A Mumbrauer Baby: Rufus Rudolph Kessler on a Rug

Cabinet card photograph of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged 5 months, by R. C. Mumbrauer

Cabinet card photograph of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged 5 months, by R. C. Mumbrauer

This cabinet card portrait of Rufus Rudolph Kessler, aged five months, is just the sort of photograph mothers love to show their sons’ girlfriends. How it ended up all alone on an internet auction site is a mystery, but I rescued it and present our hero for your review.

Rufus Kessler was born on 12 June 1894 in Hermann, Missouri to teacher Bertha Durer (1864-1949) and stock dealer and veterinarian Rudolph Kessler (1851-1929). His paternal grandparents, Elisabeth  (1820-1885) and Sylvester Kessler (1822-1901) were part of that great 19th century immigrant movement from Germany to Missouri . They farmed in Roark Township, Gasconade County.

If young Rufus were five months old at the time of the photo, the date would be around November 1894.

Rufus did not hang around Hermann very long. He got work as a stenographer in Kansas City, Missouri, then served in the Navy on the U.S.S. Louisiana and the U.S.S. Peary from 1919 to 1926.

After he left the Navy, he worked as a clerk on the U.S. Government Army Corps of Engineers Missouri River Fleet, based in Charette Township, Warren County, Missouri. As far as I can tell, he remained single.

Kessler died in 1946, and is buried in Hermann City Cemetery, Hermann, Missouri, as are his parents; his grandmother Elisabeth Kessler is buried at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Warren County, and Sylvester Kessler, are buried in the cemetery of St. George Roman Catholic Church, Hermann.

Babies were notoriously difficult to photograph because of their inability to keep still. There is an entire literature on photographing babies, and galleries often advertised it as a specialty. In 1894,  James H. Smith and Co., Chicago, even advertised a “baby-holder” as an attachment to its posing chair.

One typical technique involved having the baby’s mother hold the child in place from behind a curtain.

“The first good feature here is to prevent the child from falling; the second is to get the mother out of the way in a diplomatic manner by having her behind the curtain and not out in front ‘retarding action’ on the part of the operator and finding fault with every exposure he makes on the grounds that the baby is not smiling or laughing” (Felix Raymer, “Photographing the Babies,” Wilson’s Photographic Magazine, v. L, no. 674, February 1913, pp. 77-78).

Mumbrauer seems to have solved the problem by posing the infant in a prone position, instead of artificially sitting up. But how did Mumbrauer get little Rufus to gaze so solemnly into the camera?

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View a collection of baby photos featuring “invisible mothers.”

Update: Recently I was contacted by a Kessler descendant who lost this and other Kessler family photos some years ago. I am thrilled to be able to return the precious original to her.

Published in: on June 2, 2013 at 5:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Portrait of Herbert Tschappler

Farmer and engineer Herbert John Schappler (personal collection of Karen Barton).

Herbert John Tschappler (personal collection of Karen Barton).

Young Herbert Tschappler (1890-1945), had his portrait taken by Robert C. Mumbrauer ca. 1908. The photograph exhibits features more common after 1900: larger, black card mounts with the studio’s name  blind embossed instead of printed, for a more subtle effect.

Farmer, engineer and carpenter Herbert Tschappler was born to Osage County farmers Samuel Tschappler and Ernestine Marie Auguste Gnadt in March 1890. With his wife, Ella Deppe, Herbert settled in Carlsbad, Eddy County, New Mexico, where they had two children, Sam and Roy.

Herbert and Ella Tschappler are buried in Carlsbad Cemetery, Carlsbad, New Mexico.

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Published in: on May 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Wedding Day: Mumbrauer Studio, Hermann

This lovely wedding portrait by the Robert C. Mumbrauer studio, Hermann, Missouri, came to me through AdoptAPhoto, a site and service, created by Anne White in 2001, that enables people to post photographs that have become separated from families, in hopes that others will find and claim them. It’s a necessary stop for anyone looking for family photographs.

The subdued black card mount and restrained, blind-embossed studio identification mark this photograph as circa 1900 or after.

Following fashion historian Joan Severa’s guidelines, the details that date the bride’s shirtwaist-style gown are the “caplet” on the sleeve shoulder, combined with the “over-puffed front” of the blouse that droops beneath the waistline (Severa, Dressed for the Photographer, 539).

