RARE LARGE FORMAT ALBUMEN OF THE “CHILDREN OF THE BATTLEFIELD” BY GUTEKUNST

$2,750.00 ON HOLD

Quantity Available: 1

Item Code: 1070-124

Most versions of this photo are in the carte-de-visite format. In our experience a large format albumen is rare. Most students of Gettysburg know the story of the “Children of the Battlefield.” The original ambrotype of three children was found with the body of an unknown Union soldier. It came into the hands of Dr. John Bourns of Philadelphia, who placed articles in newspapers advertising its existence under the heading, “Whose father was he?,” describing the photo, and relating the circumstances of its discovery in an effort to identify the soldier. Bourns had a limited number of copies of the image made to send to respondents to confirm the soldier’s identity and these were certainly of small size. In November 1863 the children were positively identified as those of Philinda and Amos Humiston. Amos was a member of the 154th NY and had been missing since Gettysburg.

The matter became a cause celebre. In addition to the sentimental idea that Humiston had used his last few moments of life to take out the photo and gaze at his children, he became a stand-in for the hundreds of Union soldiers slain in the battle who remained unidentified and his children represented thousands who lost a father or had become orphans. Selling copies of the image became a fundraising effort under Bourns’s management, first to provide for the welfare of the Humiston family and then, even before the war was over, to establish an orphan’s asylum, which was eventually done at Gettysburg.

For these purposes, too, the dominant form was the carte-de-visite. These could easily be sent by mail and were convenient to store and display in a photograph album, where a larger image would require a frame and wall space. Bourns used several photographers and one could likely order any size from them. A few large format versions of the photo made by Wenderoth and Taylor were offered as premiums for new subscribers to the American Presbyterian, the religious paper whose publication of Bourns’s story led to the identification of Humiston. This one shows that Gutekunst, too, offered the image for sale in this format and others may have done so. Some large photos were offered for sale by Bourns himself during a visit to the Humiston family, but it was the carte-de-visite versions that sold out.

Another difficulty with the larger image is illustrated here. The story of the photo was usually printed on the reverse of the card by the publisher. Here, to permit it to be read once the photo was framed, it had to be added across the lower front of the image by hand: “This is a copy of the Ambrotype found in the / hands of Sergeant Humiston of the 154th NY / Volunteers as he lay dead on the Battle / field of Gettysburg.”

Through their distribution the Humiston photos struck a chord in the public mind and the story was related in poetry and music. It also concentrated the desire and will to do something for the families and orphans of soldiers, though with a disappointing ending. The family derived little benefit from the sales and the orphan asylum itself was closed in 1877 amid charges of cruelty by its matron and embezzlement by Bourns.

The image is housed in a period oval, plaster and wood frame with a gilt inner border and some minor chipping, measuring 14 ¼” by 12 ¼” . The albumen itself is 7 ½” x 5 ½”, on a 9 ½” x 8” mount. The frame has its period backboard (which is loose in the frame along with the glass and the image itself), but seems to have been reused, likely by a collector, to house this image. (A typewritten label on the reverse says, “Uncle Lon (Alonzo A. Beecher) 1843-1864,” which likely relates to another image, perhaps a view of Alonzo Beecher of the 3rd CT Light Artillery.) The image bears the Gutekunst photographer’s imprint and does not have a tax stamp on the reverse, indicating it was produced before the Fall of 1864.  [sr]

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