Two Young Men by Jacob Byerly

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These two cartes de visite are probably my earliest examples of the work of Jacob Byerly, Frederick, Maryland’s earliest and most well-known photographer.

The unidentified young men in these portraits may have been soldiers; the vignette style that shows just the head and shoulders makes it difficult to identify their clothing. But bearded and sunburned, these two hale young men in the prime of their lives may, like many soldiers, have had their portraits taken at Byerly’s Market Street studio when passing through Frederick in 1862 (South Mountain, Antietam), 1863 (Gettysburg), and 1864 (Monocacy) during the Civil War.

They could also have been among the 9,000 or so soldiers who convalesced in Frederick after being wounded in these battles.

Ross Kelbaugh’s directory dates cartes de visite with this imprint to before 1866, when Byerly took his son J. Davis Byerly into the business. Since these photographs don’t have revenue stamps, we can be confident they were taken before 1864.

The simple three-line imprint and gold double border lines support this early dating. William Darrah places the double-border style to 1861-1869, so I’m going to guess that these date from sometime between 1861 and 1864.

A Jacob Byerly Carte de Visite

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According to published biographical sketches, the Byerlys came from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania to Frederick, Maryland, where in 1842 they opened a daguerreotype studio on Patrick Street, later moving to North Market Street.

From 1842 to 1915, three generations of Byerlys photographed the people and places of the town and its environs: Jacob Byerly (1807-1883), his son John Davis Byerly (1839-1914), and then John’s son Charles Byerly (1874-1944).

Charles took over the business at 29 North Market Street in 1899. In April 1915, the floor above the studio collapsed and destroyed the gallery. Although Charles rebuilt the Byerly Building (still in use at 27-29 North Market Street), he gave up the photography business. The building still bears the family name and the year 1915.

This carte de visite of an unknown young woman was probably taken before 1864, because there is no revenue stamp, and because according to Maryland photography historian Ross Kelbaugh, cartes from ca. 1863-1865 to about 1869, when Jacob retired, bore the name J. Byerly & Son.

Her dress exhibits the more tapered fullness of 1860s skirts, the full “bishop” sleeves, and the narrow, flat, white linen collar that replaced the wide lace collars of the 1850s.  She holds a book in her hands as if just interrupted while browsing, perhaps to indicate that she is educated beyond the norm for girls.

The Historical Society of Frederick County holds a substantial collection of photographs by and of the Byerlys and associated families.