Tintype Portrait of an African-American Woman with Book

In the inaugural sale of African-American memorabilia at Heritage Auctions (Dallas, Texas), a tintype of an African-American woman holding a book sold for $525.00.  The sale took place on January 15, 2019.

From the auction catalog:

Tintype of an African-American Woman.
2.5″ x 3.75″
No place; no date

An austerely dressed seated woman holding an open book. The image is reasonably sharp and beautifully shows her dress, collar, chain accessory, and facial expression.

Condition: Condition is good, with a few spots and scratches to the surface, none of which seriously mar the image. There is some wear at the top left edge, as well as some adhesive residue at the bottom left corner.

What interests me about this image is that she is holding a wide-open book in her left hand.  Although images of this genre are not particularly rare, I am intrigued by the sitters very direct gaze at the viewer.

Though we have the absence of a location and date on this image the presence of the book suggests that her portrait is at least partially designed by her own self.  I make this assertion because during the nineteenth-century African Americans sought to take ownership over their image, and the appearance of the book is a marker of self-determination in the area of literacy, education, and full-citizenship.    Her fashion is also particularly smart — a full, delicately collared dress with a tailor-like fitting.

Looking forward to seeing the development of this Heritage sale category.

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Charlotte L. Forten Grimke (1837-1914)

Forten wrote in her diaries on the fortitude of freed people to receive education: “how a people who have been so long crushed to the earth, so imbruted as these have been can have so great a desire for knowledge, and such a capability for attaining it.”

Charlotte Forten [Grimke], born into a prominent Free Black family in Philadelphia, came to Port Royal, South Carolina in 1862. She taught the newly freed people for a couple of years before returning North due to declining health. In 1878 she married the much younger Rev. Francis Grimke, nephew of ardent abolitionists Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke Weld. (Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library)

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division, The New York Public Library. "Lottie Grimke" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 1, 2018.

Black Education – Nineteenth Century

This photograph is a model of the more commonly held image of black education in the era of Emancipation and Reconstruction. Taken shortly after the end of the Civil War, the image suggests the leadership of white women and the participation of black children in educational pursuits. Recent scholarship has emphasized the contributions of black teachers (women and men), black soldiers, and black parents in supporting and leading the cause of black education.
Portrait of teacher Laura M. Towne, a founder of the Penn School, with students Dick, Maria and Amoretta. 1866

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Seated in Higher Learning

[Four African American women seated on steps of building at Atlanta University, Georgia]
Askew, Thomas E., 1850?-1914, photographer
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963, collector
Created [1899 or 1900]
Du Bois, W. E. B. (William Edward Burghardt), 1868-1963. Du Bois albums of photographs of African Americans in Georgia exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Some Photography/Art Response and Recovery Resources

For collectors of photographs, whether individuals or institutions, there are several good resources on disaster recovery.

Smithsonian’s Cultural Rescue Initiative

American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works

*Field Guide to Emergency Response videos

salvage photos
Water Segment video, AICHA

CERF+ The Artists Safety Net video

As Hurricanes Descend, Top Conservators Set Up an Emergency Hotline—and App—to Rescue Waterlogged Art – Artnews 9/8/17

Clock is ticking to dry out and salvage flood-damaged possessions left in wake of Hurricane Harvey – Houston Chronicle 9/4/17