Bearskin Babies

Vintage photographs crammed into boxes in antiques malls are an irresistible lure to me. And among them, the most irresistible are the babies. Folks in those old photographs are so stiff and solemn that it’s hard to imagine them as laughing, vibrant people which of course they must have been. But the babies are a completely different story. They look just like our babies albeit dressed a little better. They’re not old enough yet to be putting on that “face” – that self-conscious face you see so often in photography of this era. These babies are just themselves: sweet little glimpses into the past.

I’ve collected a few cabinet cards of babies and small children, some perched on the ubiquitous bearskin rug that must have been standard equipment in every photography studio in the country. Based on what I’ve read about them, my photographs date from the 1880’s and up. Someday I intend to do “something” with them…..right now they are in a drawer waiting for inspiration. But don’t you agree that they are happier here in The Barn than stuffed anonymously into a shoebox at an antiques mall? I’m sure you do.

Here is a darling little baby with the most amazing eyes from Williamsport, PA. No further hints as to who this child might have been:


From Harry S. Heath Fine Photography in Plymouth, New Hampshire, we have this scrumptious little bundle. What do you think? Boy or girl? Something about those hands makes me think boy, but who knows?


And may I introduce the very self-assured Miss Helen Gaines from Selma, Alabama. This little Belle has confidence and poise even at her age which I’m guessing is around two. Somebody thought to write her name on the back of the card. The bearskin rug makes its appearance in the Deep South as well:


OK, no bearskin here but this precious little pumpkin is one of my favorites. Her name is Elizabeth, almost impossible to read on the back of the card as it is scratched into the cardboard with a straight pin, I think. I love her feet and the invisible hand of her mother holding her up under that veil.


This little guy caught my attention because of the baby carriage and also because he just doesn’t look too healthy to me. I hope that wasn’t the case. There is something embossed on the card frame but time has worn it away. So I can’t tell you much about him (her?) either.


And finally from Gaffney, South Carolina, we have this somber duo. As a big sister, I was attracted to this one and can’t help but notice their similar expressions. Clearly neither of them is happy to be there. I’m thinking it must be a hot South Carolina summer day because the baby is dressed so lightly. And check out the detail on big sister’s dress. It’s really incredible.


Fooling around on Pinterest one day, I came across this idea for framing old photographs using a silver tray. Not sure whether I really like this or not….maybe too much frou-frou distracting from the image is what’s bothering me. What do you think?


Contrasting the bazillions of photos we all have now with the scarcity of these vintage images makes them even more precious, I think. There may not exist another photograph of Helen Gaines or Elizabeth on this earth. So I think I’m going to go right now and label some of those old photographs I have of my own family with name and place and best guess as to date.  I do this for you, future person rummaging through a box in some antiques mall. You’re welcome.

About Silver in the Barn

Life in a 1915 farmhouse in Central Virginia. And the odd thought or two.
This entry was posted in Projects, Random Ruminations and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bearskin Babies

  1. Mary says:

    What a fun post! One of the babies has a ring on her finger and Elizabeth can bend her big toe forward (something I cannot do and think is really weird). I love old photos too and was actually wondering the other night what does my Great Grandparents look like. Opa’s Dad or Mom?
    I would love to see them.


    • Barbara says:

      Mary, you are the second person to remark on the ring. And I totally missed that which is hard to believe considering how much time I’ve spent studying these photos! I’m actually unsure of whether photos going that far back on the family tree exist here in the states. I’ll find out.


  2. I have collected some old photographs of children (including daguerreotypes), and I always wonder whether they had full and happy lives. For me, one of the most poignant photos is the one I have of a young man and his dog. One can sense from the photo that the dog really might have been his best friend.


    • Barbara says:

      Mark, that’s exactly what captivates me too. We know they were headed into WWI and then the Roaring Twenties and so on. I am going to look for the young man and his dog on your blog. I know I will just love it.


  3. Pingback: Random Silver | Silver in the Barn

I welcome your comments:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s