotic displays and events during the war. I think I read somewhere that the custom of hanging American flags outside private homes began during the Civil War.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Of course the photo might relate to some Connecticut remembrance celebration. Yes, my grandfather knew that area, which is close to the Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was heard, quite well.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Such a great photo! The three younger men also seem to have the same hair stylist:) It’s very interesting how you put information about the photo studio in there as well. It adds context and sheds light on a very important community “service” that we might not appreciate in the same way today, with everybody carrying a smaller version of a photo studio in their pocket and the taking of pictures not being a big deal anymore…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You make a very good point about studios providing a valuable service in this period. Most people didn’t have access to personal cameras until the 20th century. Professional photographers gave us a visual record of the second half of the 19th century. There were non-professionals who experimented with cameras, but their creative output was very small by comparison. Thank you, Thérèse!

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  3. Honestly, I don’t have a clue. When I saw the shoes, the first people who came to mind were the Pilgrims. Then, when I looked more closely at their jackets and the fasteners on their — what? pantaloons? — I began thinking of seamen all dressed up. For some reason, I don’t think they were actors, and I’m not sure they were re-enacters. I’d be more inclined to think of them as part of some group with connections to local trade. Given that Mystic already was an important Connecticut seaport, there might be some connection there — but it would take a lot of research to sort it out.

    What I can see, and greatly enjoyed, was the variety of expressions on their faces. Each is unique, and I’d love to know what the seated man on the right is thinking!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the seated man on the right was slightly better lit than the others, or perhaps the print has deteriorated less in that area, because our eyes are naturally drawn to him. When I look at the four of them, they don’t strike me as a social group–i.e., guys who would get together to smoke cigars or sip brandy–so I lean toward a professional relationship. You never know, though. Friendships take many forms.


  4. The outfits really do look from the Revolutionary period. I think actors makes sense. That last initial on the back is more likely a T than a J. Not that it’s a big deal. Just in case you might be looking!

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  5. I think they were a professional group of some sort, but my first guess would not be actors since the costumes are the same. Actors, I would think, would not all be dressed alike. Could be wrong. Musicians would probably be with instruments. Perhaps a singing group??

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another idea is a costume party,with a photo taken beforehand. Reminds me of the episode of Victoria, where they had a costume ball where everyone dressed in pre- revolutionary French garb. When was the french revolution, 1783? Perhaps this was a centennial of that era?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. If this was an anniversary celebration, perhaps they took part in a pageant? I do get the sense that they are a social, not professional, group. I imagine them getting together and saying, ‘come on, guys, let’s not have cheap so-so costumes this time, let’s go the whole hog and do this properly!’, and then they had themselves photographed because their clothes were so good and the whole thing was just so much fun.

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  8. Fascinating photo. Velvet clothing (you can tell from the sheen on it)… looks rather formal. Is it my imagination or are they all wearing a ring on their little fingers (pinkies)? I wonder if it’s a gentleman’s club of some sort or a brotherhood or secret society? What gets me is, as you say, their clothing is of an earlier period… but if that’s so, and if they were simply in costume, wouldn’t they also be wearing wigs?

    The waistcoats (vests) intrigue me – they have pockets low down. Not seen that before. And the shoes are either very soft leather or might even be fabric. Three pairs of the shoes have the same buckles, one doesn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right about the pinkie rings! They must have meant something. I hadn’t noticed them. The low pockets on the waistcoats may have been used to hold something light, as the fabric wouldn’t have been very strong. Maybe a handkerchief? I thought about tobacco, but it would have had its own pouch or tin, I would think. As far as wigs go, maybe the guys just decided to draw the line at wigs? 😄 Great observations, Val!

      Liked by 1 person

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