This billing order was from my Great Great Grandfather. I found this while living in the northside of Pittsburgh, which back then was a separate city called Allegheny. Turns out that he not only worked on the same side of town that I was residing, but actually lived in the same neighborhood at one point. Frederick had immigrated from Berlin to the ‘burgh in 1863 and which is where he met his wife who had came from Ireland. They eventually made their way to Chicago which is their final resting place. Anyway, as far as I can tell the address given on this form is where ALCOA has their headquarters and is across the street from the Warhol Museum.
I recently came across this photograph of my Great Great Grandfather Frederick G. Winsel (he is on the far right). He had emigrated from Prussia to Pittsburgh and worked as a horseshoer and blacksmith. I have a couple of late 19th Century standard ¼ turn profile portraits of him, but this is by far my favorite. Now don’t get me wrong any photograph of an ancestor, especially one that is over a century old, is something to cherish. But this image is rather unique. It’s not often that you get a shot of someone at work especially when they were an Average Joe in a rather typical (for the time) blue collar type job. The photographer would have had to haul a decent amount of gear down to the shop to snap this one. As to the reason why this was taken: Your guess is as good as mine.
Besides no answers as to the “why” this was taken I was able to track down a bit more information. I have a billing order from this ancestor so I knew that this was his field of work. Also, the keystone logos make it rather apparent that this was taken while he was still living in Pittsburgh or Allegheny City (now known as the North Side). Through the old City Directories (basically phone books before people had phones) I was able to track down a 7 year period that he didn’t own a shop. So I’m going to assume he was working for this Riley fellow and this photograph was taken over that time period which was 1885 – 1891.
I was also able to find the business listing for F. Riley. The address is barely visible in the photo, but from the directory I was able to narrow it down to 5135 Butler Street in the Lawrenceville neighborhood. For those from Pittsburgh this puts the shop right across the street from the Slaughterhouse Gallery (about where the ATM sits), which is now a somewhat trendy place to be. As my friend Emilia said, with that plaid shirt and beard my Great Great Grandfather was hipster.
I’ve been scanning some photos of my Great Great Grandfather Frederick G. Winsel that came into my possession, my favorite of which is the one of him working at a horse-shoer’s in Pittsburgh. While that one is unique for its setting there is a different reason I really like this one. That would be the back.
As I mentioned before, any photo of any ancestor is to be cherished. This portrait is pretty standard for the era; a quarter turn profile shot with the subject looking away from the camera. What I think is really great about this one is the Art Nouveau design on the back. It is simply classic. (Plus, it helps that I love the Art Nouveau movement.) Looking at it really gives you a feel for the era. Also, I think it’s interesting that they used six separate fonts, all of which help define the style. To me the most unique, and new to me, is the one used on the word “Photographer.” That “g” is very cool.
Besides geeking out over fonts, there is one other really nice aspect to this photo card. That would be it has a date when it was shot. It’s not often that you get the actual date for a photograph of this nature, which was September 26, 1891. So, 120 years ago this week my Great Great Grandfather spent part of his Saturday in Pittsburgh having his portrait taken.
This is an Elgin National Watch Company pocket watch. Elgin was THE name in watches of the 19th century and well into the 20th. They were an official maker of time pieces for the railroads, which meant they had to follow their very strict guidelines for accuracy, and it is estimated that about ½ of the 19th century pocket watches made were from Elgin. Chicagoans may recognize their name from the large clocks at Union Station that state “Elgin Central Time.” This isn’t declaring that the trains run according to the time of a particular suburb but are actually advertisements for a company that no longer exists.
I finally figured out which ancestor owned this watch by matching the photo inside to a recent collection of old photos my Dad gave me. It appears to be my Great Grandmother Katherine Winsel McDermott. Also, there is a 4 leaf clover in the rear compartment, so guessing that this came from the Irish side of the family was a pretty safe bet.
I decided to date the watch, which I figured wouldn’t be that hard since a serial number was printed right under the photo. Turns out that long ago when you bought a watch it was very common to buy a case that you liked and then match it up to a movement you fancied. This meant that the number really had nothing to do with the age of the actual watch. To date the watch you have to open up the casing to reveal the mechanics and use that number. I was a bit leery of this. Images of springs flying, ala a Warner Bros cartoon, came flooding into my brain. But, according to a web site I found it really shouldn’t be that difficult, and it wasn’t. It just opened right up and exposed the inner workings. The photos don’t do justice to how cool they look in person.
