Found -- Rare Photo of John Wilkes Booth!

I love to watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS. (... and yes, I also admit to a secret addiction to the History Channel's American Pickers).  These programs showcase the amazing things people find in their attics:  antiques, collectibles, and ephemera from the past.  The part I like best is the big reveal at the end, when people discover that the dirty old vase they were going to throw away turns out to be a Tiffany original.

I had my "Antiques Roadshow" moment not too long ago.  I have written before about an old family photo album that belonged to my husband's 2nd-great-grandmother -- see "St. Louis Civil War Era Cartes de Visite" and "More Civil War Era Cartes de Visite from St. Louis."  This album contains about 90 photos, some of which are clearly family members, but most are completely unidentified; only two were labeled.  I Googled the two names and discovered they were famous actors of the 1860s.  

Some time after I wrote that blog post, I was looking over the remaining photos trying to put them in categories, when one of them struck me as being familiar.  At first I thought it might be a photo of Edgar Allen Poe (that dark hair and brooding look), but then it hit was John Wilkes Booth.  Of course!  There were other famous actors in this album, and Booth was one of the most famous of his day.  I did a Google image search for him, and my photo was clearly the same man.  The problem was, I couldn't find the exact photo from my album anywhere else online.

I spent most of that day searching the web.  Even my husband got into the thrill of the hunt --this photo was handed down in his family, after all!  Eventually he was the one who tracked down a newsletter, The Rail Splitter,  published in 1999 by a company that deals in Lincoln memorabilia.  Scrolling down to page 32 of the newsletter, he found an article describing a previously unknown photo of John Wilkes Booth.

The photo was taken in 1861 or 1862, when Booth was performing in St. Louis and had a photo session there with some of his fellow actors.  The article described two new photos, which "represent the only known examples of cartes from the St. Louis session to remain extant."(1 ) Well, guess what.  I've got another one.  

Curious about how this photo came into the album, I started to look more carefully at the Wilcox family.   The album came to us through Hattie Jane Wilcox, my husband's 2nd-great-grandmother.  Hattie was born in 1837 in Quebec, Canada, daughter of Andrew Wilcox and his wife Mary Ann Matthews.  The family immigrated from Ireland, first settled in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1830s, lived in Canada for about ten years, and moved back to St. Louis by the late 1840s.  Hattie's brother James was identified as a "Daguerrian Assistant" in the 1870 census of St. Louis.(2)  
 The census taker transposed the names -- the head of household was Andrew Wilcox, and his son-in-law was Adam Hazzard.

At first, I suspected that many of the photos of elegant and formal people in this album, such as these, might have been obtained through James Wilcox's job as a photographic assistant.

After thinking about it, I concluded that, while possible, it is more likely that Hattie collected the photos herself.  James was only 20 in 1870, and revenue stamps and clothing date most of the photos to the early to mid-1860s.  He might have had access to the photos as a 12- to 15-year-old, if he was even working at that age, but more likely not.  Furthermore, the imprints on the reverse of the photos in this collection came from many different photographic studios in St. Louis, not just one, which might be the case if an employee collected them.  I engaged the expert on historic photographs, Maureen Taylor, for a consultation to help me understand more about this album.  She told me that just like we collect photos of movie stars today, people in that era collected CDV's of well-known figures,(3) so Hattie was likely a "fan."  

Don't you think that the hand hidden in Booth's pocket seems to portend the future?

I was one of those people who thought I didn't have anything that would ever make the cut on Antiques Roadshow... but I discovered that in the end, it is a lot more fun to figure out your own mysteries.

1. The Rail Splitter; A Journal For the Lincoln Collector, Vol. 5, No 1-2, July 1999, page 32, "Booth Exposed -- Once Again; The Discovery of Additional Unpublished Photographs." [  accessed 30 June 2015]
2.  1870 U.S. Census, St Louis Ward 7, St Louis, Missouri; NARA Microfilm Publication M593 Roll  817; Page: 540A; Image: 149.  [, accessed 30 June 2015]
3.  Maureen Taylor, Wilcox photo album consultation, 25 March 2015, MP3 file.  Privately held by client.