Albumen Photographs by Coleman (post 1855?)

These two albumen print photographs were pasted in an autographed copy of Helen’s 1853 edition of her poerty “Hours of Life and Other Poems” that she presented to her friend, William Walter Coleman, who was the photographer that took the photos. The exact dates of these photographs are unknown, but given that the albumen process became popular after 1855 with a peak in the 1860s (and the last known photograph of Helen before these was a daguerreotype taken in 1856) I think it’s a safe bet to assume these were taken in the late 1850s/early 1860s. It’s not exactly known when Helen had presented this book to Coleman, but obviously it was sometime after the photographs were taken since she was the one who pasted them in the volume before gifting it to Coleman.

The first photo (left) is similar to the 1856 daguerreotype of Sarah Helen Whitman and it’s possible that this albumen print was made by Coleman from a daguerreotype taken by Jospeph White when Helen sat for him in 1856. However, if this is the case, that daguerreotype is missing and has not been discovered.

The second photo (right) is a unique likeness of Helen depicted as a medium. Her face is veiled just enough that you can faintly see her left eye closed and the shape of her nose outlined by the drapery of the veil. In the photo, Helen is attempting to read a manuscript with the help of the spirit world.

These photos come courtesy of Brown University, and the edition with these photos pasted inside are kept in the Harris collection at the John Hay Library.