Woman from San Francisco, or “Oh THAT Taber!”

Click here to see it larger.

What it is:

Photo (2.5 x 3.25 inches) mounted on a cardboard frame/backing (approx. 3.3 x 5 inches.)

What I know about it:

Photographer is Taber, 121 Post Street, San Francisco.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.  But see more comments below.


Looking for a photo to post, I thought, “Oh, this is nice.”  Then I turned it over and thought, “Hey!  San Francisco!”  Not to mention I live on Post Street!  My apartment is nine blocks up the road from this address.  So then I figured I’d Google the photographer Taber, just to see if anything came up.  And lo, stuff sure did come up.  “Oh, THAT Taber!”, I thought.  Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912) was a San Francisco photographer successful enough to have photographed Presidents and kings, to have his work in museum collections today, and to even have a retrospective book of his work published a few years ago.  I even owned this book, but I can’t find it now, so I’m guessing it’s one of the books I sold a few years ago when I was super broke.  Taber apparently moved his operation around a bit, and moved into 121 Post Street in 1893.  Check out this article with a photo and description of his fantastic space.  Clearly he was doing well!  He remained there until the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed his studio and his career.  (In fact, I don’t think the address is there anymore at all.  To orient those familiar with San Francisco, Gump’s is at 135 Post.)  That means the date of this photo can be narrowed down to the years 1893-1906.  I wish I had made the connection to this photo back when I still had the book, since it would have been nice to read about the photo’s larger context, but I just ordered a replacement copy, and I’m looking forward to examining the book more closely than the last time.  Meanwhile, I think this image is attractive on it’s own, regardless of any provenance.  I’m curious if anyone can tell me what might be hanging from her neck.  It seems to be so long that it passes right through her fingers and keeps going down out of the frame.  I don’t know if this woman survived the huge quake and fire that destroyed Taber’s studio, but I’m glad at least her photo did.

10 comments on “Woman from San Francisco, or “Oh THAT Taber!””

  1. If you go to the California State Library, http://catalog.library.ca.gov, you can see 310 pictures that Taber donated. Mostly landscapes and buildings. But there are people too.

    • Those are great! Thanks for the info. I recall that most of the pictures reprinted in the book were also landscapes and buildings, rather than portraits, but it’s been a while since I looked at it.

  2. re: thing around neck
    I was going to say wee eyeglasses on a chain, but looking at it close up, I’m not totally sure. There was a long style of necklace called a sautoir, usually with a tassel on the end, that was popular, so that’s another possibility. This one doesn’t seem to have a tassel, but I found an example on eBay that has a cross, and there were also long necklaces used as ladies’ watch chains.

  3. I did a web search on Taber. There are a lot of sites you can view other pictures by him. Again, mostly landscapes. Also, the picture you have could gain you a pretty penny.

    • Yes, I was finding his images all over the web. It’s funny because I think the web is giving some old photographers more fame than they ever enjoyed in their day, but I think Taber was definitely famous in his time. I have no plans to sell my photos at this point, but it’s nice to know that if such a time came, there are one or two that might be of interest to people. I’m sure I bought this as just one of a group of cheap photos on eBay. It’s a bit damaged, and the image isn’t extraordinary, but it’s nice, and the photographer turns out to be of note. The main thing is I’m glad I’m now taking the time to pay closer attention to my individual photos since it means finding little gems like this.

  4. […] of a photo from the USA at the fabulous vintage photography blog Pics of Then. Please check it out here. It must have been a particular fashion in the Edwardian era in the UK as well as the USA. Share […]

  5. What a great photo! I wonder what’s now on the spot where the studio once was …

    I think we can narrow down the date of the photo to 1905-1906. The shape of her sleeves is distinctive, narrow almost all the way down the arm (with tucks emphasizing the vertical), full just at the wrist, and extra length at the cuff to make it a little baggy. Her pose is also very indicative of that era — the Edwardian “S-curve” posture, which was popularized by Charles Dana Gibson’s model Camille Clifford between 1900 and 1908. She’s not obviously arching her back as Camille Clifford did, but has the “butt backwards and bust forwards” look, with one arm behind the body to emphasize the “butt backwards”, the head turned and eyes looking back, making the “S-curve”.

    I would agree that the thing around her neck could be glasses on a chain, or a sautoir, but I haven’t seen one that long in old photos. And the only watch chains I’ve seen have been shorter, no longer than the waistline, while this one is definitely longer.

    • Thanks! After posting this, I walked by on my way home from work and took note of the addresses. Gump’s is currently at 135 Post, and the currently-vacant storefront (that was Rizzoli Bookstore for a while) to the immediate left is 117 Post. So it seems there simply is no 121 Post Street anymore. That area is right in the middle of what was destroyed by the quake and fire, so if Taber’s studio was destroyed, it’s likely that the whole building has been replaced.

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