The serial number inside dates the watch as being made in 1893. This was the same year as the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (Check out The Devil in the White City for a good read and a great account of this event.) I found references about watch companies doing a huge business at their exhibits during the Fair. I also have some memorabilia from the Fair so I know my family attended. Thus I believe it is pretty safe to say that this watch was purchased during one of their visits. The odd thing is that my Great Grandfather Frank McDermott was only 14 when the Fair took place. So to further my guessing, I’m going to say that my Great Great Grandfather purchased the watch, and then it was handed down from there.
This stereoscope, or Holmes Stereoviewer, was most likely made near the end of the 19th Century. Cards with two photographs of the same thing were put into the holder (as seen here) then you would move it back or forth until it was clear for the viewer. The images are slightly off from each other, thus giving the viewer a feeling of depth, or even 3-D, to the picture. While the concept of this method of looking at pictures dates back to 1838 in England it wasn’t made popular until Oliver Wendell Holmes created this viewer in 1881. No, not the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., but his father Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. was already a well known poet, professor, and doctor when he developed this handheld viewer. This style stereopticon (as it was called) made stereo photography extremely popular, so popular that even today I was able to buy that card in the viewer for about a buck. This method of photography remained in vogue up into the 1930s, and I would guess only faded because of other forms of entertainment like movies and radio. Holmes never patented his stereoviewer but instead intentionally gave away the design to society.
My viewer, while being over a century old, is overall in pretty good shape. Sadly the lens is missing along with the handle (that would go underneath), but the wood veneer looks really nice and the overall quality is good. This viewer should seem pretty familiar to most of you. That is if you ever had a View-Master.
This silver dollar sized token came from the 1897 meeting of the National Education Association in Milwaukee. (I know that they currently hold annual meetings, but back then I can’t be certain how often they met.) The NEA formed in 1857 and today it is the largest professional employee organization with well over 3 million members. They represent every level of faculty & staff that work in the education field ranging from Pre-K through graduate school, and apparently one of my ancestors was once a member.
This NEA medal has a hole in the top that I believe was added. There was a trend back then of taking tokens like this and then converting them into necklaces. So I believe this is what happened here. Besides that hole, it is in pretty good shape. The details of Milwaukee Bay are still nice and crisp and the Wisconsin State Seal on the flip side is also pretty decent (thought it appears the State Seal has changed a bit since then). I know this came from my Mom’s side of the family, but as to which ancestor owned this I can’t be certain. I do know that this side of my family had a line that lived in Fond du Lac, so maybe that is the side this came from.
I guess I’ve got something to look into.
This little coin is known as a Civil War Token and many versions of these were struck by many different businesses as a form of specie currency. This came about as a result of a lack of coinage due to the Civil War. Before the war started citizens started to horde not only gold and silver, but copper and nickel as well. This left a serious void of available coins to use in public. In turn, various businesses started to mint their own coinage, most of which were equal to 1 cent, as a means of making change. According to the Civil War Token Society (once again, a reminder that “if it exists – someone is collecting it”) roughly 25 million of these things were in circulation.
This all seemed to work fine and dandy for a bit, but with no bank or Government to back them up, a problem was only a matter of time. That time came about in New York when a streetcar company that had been accepting the tokens minted by a local bar went to the bar to cash them in. The bar owner, Gustavus Lindenmueller, refused to honor them, and the rail company had zero legal recourse.
Soon after Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864, which ended the private minting of coins along with authorizing the U.S. Mint to create a new style of penny. While this Act made these Civil War tokens essentially worthless, their legacy lives on… Congress noticed how popular these little tokens had been amongst the population, and in turn decided to model the size of their new penny on the tokens.
As for this one (which looks better in person) it was minted in 1863 by the “John Thomas Jr. Coffee & Spices – Premium Mills” and could be “redeemed” at their shop located at Exchange & Dean streets in Albany, NY.
Like the other pocket watch I posted a while back, this one is also in pretty rough shape. The crystal, second hand, and minute hand are long gone. Though other than that, it looks pretty decent. Since it was with that other watch I knew which side of the family it was handed down from, but not exactly from which ancestor. In order to better substantiate this, I figured I should do a bit of research.
This watch is much smaller than the previous. It is roughly the size of a half-dollar. Turns out that this size would have made it a lady’s pocket watch; a category that I didn’t know existed. To get the exact size you have to measure the face in units of a 30th of an inch (and why not 32nd I have no idea). Anyway, the face is roughly 1&3/8” so that puts it soundly as being made for a lady.
