1848, aged 74
Drummond & Wolfe Cos, Quebec
by George Pek
1968 Main St. West, Suite 908
I've had this
photograph in my possession since 1981. Five years ago I found an Indenture
(land deed) from Hamilton dated 1851. The Indenture was printed by Henry Rowsell,
printer, bookseller, and stationer, Toronto, 184_, with a watermark crest and
watermark. When I held the paper to the light I discovered it has the same watermarkcrest
as my photograph paper mount. The watermark has three fleur des lis on top of
a crown, and another one on the bottom of the crest upside down. This could
be the clue to the mystery of this photograph? The watermark used by Henry Rowsell
(1807-1890) might mean that the paper was made in what is now Quebec.
Roswell was active in his own name from 1834-64. I have read that early amateurs favoured the photographic calotype process over the daguerreotype. However, there seems to be almost no record of anybody's using one of the paper negative processes in Canada or of any Canadian calotypes having surviving to this day. In the mid-nineteenth century Daniel Wilson of the new University of Toronto, and a colleague Rev. G.C. Irving of Trinity College were amateur calotypists and were friends at once. Of the calotypes by Irving and Wilson there remains no trace whatsoever. In it's April 15, 1839 edition, the Quebec Gazette published a brief description of Henry Fox Talbot's, the inventors process. Many of the immigrant photographers working in Montreal or Quebec City between 1840 and 1860 had come from England and Scotland. A number of artists working in the St. Lawernce Valley also used calotypes only to a limited extent. The photograph is a portrait of "Judith Simpson Aged 74 A.D. 1848 (written in brown ink on paper mount)" and image measures 11.5 cm. by 16 cm. in very good to fine condition, paper mount measures 17.8 cm. by 22.3 cm. (SEE JPG). It has a warm brown and grayish-green hue, and slightly tinted red cheeks, with a blindstamp on the paper mount which is a fleur des lis in a circle. Calotypes(1841-55) are the earliest forerunner of the modern photographic process of making a positive paper print from a negative. The calotype is marked by a noticeable lack of detail and vagueness of image due to the coarse fibers present in the drawing papers used to create both the print and negative. They are among the earliest examples on paper, and are extremely rare and valuable. In Robert Pols book: Dating Old Photographs, it mentions "Calotype portraits are most likely to measure between 4" and 5" inches one way and 6" and 7" the other. The surface is matte, with a very faint sheen." My photo measures 4 1/2" by 6 1/4" inches and has a faint sheen. I have read that during the years following its invention, many improvements were made to the original calotype process. When it started in 1841, the tone was reddish-orange hue of the print, in the late 1840's it was a greyish-brown hue (like mine), and until the end of the process it was purplish-brown. It is unlikely that one will find many Canadian or American calotypes, either portraits or landscapes of this early photographic technology, especially in this very fine condition. The question is? Was this lady in the photo living in Upper or Lower Canada, around the border States, or even here in Hamilton or surrounding area?
Then the Genealogical Research Library mentioned there was a SIMPSON, JUDITH land record index, living in 1807 in Drummond, Quebec, Canada. She is probably a American Loyalist civilian that came to live in the Eastern Townships of English speaking Quebec. The director of the library said "the photograph of the person gave him some strength to believe that she is highly likely from a Loyalist family". Then another genealogical researcher contacted me a few days ago and finally found "S" volume of land grants from the crown, is the name Judith Simpson. She was in Wolfe County and given 400 acres in the Township of Ham on July 29, 1807. It was registered as a C grant on pg. 161. Page 1082 of the printed list. She was most likely the daughter of a veteran." She would have been born circa 1773-74, and possible the oldest person known in a paper photographic image in North America. This photograph was featured in Family Chronicle's May 2004 published book More Dating Old Photographs 1840-1929, on page 116. It will also be featured in a article around the Summer 2005, by Maureen Taylor, a genealogical researcher. If you have any additional information like gravestone location, or anything that pertains to
her, I would be pleased to hear from you.
Last Edited 20 Nov 2005