Recently, I happened upon a tintype of a gentleman posed next to a small, decorative table. Written on the front of the paper sleeve frame is “Mr. John Pease.” I immediately recognized the table as one in a photo already in my collection.
In an earlier post, I featured a carte de visite of Sophia Germann. The photographer, J. F. Rank of Van Wert, Ohio, seated Sophia next to the same unique, stag head table!
In the larger scan below, you can better see that the table detail matches the one in the carte de visite of Sophia. Look at the chain that dangles from the table top, and the etched lines on the legs.
The tintype of Mr. John Pease does not provide the photographer’s identity or location, but, could the table provide the missing link?
What do we know about the photographer of the carte de visite? Was he in business during the time the tintype was taken, which I loosely date to sometimes during the 1870s or 1880s? Jeremiah F. Rank opened a studio in Van Wert, Ohio about 1872, and that studio was in operation until 1892. So, yes, it’s possible the image was captured at Rank’s studio.
Was there a John Pease living in the Van Wert area during this time? Yes! John A. Pease was born in Paulding County, Ohio in 1855. When the 1880 census was recorded, John was 24 years old and living in Van Wert.
I was so excited about this find, that I did all of the above research before I was in possession of the tintype. Imagine my surprise when it arrived and I discovered additional writing on the reverse! That writing blew my original theory out of the water!
Written on the back of the tintype’s paper frame is “Katie Picture,” “Carnforth Iowa,” and “Uncle John.” Mr. John Pease who stood for this photo wasn’t from Van Wert, Ohio! So, what about that unique table? And who was John Pease of Carnforth?
Could the table have been a style manufactured and sold to photography studios for use as props, and therefore found in many different studios across the United States? I think that is a likely explanation. *Since my initial writing of this post, I’ve learned that this decorative table was manufactured by Eastlake and it was indeed a prop fixture in many photography studios during the Victorian era.
However, it should be noted that the photographer, Jeremiah Rank, did have a connection to Iowa. His parents and brother lived in Mahaska County, Iowa, a neighbor to Powesheik County, where Carnforth is located. In 1874, Rank was married in Oskaloosa, Mahaska County, Iowa. Is it possible John Pease had his picture taken by Rank after all?
It wasn’t uncommon for photographers to travel, setting up make-shift sets where they would offer their services. Some of these traveling artists, as they were known, would rent a room to set up their equipment, others had their own tent or wagon, and for others, the process entailed spreading a piece of carpet on the ground with a backdrop tacked on a portable frame.
Is it possible that Jeremiah Rank set up a traveling studio during a visit to Iowa? If you study Mr. John Peases’ portrait, you might notice the background looks a bit disheveled. Look at the trash on the floor. I wouldn’t expect that you would find this in a brick and mortar studio. But, I would imagine it’s something you might see if a photographer was set up in a tent, or outdoors. It also appears that the backdrop is on some type of wooden frame, as you can see the gap between the frame and the floor. It might not have been Rank who captured this image, but another traveling photographer. This, of course, is all speculation.
John Pease, who stood for this photo, was born in Maryland in 1858. His father and mother, Lewis and Ellen (Wheeler) Pease came to Iowa in the late 1860s. I believe the writing “Katie Picture” refers to his younger sister, Katie Pease, who was two years younger than John. And, of course, “Uncle John” would have been written by one of her children, Earl or Vivian Miller.
If the tintype had not provided the location of Carnforth, Iowa, I would have identified this sitter incorrectly. It’s a reminder that even when I feel confident that my research has led me to the right person, I can never be 100% certain.