Like the other watch you have to open up the case to read the serial number off of the movement (and not the case itself). This one was a bit harder to get open but it eventually popped exposing the very cool looking interworking. As for the date, it was made in 1894. With that date in mind I’m going to guess that it first belonged to either of my 2nd Great Grandmothers Alice Shepard McDermott or Elizabeth Graham Winsel.
Now my next challenge should be to find a place to get these watches repaired.
My brother found this in the basement of my Dad’s before his recent move. The Lucky Strikes tin was a common packaging for smokes. The cigarettes were packed into two rows of 25, hence the “flat fifties.” While I can’t date the tin exactly I did find one reference to someone having one with a tax sticker from 1930. I also know that they changed to white tins during WWII because the Government needed green paint. Then the tin disappeared for the war effort, which ended this type of packaging for good. So from that I would bet that mine came from the 1920s or 1930s.
Now inside are all of these dice. At first I thought that they were from the same era, and most likely used by my Grandparents George & Alice (they were known for loving all types of games). But upon closer look it appears that some of these are possibly made from bone, which was once common. Also unlike plastic that would be rather consistent in the quality of the product, you can see that some of the smaller ones are rather irregular in the stamping of the pips. (Yes, that is what the dots are actually called.) So, I would say that there is a good chance that these could date back to the 19th Century. I suppose I should try and find a real expert on these things and see what they have to say.
This little 15 page publication has a copyright of 1939 and was self published by the author Edward L. Senn. I don’t know when exactly my Grandpa George picked this up, but I am going to assume it was soon after the publication on a trip to Deadwood. By the time The War started he was very busy at working for the The War effort, and in 1944 my mom was born, which of course probably kept them equally busy. So that pretty well dates this item.
The book is decently written and appears to have avoided the old trap of romanticizing The West. Mr. Senn first takes on the lore of the old dime store novel character Deadwood Dick, which apparently was nothing more than that of a fictional character. In the old Blood & Thunder publications of the late 19th century Deadwood Dick was a modern day Robin Hood wholly created by Edward L. Wheeler. Senn notes that as far as he can tell Wheeler never even made it out to the Black Hills. While Deadwood Dick was fictitious, it didn’t stop the name from being attached to three real individuals over a short period of time right around the incorporation of the town of Deadwood in 1876, two of which were involved in theater.
Calamity Jane, as many of the devoted fans of the TV show Deadwood can tell you, was indeed a real person. Senn does an excellent job trying to break down the fact from fiction of Ms. Martha Jane Canary, even pointing out that Jane was likely not her real middle name. While there was plenty of material written about Calamity Jane, including a self aggrandizing autobiography, very little of which was factual. One advantage Senn had was that there were individuals still alive that harked back to those frontier days. From those primary sources and other material he gives a decent picture of her real life…
Marthy, as she calls herself, was born in Missouri in 1852, and her family headed north and west in her early teens. In 1866 her mother passed away in Blackfoot, Montana, and her Father soon followed two years later when they were in Salt Lake City. It is unclear what happened to her siblings other than they all ended up at Ft. Bridger (Wyoming Territory) in 1868. At this point the story gets blurry. As Senn puts it “Thus at age 15 she was thrown upon her own resources at a frontier army post at a time when respectable women were rare at such places and the soldiers were largely derelicts of humanity.”
Senn figures that what most likely happened is she became a “Camp Follower” which is the polite term for prostitute. She claims to have become an Army scout, though there are no Army records to indicate such (and as Senn points out there are some very good military records from that time). Now Senn does come to her defense by pointing out that over time she very well may have come to join scouting parties, which might add some validity to her claims. Either way, she was living a pretty rough life.
Her travels and dates of such are pretty hard to prove, along with when she actually became known as Calamity Jane. Though he was able to show from firsthand accounts that she arrived in Deadwood (either again or for the first time) in June of 1876 with Wild Bill Hickok, “Colorado Charlie” Utter (yes, the one from the TV show) his brother Steve Utter, along with a few others. From there her legend, and her legendary drinking, became history.
While I can find many references to this little pamphlet, and others by Senn just like it, I cannot find much about the man. He appears to have been a journalist in Deadwood going back to 1909, and one of his history books on the early Pioneers of the Black Hills is readily available. He lived until 1951, and is buried in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood alongside Calamity Jane, Wild Bill, Preacher Smith, and Seth Bullock, which I am sure suits him just fine.