Thursday, January 10, 2019


I can't say how many times I've seen the list of photographers in one particular blog I follow daily. Do you think I'd remember that resource when struggling to identify when a specific studio was in operation? All together now: "Of course not!"

After all this time of working on the portrait of a "Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts" taken in Council Bluffs, Iowa, it finally occurred to me that I should seek out more details on the studio in which the picture was taken. Locating a sequential collection of city directories for Council Bluffs was not giving me the stretch of years I was seeking, so I turned to the local library's reference desk for answers.

In reply to my question, Ben Johnson, a Council Bluffs librarian, informed me that, according to the 1894-1895 city directory, a Mr. Charles H. Sherraddan and family were living at 625 Willow Avenue, but that the studio in question was called Riley & Sherraden. Mr. Sherraden apparently had a partner, C. A. Riley.

With that tip, I was off, searching for any details I could find on both Charles Sherraden and C. A. Riley. It wasn't long until I realized the partnership was not a long-lasting one. While some photographs in several different online collections contain labels with the two names together, there are several with just the Sherraden name, as was the picture I found of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Roberts.

Remembering that the blog I follow—The Cabinet Card Gallery—includes an index of posted topics, specifically kept by photographer's name, I scrolled through that blog's listing to see if either Charles Sherraden or his former partner, C. A. Riley, were listed.

Unfortunately, they were not. But that didn't keep me from searching for other such locations online. Just as I discovered for the many Facebook groups dedicated to rescuing abandoned photographs, there are several online resources sporting information on photographers of the earlier decades of the craft.

One such resource is the similarly-entitled Cabinet Card Photographers, where I found an entry for Charles Henry Sherraden, as well as a separate listing for his former partner, Clarence A. Riley.

The twin timelines published there served me well. For one thing, they allowed me to isolate the dates in which the photographs taken by Sherraden would likely be labeled specifically and only with his own name.

Those dates, however, are all across the board. Charles Sherraden, for instance, was listed as a photographer in Council Bluffs in the 1880 census, and likely operated his own studio up until his partnership with Clarence Riley in 1893. By 1895, though, Riley had opened a separate studio, and we can presume that Charles reverted to use of the Sherraden name for his studio following that date.

One item of particular note on the Sherraden timeline is his departure from Council Bluffs for Salt Lake City in 1900. In that year, he was listed both in the census for Council Bluffs in June, and in the city directory in Salt Lake City (though not as a photographer). From that point until his death in 1908, he remained in Utah.

During a span of business operation as lengthy as Sherraden's, his studio labels certainly changed a great deal. Examples of Sherraden studio labels can be found in a number of locations—Council Bluff's own library's collection, and in unexpected other places like the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum in North Bend, Washington. There, three samples, undated, of unidentified women, may come from different time periods in the Sherraden studio's history, with one, in particular, seeming to bear a similar label to the one in our Roberts portrait.

Still another resource led me to more photos taken at the Sherraden studio. Archives West, the Orbis Cascade Alliance, pointed to three Sherraden pictures in the Couch-Derickson Family photograph collection. The three of interest to us were dated from 1890 through 1898.

Now that I was on a roll finding bits and pieces of Sherraden work, how could I stop without checking out ArchiveGrid? Once again in this little here, little there story, I found a reference to a Sherraden photograph now held by the Sonoma County library, not far from me here in California. Though the photo itself bore a different logo design than the one in my possession, it was similar in layout—simply the surname on the left of the lower border, with the city listed on the lower right. Unfortunately, the archive had dated the photograph as having been taken anywhere from 1881 through 1900, not providing us any help in determining how to date our own mystery Sherraden portrait.

It may seem as if each detail is so small as to be insignificant, but collecting enough of these clues may lead us to an answer if we are persistent enough. We can't just rely on gathering the history of this one photographer, of course, but there may be other tidbits of information we can find, if we continue digging deeper with those local resources.


  1. I was hoping you were going to mention similarity of backdrops or props in the photos and voila - a match! No such luck?

    1. Good point, Wendy. I did take a close look at the backdrops used. While there was one style that seemed similar, and fit the same time period, I never did spot exactly the same backdrop. Still, even with lack of identical backdrops--and even differing logo styles--I'm certain we have the right photographer. It's the subjects of the photograph that I'm still struggling with, though...


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