Hold on to your man

This cabinet card portrait was taken at the studio of F.B. Walcott in the town of Berlin, Wisconsin.  The back of the card has a logo with F.B. Walcott, successors to S.M. Taylor printed under it.  I’ve cropped and enlarged the logo, below, to make it legible.  The green background is unusual:

Couple in Berlin, Wisconsin, by Walcott 4

(You can see the entire back here, and lettering on the front here.)

F.B. Walcott was probably Frank Benjamin Walcott (1861-1929), whose father was a founder of nearby Ripon College, which Frank attended.  By the time of the 1900 Census, Frank was living with his wife and two daughters in Houston, Texas, where he was listed as a Retoucher (Photos).

S.M. Taylor was Schuyler M. Taylor (1843-1918), who was listed as a photographer in Berlin in the 1880 Census.  The next time he appeared in a Census, in 1910, he owned a photography business in Yuba, California.  He must have sold his Berlin studio to Frank Walcott in the 1880s.

The most surprising thing about this portrait is the fact that the woman is holding the man’s lapel.  I’ve never seen that anywhere else!  The two of them are also unusually close together for a formal portrait:

Couple in Berlin, Wisconsin, by Walcott 2


My guess would be that this was an engagement or wedding photograph.  I wish I could tell you more about this couple, but their identity remains a mystery.


44 thoughts on “Hold on to your man

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  1. I wonder if she’s holding his lapel because there isn’t another comfortable position for her hand. As close as she’s standing to him, the natural place for her to rest her hand would be on his other shoulder–but that would put his cheek against her bosom.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. My initial thought, before reading your text, was: newlyweds. They look so young! Plus, they’re posing close to each other, and in a relaxed, familiar fashion. So of course I looked at her left hand, searching for a ring, and…is that a ring, or even two, on her index finger? Can’t tell if there’s one on her ring finger as the photo washes out. Or, have I got right and left backwards (because this is a photo), and is that a ring on the ring finger of the hand grasping the lapel?

    Her hand’s position is odd, but putting myself in her shoes I imagine how my hand would jut out in front of him if I rested my forearm on his shoulder, which would be a more natural pose given her position beside him. So maybe the best solution was to grasp his lapel so that her hand stayed back and down in a somewhat natural position, not obscuring his face? So many possible explanations, including an individual quirk of the photographer and/or the person posing!

    As for the book he holds: maybe he was a teacher?

    I love these mysteries you present to us!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. She does appear to have a ring on the index finger of her left hand, but I don’t see a ring on her right hand. Would a ring on the index finger signify anything? Something to look into! I thought she might have gripped his lapel to keep herself steady for the camera. Your explanation also makes sense.

      He could very well have been a teacher. One thing that confounded me was his frock coat. I associate them with the 1860s and 1870s, but not the 1880s. Maybe I’m wrong and they were still common, but the frock coat may have been a sort of unofficial uniform of male teachers, which went out of style earlier in the general population. Something else to look into!

      I’m glad you get a kick out of these mysteries!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A mischief and mystery about the photograph! The first thing that came to my notice is, they both are looking at different directions!
    And am fascinated by that emerald green and the logo of the cherubim holding the old time camera.
    Very interesting!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like the green back, too, but it makes the logo very hard to read. That may be why it wasn’t used very often. Most backs were light colors or, less often, very dark colors. This green is kind of in-between. It’s a pretty color, though. Thank you, Rethy! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, I was curious about the different directions they were looking. It looks intentional too, because it seems they are gazing in opposite directions by about the same degree or angle. Perhaps the assistants set it up that way.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. His expression does seem rather blasé. If we could hear them talk, I wonder what kind of accents they’d have. Assuming they weren’t immigrants, would they sound like modern-day Midwesterners? Would they use slang that we wouldn’t understand? (Probably.) It’s fun to think about such things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love, LOVE her dress. It’s so beautiful.

    Very unusual, her holding his lapel, as you and other readers have pointed out. It’s almost vaguely threatening, as in, “You’d better sit still, buster, if you know what’s good for you.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This photo made me search for information on the Internet. Of course, I didn’t find anything like that. Your photos, Brad, are unique.
    In these old photos, the standing person always held on to the sitting person. Because it was hard to stand in one position for a long time. Maybe the man’s shoulder was tired and the woman began to hold on to the man’s clothes. She looks tired. She’s wearing a gorgeous dress. The man’s hairstyle is also very interesting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Most federal and state-level records are digital these days. You can often find some information if you have a name and location. County and town records are much less likely to be digitized. Serious researchers still travel to local courthouses or historical societies to find those. Family trees are often the best source of information, if you can find them on Ancestry or a public website.


    1. Actually I don’t know of any German or Prussian settlers there at that time, but the town’s founders may have hoped to attract them. You were right to mention the Seven Years’ War, because the French and Indian War (1754-1763) made settlement in this area very difficult before 1763.

      Liked by 1 person

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