This cabinet card photograph portrait of a sailor from the USS Matchless was taken at the Julius Hebbel Studio at 409 and 411 North Gay Street, Baltimore, ca. 1890-1900.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Matchless was a schooner assigned to the US Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1885-1919. Built in 1859 at Key West, Florida, the Matchless was refitted in 1895.
NOAA has documented the Matchless’ role in several emergencies on land and sea.
Given when it was built, the schooner was probably active in the Union Navy during the Civil War. I’ve found one scholarly reference to the Matchless‘ role in the Union occupation of Ft. Myers, Florida in 1864 (Solomon, “Southern Extremities: The Significance of Ft. Myers in the Civil War,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, 72:2, Oct 1993, 129-152). If you know more about this ship’s history, leave us a comment.
Like many Hebbel portraits, this photograph makes use of one of the studio’s elaborate wickerwork chairs. The mount’s serrated edges and relatively elaborate advertising on the reverse are typical of the 1890s.
Although difficult to discern in this digital image, the photograph has been subjected to the “cameo” process, in which a press was employed to create a raised oval surface. A number of specialized cameo presses with interchangeable dies were marketed to photographers from 1868 on (Darrah, Cartes de Visite in Nineteenth Century Photography, 190). The surface has also been varnished to create a highly smooth and polished effect.