Photo provided by Pete Mohney
This is cased photograph, a type of photo that we have not yet discussed on this blog. Unfortunately this is a copy of a copy. We would be able to see more if we had the original in hand, but this is such a rare treasure, we can learn a lot from the copy. The subject is identified by the owner as an early Civil War portrait of William J. Botkin; more on him later. First, let’s look at the two early photographic types that were commonly protected in cases such as the one seen here.
Daguerreotypes were produced from 1839 to the 1860’s. The finish was very shiny or mirror-like with sharp detail. The image was reversed laterally. To differentiate from the more common tintype, test with a magnet. The magnet will stick to the tintype, but not to the daguerreotype. A single copy was produced from each sitting.
Ambrotypes were produced from 1854 to the 1860’s. They were a thin collodion emulsion on glass, backed with dark varnish or cloth. If an unbacked photo is placed on white paper or held up to the light, it will appear like a negative. The image may be reversed laterally. A single copy was produced.
Daguerreotypes were sized based on how much of the original plate was used. Photographs were produced as whole, half, quarter, 6th, 9th or 16th plate. This sizing became standard and was also applied to ambrotypes and tintype photographs. Sizes are approximate, as the photographs were often trimmed to center the image or better fit the protective case.
|Full plate||6½ by 8½ inches|
|Half||4¼ by 5½|
|Quarter||3¼ by 4¼|
|Sixth||2 ¾ by 3 ¼|
|Ninth||2 by 2 ½|
|Sixteenth||1 3/8 x 1 1/8|
See Christopher Warren Fine Photographs (cwfp.biz/platesizes.php)
If we had the original, we could very carefully remove the photo from the case to determine the photo type and to look for any identification or dates in the case under the photograph. This type of photo should always be stored in the original case.
Now, as promised, let’s look at the history of William Botkin. Since this photograph was provided by one of his descendants, we have a good deal of information. He was born 6 Nov 1834, son of Abraham and Sarah (Wilkinson) Botkin. William married Clara Elizabeth Dynes 21 Oct 1859. Son Kenyon was born in 1861 and daughter Georgie in 1862. At the time of the Civil War, 6 sons of Abraham and Sarah were living, and all served during the war. William, aged 27 and brother Wallace enlisted 8 June 1862, Company F, 45th Ohio Infantry. Also in the 45th Ohio, but in Company K were Amos Botkin age 18 and his uncle William Innes Botkin (age 30). William Innes Botkin was cousin to William J. Botkin. On 15 Nov 1863, while in battle at Holsten River, Tennessee, William I, William J. and Amos Botkin were captured and transferred to Camp Sumter, more commonly called Andersonville Prison. Amos died 19 May 1864 of debilitas (enfeebled condition due to lack of adequate food, fresh water and exercise). William I. died 5 days later of anasarca (generalized edema due to malnutrition and organ failure), William J. also died of anasarca on 25 May 1864.
Since William I. and William J. both served in the 45th Ohio and died within days of each other in Andersonville, it can be difficult, especially with handwritten records to be sure the right record is attached to the correct cousin. Although they originally enlisted in different companies, transfers were not uncommon. In the pension records, the name of the surviving spouse and minor children is the key.
The Widow’s Pension record on Fold3 for Clara Botkin is very limited, but does yield more information on the children of William and Clara. The day the minor children turn 16 is listed for Kenyon and Georgiana which gives us the birthdates for both. More information might be obtained by requesting the minor’s pension claim records.
For more information on the Botkin Family and their Civil War service, see the following:
Find A Grave of William J. Botkin:
Blog posts of the service of the extended Botkin family:
Andersonville National Historic site, National Park Service official site:
Let’s take one more look at the photograph. It’s important to remember when looking at daguerreotypes and many ambrotypes the images were reversed laterally, or mirror- imaged. This is especially important if a subject had an amputation or other injury. What appears to be the left arm or leg in the photograph might actually be the right. Look for any writing or printing on the subject or background to confirm this. Looking at this image, we can see that the U.S. on the belt buckle is reversed meaning that the pistol is being held in William’s left hand. The true treasure is in the right hand. Looking carefully at the image we see William is holding 2 cased images, one of an older man and woman, and the other a younger woman with a very young boy. This is very likely a 3 generation picture with William holding pictures of his parents, and of his wife and young son! Truly a treasure! There is not much we can do to enlarge the smaller photographs in this copy of a copy, but depending on the size and clarity of the original picture, a high resolution scan might be able to enhance the smaller photographs. At the very least, we know the photographs were taken and may still be in someone’s collection of family photos. Just one more example of the treasures we can find hidden in our family photographs!
Submitted by Alice Clark, SBAGS President, firstname.lastname@example.org