Two Women With Guitars
New York Photo Service, circa 1885
Vintage Cabinet Card Photograph, 6 1/2" x 4 1/4", Collection of Old Hat Records
This studio portrait is typical of the Victorian era, when sitting for a photograph marked a serious occasion, often perceived as a means to achieve posterity. With their matching polka-dot apparel and beribboned guitars, these two unidentified women strike a carefully considered pose. This was the age of the small-bodied “parlor guitar,” so called because of its prevalent use in Victorian parlors, often by the women of the household. Instruction manuals for these instruments emphasized a method of playing the bass strings with the thumb and treble with the fingers, a technique later adopted by many folk musicians.
The “cabinet card” seen here represents the dominant photo format of the 1880s and ‘90s, a paper print mounted on bristol or cardboard, with the photographer's imprint across the lower margin. Another fixture of the Victorian parlor, these cards were typically displayed on wooden stands, and briefly eclipsed the popularity of the photo album.