The bride’s  headpiece features whimsical trailing artificial rosebuds; the groom’s jacket sports a matching spray. His creased pants also are a sign of ca. 1900 fashion, an era when the trouser press came into widespread use.

But what truly strikes the viewer in this portrait is the solemn gaze of the bride and groom, who, hand in hand, face the camera as if repeating their vows. For a moment, the studio, with its shabby props and painted backdrops, becomes a chapel.

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Published in: on November 6, 2011 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Perhaps Permilia Strothmann by Charles German

Portrait of Permilia or Louise Strothmann by Charles German (image courtesy of Susan Strothmann Brooks)

This cabinet card photograph, taken by Hermann photographer Charles German ca. 1900, may be either Permilia Johanna Strothmann or her younger sister Louise Margaretha Strothmann.

Permilia and Louisa were two of the five children of Franklin County, Mo. farmers Frederick Strothmann and Maria Drewell Strothmann (click on link to compare).

Charles German was born in July 1864 to German immigrant carpenter Henry German and his Missouri-born wife Eliza Summers German. Charles was set to learn the cooper’s trade, but sometime between 1880 and 1900, Charles learned photography.

For a time, Hermann photographer Robert C. Mumbrauer and Charles German were partners, but thanks to contributions by  Susan Strothmann Brooks, it’s become clear that German operated Mumbrauer’s studio at 4th and Schiller streets under his own name for an unknown period.

Since Mumbrauer had another career as a sheriff and railroad detective, it seems plausible that he either rented or sold the studio to German for a time. The Western Historical Manuscript Collection has one cabinet card marked “Mumbrauer & German, Berger, Mo.” that is dated 1895.

By 1910, German had put aside professional photography and became a Hermann saloon keeper. In later years he worked as a janitor. He died in 1947 at the age of 82 and is buried in Hermann City Cemetery.

Unfortunately, three of this image’s four edges have been cut off during scanning, but at right one can see that the card mount has a scalloped or serrated edge. This edge, along with the less obtrusive green printing of the photographer’s mark, places the mount ca. 1890-1899.

The more subtle background, too, sans the old false painted backgrounds and papier mache tree stumps, marks a turn-of-the-century shift to a simpler, less gimmicky portrait style.

According to costume historian Joan Severa, the young woman’s dress, possibly black silk, featuring a wide, ruffled bertha collar, dates to the mid- to late-1890s (Severa, Dressed for the Photographer).

Carefully lit to highlight the still-babyish lips, large dark eyes and turned up nose, German’s sensitive portrait captures a girl poised on the edge of young womanhood.

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The Stroethmann Children

 Cabinet card of the children of Frederick and Maria Drewell Stroethmann, ca. 1895,  by R. C. Mumbrauer, Hermann, Missouri (found by Kathy Wieland)

This ca. 1895 example depicting the children of Franklin County, Missouri farmers Frederick Stroethmann (b. 1847, Germany) and Maria (Drewell) Stroethmann  (b. 1857, Berger, Franklin Co., Mo.) displays features common to cabinet cards produced during the 1880s and 1890s: the gold-hued photo appears to be an albumen print, mounted on cream press-board. The name and location of the studio appear on the bottom of the card, without artwork on the back, and the edges are decoratively scalloped.

Stroethmann descendant Susan Strothmann Brooks has been able to give tentative identifications to these children:

“I do not have the photo that you sent me of the Strothmann children.  However, I do have a photo of the family with the children older.   As I look at the Strothmann children [in this] photo, I would say Royal (1887-1966) is the boy in back, on the right is Johanna Permelia (1881-1971), on the left is Louise Margaretha (1879-1937), Johanes Oscar (1885-?), and Hermann Karl Wilhelm (1892-1958) is in the center.”

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Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 11:42 am  Comments (1)  

The Face That Piloted a Thousand Steamboats?

Could this be a portrait of William L. “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann?

Reverse of carte de visite portrait of an unidentified young man.

Sometimes you buy photographs in ignorance and only later realize their significance.

This carte de visite portrait of a young man, taken at the studio of Robert C. Mumbrauer, was not identified. But when I sat down to look at it, the face reminded me of someone I had seen in another Mumbrauer photograph.

