Antique Cabinet Card of J.H. Gillespie Portrait Miniature - Lemer, Harrisburg PA Photographers
  • I recently acquired a group of 2nd generation photographic images. These are photos taken of something like a portrait. The portrait is the first generation image and the photo is the second generation of that image. I’m not an expert on antique photographs but I love the idea of a portrait being so important to a descendent that the family decided to have a photograph taken to share with other family members. We know that sometimes silhouettists were asked to cut multiple figures and sometimes portraitists painted second portraits for family members.

    The current group are all cabinet cards. Carte de viste (1859-1889) was the first type of photograph made from a negative, which allowed multiple photos to be printed from one sitting. The photograph was printed on thin paper which was then glued to thicker paper or card. Cabinet cards (1866-1903) are basically the same as carte de viste, usually glued to larger card, sometimes with the photographer’s trade information below the glued photo and/or on the reverse. Around 1880, the cardboard mount for cabinet cards started having beveled edges, sometimes with a gold or silver color in the bevel.

    The original profile portrait of this pretty lady was a portrait miniature by J.H. Gillespie. This is another of those photos that make my heart sing! The portrait was what has been designated as Gillespie’s “Style 5.” Style 5 is a profile painted with watercolor, ink and pencil used to model the features. Shading around the perimeter of the portrait is achieved with large dabs of dark browns and blues concentrated on the lower right and left sides of the figure and a light blue color applied with minute brushstrokes on the top. Clothing usually painted in dark tones of black or blue, with colored buttons or jewelry and gum arabic highlights. As you can see this young lady fits the description of Gillespie’s Style 5 profiles. And look at the detail in the lace of her bonnet and pelisse! Her face is beautiful and serene. The photograph of the portrait miniature is from the studio of “Lemer/206 Market St./Harrisburg, PA.” The studio stamp is on the front only, below the photograph. There were several Lemers who ran photo studios in Harrisburg, both Lerue Lemer and his son, Lerue Jr., worked at 206 Market Street. Inscribed in pencil on the back- “Mrs. J.H. Young my grandmother.” Cabinet card is 4.25”x 6.5” with oval image 3.5” x 4.5” (the portrait miniature would have been smaller, probably 3” tall). Minor wear, light soil, pencil notes on the back, light crease in lower left corner. A Gillespie portrait for a fraction of the price!

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