Looking at the Backs of Things

Curators and catalogers spend quite a bit of time looking at the backs and bottoms of things, trying to glean information about pictures and objects.  Labels on the back of the frame of an oil painting may tell where and when it was exhibited or purchased.  Marks on prints and drawings may prove clues to previous owners.  Photographer’s names often appear on the backs of nineteenth-century photographs rather than on the fronts.  If the photographer moved frequently, then the address in the imprint can help determine the date of the photograph as well.  Other kinds of museum objects such as ceramics and silverware often bear their makers’ marks as well.  As a graphics curator, I’m not only fascinated by the artifacts that I work with, I’m fascinated by the people who made them.  The imprint of the Hartford photographer Daniel S. Camp appears on the backs of a lot of photographs of local landscapes and people taken in the late 1860s and early 1870s.

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