It was the face of one of the four young men who posed with an African-American boy in a Mumbrauer and German  card photograph belonging to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection.

That photo was taken at Chamois in 1895. It came from the William L. Heckmann Jr. scrapbooks at the WHMC.

Only three complete names are given, and it is unclear which name goes with which individual. The names written in the scrapbook are “George Patton, Bill Heckman, Pumpkin Patton, and Andy.”

The man in this photo looks an awful lot like one of the two men on the left side of the photograph. Could it be that I have stumbled upon a portrait of the well-known steamboat pilot, “Steamboat Bill” Heckmann (1869-1957)–author of the classic 1950 memoir of river life, Steamboating: Sixty-Five years on Missouri’s Rivers?

I wrote to  The Museum at the German School in Hermann, which has significant holdings on steam boat history on the Missouri and Gasconade rivers, including a complete pilot-house in their River Room.

They referred me to the Gasconade County Historical Society. Here is my correspondent’s response:

“I asked a colleague to look at two group family photos that we have, which I did not identify to her, to see if your subject, at another stage of life, might be in either of the group photos. In both cases, she picked out the man identified as William Heckmann, Jr. In her words, ‘It was the nose.’ “

I’ve also sent the photograph to the Herman T. Pott National Waterways Library, to which Dorothy Heckmann Schrader, daughter of steamboat Captain Ed Heckmann, has donated a substantial archive of texts and images.

Stay tuned.

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Portrait of a Young Child by Robert Mumbrauer

The usually workmanlike Robert C. Mumbrauer created an unusually sensitive portrait of an unidentified young child in this cabinet card photograph.

Although faded and marred with foxing, the child’s face, dramatically lit from the side, remains clearly discernible. Her large eyes and sad expression are haunting.

The card mount’s pink back and elaborate advertising are typical of the 1890s. Note the conventional association of photography with reflected nature (fern fronds; clustered swirls representing a stylized mirror of water) and with painting (the easel and palette).

Also notable: the spelling of the town’s name has been anglicized from “Hermann” to “Herman.”

 

 

 

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Girl With Papier Mache Urn: Lydia J. A. Bade Rohlfing

Cabinet card portrait of Lydia Bade Rohlfing, found by Kathy Wieland of FamilyWe Search.com.

This portrait of an awkward teenage girl teetering on the edge of womanhood was identified as “Lydia Bade (Mrs. Arnold Rohlfing).”

Born 20 March 1880 in Franklin County, Missouri to German immigrant farmer William F. Bade and Johanna Elizabeth Peters Bade, Lydia married Franklin County farmer Arnold P. Rohlfing about 1900. The Rohlfings had three children: Florence, Oliver L., and Irwin W. Rohlfing.

The awkwardness of adolescence is magnified by the incongruous setting: Tall, skinny Lydia, in a black  dress stretched tight over her thin  chest, stands by a papier mache faux urn that is just beginning to tip from the pressure of her hand.

Her dress’s fashionable standing-puff sleeves place the photo ca. early 1890s. Contemporary fashion advice for young ladies advised that “frocks . . . should increase in length with advancing years until at age twelve they should reach the ankle” (Ladies Home Journal, May 1891, quoted in Severa, Dressed for the Photographer (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1995). Her hair is done in up-to-date fashion, pulled back tightly into a knot, with a curled fringe of bangs.

The white card mount with blind-embossed decorative edges and a more subdued advertising design also locates this cabinet card photograph in the 1890s.

Lydia Bade Rohlfing died “six miles south of Berger,” in rural Boeuf Township, Franklin County, on 19 Nov 1943. She and her husband are buried in Senate Grove Cemetery, Berger.

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Youth and Age: Two Hermann Couples

Another batch of card photographs by the Robert C. Mumbrauer Studio arrived this week, courtesy of the intrepid Kathy Wieland.

These two cabinet cards of wedded couples–one at the start of married life, one in middle age–are both quite conventional but display some interesting affinities and differences.

The two men resemble each other–perhaps father and son? Kathy acquired these from the same source, so it is possible these photographs came from the same family album.

