Apple seller on Boston Common by Edward Allen

Apple season is in full swing in New England.  It will continue until early November, which is probably the time of year when the photo above was taken, considering how few leaves are visible on the trees.  The photo is the right half of a stereoview by Edward L. Allen (1830-1914).

Apple seller on Boston Common by Edward L. Allen 2
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Edward Allen seems to have spent his entire life taking pictures of Boston and Bostonians, beginning as early as 1851 at his studio at 13 Winter Street.  This stereograph was made at another studio at 6 Temple Place, which he opened about 1868.  Looking at the clothing styles, I wonder if the photo was actually taken before 1868 and printed later.

I’d love to know what else this lady and her daughter or granddaughter were selling.  Maybe cookies?  And possibly something in jars….

Apple seller on Boston Common by Edward L. Allen 3
Click here to enlarge.

Farther away, a man and two boys are offering something at a wheeled cart.  What could it be?

Apple seller on Boston Common by Edward L. Allen 4


Created in 1634, Boston Common is the oldest public park in the United States.  The National Park Service quotes the English traveler John Josselyn, who visited New England in 1638 and again in 1663.  After returning to England in 1671, he wrote about Boston:

On the South there is a small, but pleasant Common where the Gallants a little before Sun-set walk with their Marmalet-Madams … till the nine a clock Bell rings them home to their respective habitations, when presently the Constables walk their rounds to see good orders kept, and to take up loose people.

Well, some things haven’t changed in 350 years.  I wonder if Mr. Josselyn tried any apples?


40 thoughts on “Apple seller on Boston Common by Edward Allen

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  1. The first thing I noticed is that no one looks very happy. The pleated skirts are very interesting and so is the woman’s bonnet. The clothes of the boy leaning against the tree look very tattered. I wonder if it’s very early in the morning as the Common is almost deserted. More questions than answers. 🙂

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    1. I’m thinking the man in the high hat could be selling some kind of newspaper/newsletter. Perhaps that is what we see hanging in front of him. He could have the rest sheltered from weather in the wooden box. And the two boys seem ready to go out and shout “read all about it!” 😉
      I also wonder how staged the photo is. As stereographs were very popular at the time, this could have been set up by the photographer, rather than a “spur of the moment”- photo. That would explain why there are no customers or people strolling in the park. The man in the far back of the photo looks like he is told to stand there, facing the camera, to both make one feel the depth of the photo more and to make the image more interesting composition-wise. In any case, it’s a lovely photo and I can imagine this park was well appreciated by both locals and tourists!

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      1. Whether staged or not, the man in the background definitely adds depth and balance to the composition. I like your idea of the newsletters! Another possibility that came to mind was that he might have been offering clerical or legal services, such as writing letters for people who were illiterate. He’s dressed more formally than a farmer or tradesman would be. Thank you for your analysis, Thérèse!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My eye is caught by the “gallant” standing with one leg casually crossed in front of the other as he leans against a rail, one hand against his hip. Such a purposefully casual pose! I googled the definition of “gallant” as used in your Josselyn quote and found this: “…a man who pays special attention to women.” Yes! He looks as though he’s waiting to view and possibly meet young women walking the commons. One can only imagine his intentions.

    So much history here, but as you note, some things never change!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I googled “Marmalet-Madam” and found an interesting description here. In the early 17th century, the sweetness of love was sometimes equated with marmalade. However, by the 18th century, a “marmalade madam” was a woman of easy virtue. I didn’t include that in the post because I wasn’t sure what Josselyn meant. In this context, the phrase could be interpreted either way!

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  3. Very nice photo! I think there are two jars in the far corner and some cookies. Maybe it’s apple jam. Autumn is associated with apples and honey. I am not sure there are jars of honey in this picture. Thanks for sharing so beautiful imagination.

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  4. Sort of a farmer’s market look. Perhaps these were the first to arrive. The woman does not look happy. The man in the top hat must have had something unusual to sell…some invention? The two groups are positioned nicely and make it more interesting. Happy fall!

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    1. You could be right about the man offering something innovative. Consider how many things hadn’t been invented yet in the 1860s! Regarding the woman’s expression, it could be the mid-1800s version of a smile. 😉 Happy fall, Jo Nell!


  5. It’s pure speculation, of course, but I wondered if the man in the background was waiting for the people who would make use of what appear to be a table and bench across from him. There’s some sort of placard attached to the tree there, too: perhaps there were allotted spaces. At first glance, I thought the trim on the woman’s bonnet might be ‘apples’ — crocheted or knitted, perhaps.

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  6. I too thought of chestnut’s, but do not see a source of heat. I kind of ascribe more to the newspaper thing, or a scribing service, or a non profit christian charity for boys such as shown. He obviously has nothing to display. As to the women, I suspect they have a variety of goods besides apples. The jars could be of jams or jellies and it does look like cookies. Everything seems to be home grown or made. Sandwiches perhaps?

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    1. I think the top hat is a great look. Maybe I’ll start wearing a top hat and frock coat around town. That would catch the ladies’ attention. I remember seeing an ad in a very old newspaper which said something like “New styles of top hats for 1851.” That made me smile. I thought, “I guess they aren’t new anymore.”


    1. I lived in the Boston area for a while. It feels very cold there because of the humidity and the wind from the ocean. I also didn’t know how to dress properly for winter in the north. I live farther north now, in Vermont, but I almost never feel cold in the winter. It takes time to learn how to thrive in a cold climate. 😉


  7. Marmalet-Madams and loose people, oh my. Also look at the clothing disparity between the top hatted vendor and the boy leaning against the tree. All around fascinating photo. It must have been windy before the picture was taken. There are little to no leaves on the ground. Swept clean!

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    1. It does look rather barren, doesn’t it? Especially for being near the center of a major city. The two big trees would have been well over a century old when the photo was taken, meaning they were growing in this spot long before the Revolution. I wonder if they caught Allen’s eye, or if he was focused solely on the vendors.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I noticed that the man and the boys have some papers displayed on their cart, and I was wondering if they are selling snake oil – or rather Dr Malefiz’s Amazing Universal Restorer or similar. On second thoughts, probably not. Someone mentioned tracts earlier, and I think that makes sense. Bit beside the point, but when I was reading the “One of a Kind Family” books, I was amazed what people bought as snacks from stalls – a hot potato, for example, or a small paper bag of peas. If you don’t know, the books are about a family with 5 girls living on the Lower East Side in the early 20th century. They are really lovely books and taught me all about the major Jewish festivals (not being from a Jewish family myself).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t heard of those books before. They sound really interesting! I don’t know a lot about Judaism, but would love to learn more. I have to admit that I don’t read as many books now as I did before I started blogging and reading other blogs.

      A hot potato and a bag of peas sound pretty good! 🙂


  9. Revisiting this post this morning, I’m struck again by the gazing girl and boy (the one leaning against the tree). Both of them seem fully embedded in the moment– perhaps curious about the photographer and his bulky camera. If the scene was posed (maybe– there’s similar apple seller stereoviews out there) —it seems the presence of those two kids make this one an especially interesting image.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The first thing my eye was drawn to was the young girl looking directly at the camera. The three children engage with the photographer–and us, some 150 years later–in a way that the adults don’t. It feels like they’re looking inquisitively at *us*. That’s absurd, of course, but it’s part of the magic of photography. Thanks for your comment, John!

      Liked by 1 person

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