*** difficult images

Difficult Images

Figure 1.--This picture looks like three sisters. Certainly the child on the left is a girl. The middle child could be a boy. The child on the right has a boy's face. The short hair suggest a boy, especially as the hair has been cut away from the ears. But the center hair part suggest a girl. Note that the girl on the left has a center part, but while her hair is short it has not been cut away from the ears. One clue is that both older children wear identical lockets. This suggests to us that both are girls. The chikld in the middle with a side part is surely a boy. The picture was taken in Lima, New York. We don't have the date, but I would guess about 1890.

Many of the images in this web site have been acquired without the important details on who the people are and where and when the photographs were taken. Often I am forced to deduce the date from the style rather than use the date to follow style trends. Some of you have forwarded information and asked if I have any insights. I will post some of these images here and would greatly appreciate any insights you might have. In addition to the difficult image pages here, we are also linking several related pages that will help with photo identification.

Difficult Images

Some of the difficult images which HBC has decided to address include:


Country identification is sometimes eased by ethnic styles or the ethnic makeup of certain countries. In many instances boy wear styles like sailor suits that were widely worn throughout Europe, making specific country identificaton difficult. Some countries have no destinguishable cahracteristic clothing styles. Country identification has become especially difficult in recent hyears as so many tyles have crossed national borders. Modern European boys in "T" shirts, jeans, and sneakers, for example, are virtually imposdible to identify.

Chronological Period

A knowledge of stylistic trends is uswful in helping to date images. Some styles appeared in specific years. Others have less specific origins. Knowing just when styles disappeared is more difficult as often styles lingered, but were just less common. Styles tended to last longer and changes less abrupt in the 19th Century than in the late 20th Century when modern mass media can create new popular fashions in very short time frames. Sometimes there are useful clues in the photographs from props or background such as automobiles or houses. Dating the photograph correctly is very important for HBC as it is impossible to determine trends without being able to date the images.

Social Class

The clothing, including the material and style, can often provide important information about the social class and back ground of a chil's family. Early photographs were mostly of affluent children. By the turn of the century photography had become much less expensive, available to virtually all.


In the case of children in dresses it is often difficult to determine gender. Throughout the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century, mothers commonly dressed younger boys in dresses. This ocurred both before and after they had their son's long curls cut. Thus it is very difficult to dertrmine the gender of younger children in dresses, especially the boys who have not yet has their hair cut.


HBC has encoutered some inages from various periods. Some may be staged costume images rather than photographs of the clothes boys actually worrthe images boys really wore. HBC would be very interested in reader assessments of these omages.

Well-known Images

There are some images that I have seen before and I believe are well known paintings or photographs, but I cannot at this time identify. Do let me know if you have any information on these images.

Photo Identification

Photographic images are extremely valuable historical information. Drawings, paintings, and written documents can be mistken for a variety of reasons. Photograph are basically definitive statements. They show what boys actually wore rather than an artists intrpretation. There are some limitiations associated with photographs. Chilren could be dressed up in costumes rather than their actual clothing. The vast majority of photographs, however, show boys wearing their actual clothes. The greatest problem, however, is that large numbers of photographs are undated and the individuals not identified.


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Created: November 15, 1998
Last updated: February 23, 2002