Card photograph collector and historian William C. Darrah notes that the pose of the middle aged couple became a convention. In his comments on portraiture poses, the first discussed is that of husband and wife:

“Among the more abundant surviving carte de visite portraits are those of newly  married couples and husband and wife at various ages. The most striking convention is the almost universally used pose of the husband seated and the wife standing, with one hand on her husband’s shoulder. Mayall photographed Queen Victoria in this position, her hand on Prince Albert’s shoulder” (Darrah, Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, p. 36).

Newlyweds, by contrast, were fairly often photographed “with the partners standing, the husband usually to the right of the wife” (Darrah, Cartes, p. 36)

The reverse of the cabinet card of the middle-aged couple  has advertising (see center image), while that of the young couple does not. The mount of the newlyweds’ photo is a dull green with beveled edges and gilt lettering.

Based on Darrah’s dating of  backmark styles, the advertising on the reverse of the middle-aged couple’s photo might be ca. 1875-1878.

I’m a novice at dating dress, so take the following with a big grain of salt. My reference text is Joan Severa’s Dressed for the Photographer.

The dress of the dignified and still-slim woman, with its long, buttoned bodice, white silk bow and elaborately cut overskirt finished with deep knife pleats might be ca. 1878- early 1880s.

The bride’s wedding dress, by contrast, appears to lack an  over-skirt. It has tight sleeves with just a hint of a shoulder puff, and a high, frilled neckline. Her hair is a close cap of tight waves parted at the center.

Both couples are posed against interior backdrops. It’s unclear whether the grass that appears in the middle-aged couple’s photo is real or fake. Mumbrauer spent a number of years as a traveling photographer during the 1870s.

If I had to guess, I’d say the wedding portrait is later than the middle-aged couple, but I am not at all confident this is accurate.

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Mumbrauer Photos in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection

The Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri, Columbia holds four of Robert C. Mumbrauer’s cabinet card photos in its special collections. Three of them were donated by Boonville, Mo. native Charles van Ravenswaay, a former director of the State Historical Society of Missouri. Van Ravenswaay’s meticulously researched and documented volume, The Arts and Architecture of German Settlements in Missouri, published in 1977, remains the definitive  text in its field.

The first cabinet card below poses four well-dressed women holding a photograph. It may have been taken as a mourning card, or to commemorate an event. The golden hue of the photograph indicates an albumen print.  The simple ivory-colored mount and the style of the women’s clothing suggests this portrait was taken in the 1870s, when dresses featured elaborate, apron-like overskirts and tight-fitting bodices and sleeves. The card’s reverse advertises the photographer and his location. As the century progressed, cabinet card mounts and advertising became more elaborate.

Front of R.C. Mumbrauer cabinet card of four unidentified women (Charles van Ravenswaay Papers, Western Historical Manuscript Collection)

Reverse of R.C. Mumbrauer cabinet card of four unidentified women (Charles van Ravenswaay Papers, Western Historican Manuscript Collection)

The next card below, dated 1895, marked Mumbrauer & German, Chamois, Mo., features four white men and an African-American boy.  The hand-written note locates the place this photo was taken as the “Chamois revetment,” in Osage County. The Chamois revetment was built in the late 1890s at Chamois Bend on the Missouri River to impede erosion.

The standing men pose in a relaxed manner, and are dressed casually, in shirtsleeves, while the boy,  barefoot and seated on a piece of faux stonework (a common studio prop), holds a bouquet of flowers. This unusual tableau appears to have been influenced by classical images of the Greek koros, or youth, in the vigor of the spring of life, but the use of a barefoot African American child puts a peculiarly American spin on this image.

The card comes from the William L. Heckmann, Jr. scrapbooks. Heckmann (1869-1957) was a Hermann, Missouri steamboat pilot. His memoir is called Steamboating: Sixty-Five Years on Missouri’s Rivers (1950). Heckmann is second from left.

According to Dorothy Heckmann Schrader’s memoir Steamboat Treasures, Bill Heckmann Jr. worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’  Missouri River improvement project from 1894 to 1900 (49).  He may have been piloting the government “sternwheel towboat” Arethusa when this photograph was taken.

Mumbrauer and German cabinet card of George Patton, Bill Heckman, Pumpkin Patton, and Andy (William Heckman Jr. Scrapbooks, 1869-1957, Western Historical Manuscript Collection)