Cabinet cards, introduced in the 1860s, were similar to carte-de-visites (small paper photograph prints mounted on card stock). They served as a popular alternative to cased photographs like daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes. Cabinet card photos measured approximately four inches by six inches and were mounted onto card stock. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library owns hundreds of cabinet cards featuring portraits of Masonic and fraternal members. Portraits were the most common type of photograph featured on cabinet cards, which is why it is always interesting to find a non-portraiture card like these two staff favorites in the collection.
The photograph on the left, purchased by the Museum & Library in 1988, depicts a caricature of a Masonic Shriner wearing a fez and riding a camel. The image is a combination of an illustration and a photograph. The Shriner’s head is a photograph atop an illustrated figure and camel. We found little information about the photography studio “F.S. Fowler” in Herkimer, New York, but were able to identify a Shriner (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine) group in upstate New York near Herkimer. Mason Frazier W. Hurlbut helped to establish the Ziyara Shriners in Utica, New York, in 1877. The group covered nearly 50,000 square miles of territory from Rochester to Albany and boasted a large membership through the 1970s. For more information about the Shriners visit these past blog posts.
The photograph at right, also purchased by the Museum & Library in 1988, shows a posed scene with props. At the lower right hand corner of the photograph it reads “photographed from life.” In the photograph a man dressed up as Father Time, holds the hair of a young woman kneeling at a broken column. The scene includes many Masonic props and symbols: the hourglass, square and compasses, the broken column itself, a sprig of acacia, and the all-seeing eye. The photograph may also be described as a depiction of "Time and the Virgin." This same depiction is in The True Masonic Chart and Hieroglyphic Monitor by Masonic author and lecturer Jeremy L. Cross (1783-1860). Some sources credit Cross with creating the "Time and the Virgin" symbol.
Edward C. Dana’s (1852-1897) photography studio created the card in Brooklyn, New York, in 1896. Dana, a native of Massachusetts, received training from Boston photographer James W. Turner before opening his own studio in 1875. We have found no evidence that Dana himself was a Mason but have questions about how or why the photograph was commissioned, or if the photograph was part of a collection of “theatrical” portraits produced by the Dana Studio. To see these cabinet cards and others in our collection visit our Flickr page!
Have you seen cabinet cards similar to these? Let us know in the comments section below.
Masonic Shriner on Camel, 1870-1920, F.S. Fowler, Herkimer, New York, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.65.
Masonic Broken Column or Time and the Virgin Symbol, ca.1896, Edward C. Dana, Brooklyn, New York, Special Acquisitions Fund, 88.42.101.