Photographing Communities of Color

In celebration of Black History Month, the Manuscripts Division is pleased to focus on two African American photograph albums. The photographs are in commercially produced albums, which have cardboard leaves with pre-cut slots into which album owners inserted photographs over time. The albums were bound in sturdy leather and papier-mache covers, beginning with printed title pages and an “Index to Portraits.” Owners of these albums often identified the portraits of family, friends, neighbors, and fellow Church-goers in their Sunday best. The patented photograph albums were ideal for tintypes or ferrotypes, supplemented by cartes-de-visite (albumen prints mounted on cardboard). The tintype was an early photographic process by which positive black-and-white images were made on the silver-halide collodion emulsion, added to thin lacquered iron plates and fixed with potassium cyanide. Like the daguerreotype, the tintype was a French invention that came to be widely used in the United States for formal portraits, either taken in urban studios or mobile photo booths. Tintypes became popular during the U.S. Civil War, when soldiers proudly posed in their uniforms, and continued to be used through 1900 and beyond.

The older of the two albums in the Manuscripts Division (see first image below) is the H. M. Tyndale photograph album, dating from the 1860s and 1870s (C0938, no. 511q). The blank album was manufactured by the Henry Altemus Company, at 806 Market Street, Philadelphia, under an 1863 U.S. patent. The album contains 32 tintypes and 16 cartes-de-visite, one of which bears the label of the Philadelphia photographer Joseph Fenton. All but one of the portraits are of African Americans, identified by name at the beginning of the volume. Included in the index is a certain Annie Tyndale and another person with that surname. The city had an sizable African American population since the mid-18th century, including slaves and free blacks, and there were other free communities of color in the Philadelphia area. The U.S. Census for 1870 lists a married couple named Harold and Anna Tyndale, living in Philadelphia. H. M. Tyndale cannot be identified with the best-known Philadelphian having the same surname, Hector Tyndale [i.e. George Hector Tyndale] (1821-80), a white merchant who had served as a Brigadier General in the Union Army during the Civil War. Considerable local history research will be needed to identify and firmly localize the people in the album.

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired another African American photograph album from the Philadelphia area (see second image below). The album is from Lawnside (formerly East Magnolia), now a borough in Camden County, N.J. It is located fifteen miles southeast of Philadelphia and two miles south of Haddonfield. The album contains 21 tintypes and 2 cartes-de-visite of African-Americans, including one taken in a Philadelphia studio (Holt’s Bell Studio). Most of the images appear to date from the 1890s though the early 20th century. Abolitionists had purchased the land in 1840 for African Americans, including freed and escaped slaves. The town was one of several African American towns in New Jersey; others included Marshalltown (Mannington Township) and Timbuctoo Village (Westhampton Township). In 1926, Lawnside became the first independent self-governing African American community in the north. Even today, Lawnside’s population is nearly 90 percent African American.. The blank album, similar in style to the Tyndale album, was manufactured by William W. Harding, Philadelphia, with a printed title page (The Photograph Album). The verso of the front end paper bears an inscription in pencil, “Property of / Hannah Hicks / Charleston Ave. / East Magnolia.” She was born about 1878 and was married to Newkirk Hicks. There are tintypes of the two in the album. At a later date, a family member identified the individuals on the photographs themselves. In addition to Hicks, surnames include other Lawnside families, such as Jones, Johnson, Summers, Fawcet, and Arthur. Many were probably members of Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Lawnside.

The Tyndale album is available for study. The Lawnside album will be available after its binding is repaired. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts,

Tyndale Album

Lawnside Album