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Orphan Photos: Cobbler in Franklin, New Hampshire

The details in this picture are plentiful. A man in an apron holding a shoe. Patriotic bunting. A house.   It’s so lovely I couldn’t resist. I bought it at an antique shop in Franklin, New Hampshire.

A sticker on the front of the glass frame says: “Cobbler Shop, West Bow St., Franklin.”  Other than that this photo is an orphan. No names or dates.

There is nothing like a photo challenge <smile>. Let’s see how the clues stack up.

Work and Business Clothes

cobblerThree men stand in front of the storefront. Each one is dressed slightly differently. The laborer wears a leather apron and a dark colored work shirt. Despite posing with work implements the man with the shoe is wearing a bowler hat. He likely put it on just before posing for the picture. A nineteenth century well dressed man wore a suit, vest, tie and of course a hat.

Next to him is a man in a narrow fitting jacket, white shirt and hat. He has a mustache like the cobbler. Both stand in the doorway of the establishment.

On the far right is a man in more formal business attire-jacket, white shirt, tie, vest and hat. He stands apart from the other two men.  If the men knew each other they should be standing closer to each other.

When dating a picture always look for the most stylishly dressed man or woman. They are likely wearing the latest fashion.  The cut of their jackets suggests a date in the 1880s or early 1890s.

Cobbler or shoemaker?

My grandmother always used the term cobbler to refer to the man who repaired her shoes. That’s likely because there is a difference between cobblers and shoemakers. History Myths Debunked clarified the two jobs. A shoemaker actually made shoes while a cobbler repaired them. Did the person who wrote the caption use the generic term of cobbler for shoemaker?

The 1880 Federal Census lists two shoemakers in town at that time. Thomas Carver born 1833 and John F. Avery b. 1824. This picture appears to be within the 1880-1890 period. By 1900, both Carver and Avery are gone and there are several other shoemakers in town.

Leigh Wells from the Franklin New Hampshire Historical Society looked in their files for additional data. Avery worked for Carver on Franklin St., but they weren’t on Bow or West Bow St. Between 1881-1900 all cobbler/shoe repair stores were on Central Street or Main St.  I wonder if the two men in the doorway are Carver (jacket, no tie) and Avery (in work clothes).

It appears the label is partially incorrect. Or is it?

Wells also tried to match up the small bits of architecture present in the image and found a similar house on Bow St. Either the men posed in front of a different building on another street OR the business was briefly located on West Bow.

Who Took the Picture?

There was one photographer in town at the time, James B. Warren (photographer). Also enumerated was Albert Fifield (photographic artist). He may have worked as Warren’s assistant or colorized pictures.

Cardstock Evidence

The thin photo paper is mounted to a dark brown cardstock with no other markings. Brown and yellowish card was more common in the 1880s.

A Patriotic Occasion

The bunting could be for the 4th of July, Memorial Day or another special holiday. The style of the bunting could be significant. It’s unusual with wide swathes of color. Wide white band, with a narrow red band, another white stripe followed by a field of stars.

For now this will remain a mystery.

I’m donating it to the Franklin Historical Society. It’s a piece of their town’s photographic history.


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