A few weeks ago, a thoughtful stranger emailed me to say that photographs of George Henry Pryor Showalter as a baby and of his wife Lena Estelle Honea as a girl were offered for sale on eBay. I was sure from the images on eBay that the infant was not G. H. P. Showalter, but the pictures were in a very beautiful case, and I was curious about the identification, so I bought them anyway.
The identification of the subjects was based on two slips of paper, tucked in behind one of the photos.
The information, in itself and as far as it goes, is accurate. Lena Honea was born 24 August 1879, in Johnson County, Texas, and died 25 June 1943, in Austin Texas. She married G. H. P. Showalter on 1 August 1900. It is obvious, however, that the identification must have been supplied long after the pictures were taken, some time after 17 October 1954.
It is also obvious that this picture of an infant cannot be George Henry Pryor Showalter, because the subject is a girl. She is wearing a dress and a bow in her hair, and appears to be about one year old, able to sit up, although a supporting adult hand is visible on the left. The photo is printed on paper, a process that was not common in 1880, when Lena Honea would have been the age of the subject, so I doubt that she was the sitter either.
|Lena Honea and Ann Dixon (Poole) Honea|
The picture of the two women is a ferrotype, a photographic print made on a thin sheet of iron, often inaccurately called a tintype. Ferrotypes were the predominant form of photography for most of the late 1800s. In the 1860s they replaced daguerrotypes and ambrotypes, which were similar in that in all three a positive image was produced onto a rigid plate of metal or glass. Ferrotypes were less expensive and less fragile, however, and faster to produce, qualities that made the process very suitable for professional portrait photographers.
The younger woman in the picture appears to be six to eight years old. If it is Lena Honea, the picture would have been taken in the mid 1880s, a plausible date. The other woman is probably her mother, Ann Dixon Poole, born 9 July 1859, died 30 November 1924; on 22 April 1877 she married Thomas Jefferson Honea, born 23 July 1854, died 15 February 1941. Lena was the couple’s first child, of nine. Click to see a genealogy of the Honea family.
|George Henry Pryor Showalter and Lena (Honea) Showalter|
This photo shows G. H. P. Showalter and Lena Honea in 1900, around the time of their wedding. She looks to me like the same person as the girl in the ferrotype of the two women, so I think the identification was at least partly right.
|Union Case, "Beehive, Grain and Farm Tools" design|
The case in which the pictures are mounted is called a Union Case. Union Cases were first introduced in 1853, and were intended to protect daguerrotypes, which were easily broken, as were ambrotypes. The cases were made of a thermoplastic compound, containing gum shellac and woodfibres. The substance was heated and then molded, and it hardened into a rigid and very durable material.
The manufacturer’s name is printed inside, behind one of the pictures. Littlefield, Parsons & Company was in business from 1858 to 1866. It was formed by the merger of earlier companies and continued its operations after 1866 under a new name. According to Paul K. Berg’s “History of the Miniature Case”, 1,179 different Union Case models have been recorded, of which 390 were produced by Littlefield, Parsons & Company. This design is known as “Beehive, Grain and Farm Tools”. By 1866, however, ferrotypes had largely replaced the earlier photographic techniques, and demand for Union Cases declined sharply.
The first owners, probably the Honea family, must have removed the original pictures from this case, and replaced them with later ones. There was, in fact, a third picture in the case, hidden behind the infant picture.
It is another ferrotype, in very poor condition, with parts of the plate broken off, and the image itself very dim. One can nonetheless distinguish the picture of an infant in a white baby dress, no more than six months old, posed before a backdrop of cloths with floral patterns. It seems very likely that this infant was Lena Honea, and that the photograph was made in late 1879 or early 1880.
Who then is the infant on the paper print? My guess is that she is Thelma Showalter, born 18 September 1904, died 4 June 1995. She was the second child and first daughter of George Henry Pryor and Lena Estelle (Honea) Showalter.
The eBay seller could not tell me anything about the provenance of these pictures. My hypothetical history is that the case first contained two daguerrotypes or ambrotypes of the Honea or the Poole family, made between 1858 and 1866. After Thomas Jefferson Honea married Ann Dixon Poole in 1877, the couple reused the case, replacing the older pictures with ferrotypes of their daughter Lena. After Lena’s marriage to G. H. P. Showalter in 1900, the case was again reused, and Lena’s baby picture was replaced by her child Thelma’s picture. The older picture was perhaps damaged in making the change, or was perhaps already in poor condition. After Lena’s death in 1943, her husband lived for another eleven years. Because his death date is recorded but not hers on the identification slips, it seems probable that he kept the case and pictures. He remarried in 1945 to Mrs. Winifred Moore, born 14 Feb 1885, died 9 Apr 1956, who had been twice widowed in previous marriages. She would have inherited his personal effects on his death in 1954, but she might not have known the history of these pictures. G. H. P. and Lena Showalter had six children, all of whom were living when their stepmother died in 1956; but the youngest was 40 years old, and it is probable that they no longer recalled the details of these old family photos.
Lena Honea and G. H. P. Showalter had at least a dozen grandchildren, many of whom are still living, and some have grandchildren of their own by now. I hope that perhaps one of the descendants will recognize these pictures, and provide more authoritative information about their history.