Chicago Mail Order Millinery Company, 1900
This early postcard-sized specialty catalog is charming on multiple levels.
You can enjoy just how extraordinarily fancy ladies’ hats could be at the dawn of the 21st century – just how many variations and hat accessories there were. (I’ll spare you the page which displays a pair of taxidermied pigeon’s wings).
You can enjoy the faces, extraordinarily long necklines, and high collars of the women pictured in these early photos.
Or you can enjoy the the hand-applied colors found in this particular copy.
The catalog wasn’t sent out with tinted pictures. No, nearly 120 years ago someone used this one for art practice, experimentally applying watercolors (or “photo oils”) to each and every image in the 48 page booklet, all the way to the back cover.
Sometimes the effects were subtle.
Sometimes the effects were highly creative. (The colors described in the copy rarely matched the artist’s chosen tints.)
Sometimes…well, clearly they were learning what worked and what didn’t.
Who was it who painted in the pictures, and why? We’ll never know. Still, all that personalized hand-coloring adds an intimacy and allure that brings it to fresh life even after more than a century.