In the Photographer’s Studio – Hats On or Off?

Steiger, J. G. Savannah cdv c1870

Boy with boater hat in hand. Carte de visite ca. 1870 by J. G. Steiger, Savannah, Georgia; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

This week some images of people in the photographer’s studio with a hat in hand, or on their head! I think in the studio it would be the photographer who would decide about whether on, or off with the hat, but perhaps that was not always the case. And was the hat ever a studio prop? Who chose the hat placement when the photographer was working out of the studio? It is anyone’s best guess.

There are also the stories about the photographers’ lives to add another bit of interest to these “hat portraits.” J. G. Steiger (Joseph George Steiger, b. in Switzerland Sept. 22, 1822 and immigrated in June 1859) was a photographer and ambrotypist in New Haven, Connecticut prior to his arrival in Savannah, Georgia by 1866.

Steiger, J.G. c1870 cdv backmark

Steiger had the unfortunate luck to have his Savannah photograph card back marks printed incorrectly as I. G. Steiger, rather than as J. G.  In both New Haven and Savannah his advertisements were also sometimes incorrect, and at times the city directory also got his initials wrong.

More interesting is how Joseph G. Steiger died. He is thus far the only Georgia photographer I have documented as dying at sea, and I would be surprised to find another. His obituary (Savannah Morning News, Sept. 2, 1873 p3) tells how photographer J. G. Steiger, ill a few months, decided to go to Europe to recuperate. From Savannah he took the passenger bark Lilly which was bound for Liverpool, England. Three days later, on July 15, 1873, he died and was buried at sea.

Elizabeth Steiger (1828-1914), his widow, reopened the photo gallery in November 1873. With the “services of a first-class artist from New York” she kept the studio going through March 1875. By 1880 Mrs. Steiger was in Baltimore, Maryland where she remained.

Prophitt, P. cdv unid gentThree-quarter view of gent in Bowler hat, ca. 1870 carte de visite by P. Prophitt, LaGrange & West Point, Georgia; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

J. Pleasant Prophitt  (ca. 1829 – 1890) worked as a photographer in LaGrange and nearby West Point, Georgia from 1853 until he enlisted in the Confederate Army, and afterward until paralysis curtailed him in about 1875. By the 1880s J. P. Prophitt was selling patent medicines.

He had only two partners in his photographic career. In 1865 it was M. (Mansel) W. Rasbury (ca. 1836- 1872) who had worked with C. W. Dill in Atlanta, and from 1866-1869 it was J. (James) M. Tomlinson (1835-1898), an artist-photographer who had been in LaGrange since 1860. Prior to that time Tomlinson was in Atlanta working with C.W. Dill, and in Augusta with Tucker & Perkins.

In 1873 Prophitt hired photographer W. K. French (b. ca. 1843 in Pennsylvania), to run his studio. French was previously an Ohio photographer and was working in Washington, D.C. by 1880. 

Pelot & Cole cdv full fig unid gent

Gentleman in top hat with riding crop(?); carte de visite ca. 1875 by Pelot & Cole, Augusta, Georgia; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

Alama A. Pelot (1840 – 1909) and James Daniel Cole (1843 – 1907) were cousins and partners in Pelot & Cole from 1870 through 1905, in Augusta.  Pelot was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and he assisted photographer Jesse H. Bolles there in about 1861. Pelot, working for Bolles, is credited with the albumen silver prints made at Fort Sumter in April 1861.

You can see the five Pelot-credited Ft. Sumter images in the excellent Photography and the America Civil War by Jeff L. Rosenheim (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2013). There is also one in Harold Holzer and The New York Historical Society’s fascinating The Civil War in 50 Objects (Viking, 2013).

The  two cousins each served the Confederacy, and A. A. Pelot moved to Augusta, Georgia from South Carolina after the War. Both men worked for Augusta photographer J. W. Perkins. Cole was an assistant operator and clerk, 1865-1867, and in 1868 Pelot became Perkins’s partner in Perkins & Pelot; Cole likely worked with them.

After the two formed Pelot & Cole in 1870, William J. Pelot, A. A.’s younger brother was a part of the firm until his death of typhoid fever in 1879. After J. D. Cole passed away in 1907, at the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Atlanta, his cousin worked alone the last two years of his life under the name of A.A. Pelot Photo Studio.

A few of the photographs I include here are dated, and a few of the sitters are identified. Others are not dated and often the hat style gives us a clue to an approximate date of the image. Hats and clothing are a fairly accurate way to date a photo, but not every person photographed stayed “in style,” some preferring their older, but still serviceable clothing.

AugustaPhotoCo. 1886 Mrs.Sibley

Mrs. N. C. Sibley of Augusta, 1886, cabinet card by the Augusta Photo Co., Augusta, GA; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth

In this vignetted portrait of Mrs. Sibley, she looks very matronly in a close fitting but decorative hat (perhaps termed a brimless picture hat?), but she is actually not that many years out of style. The Augusta Photo Co. at 702 Broad Street was run at that time by the Bigelow brothers H. (Alexander Hamilton, 1831-1895), manager, and L. G. (Lyman Goodale,1841-1940), artist. They had purchased the photograph studio of John Usher in November 1885, so this is likely one of their early portraits.

H. Bigelow maintained the studio even after Lyman went to work in Rome (with a foray to Marietta), Georgia, in January 1889. Charles L. Lancaster, who had worked with C. W. Motes in Atlanta, became the manager in 1892. In 1895 it came under the ownership of Harry C. Hall, Jr. (1847-1907) who had been associated with photography in Augusta since 1888. Lyman was in San Diego, California by 1917 where his daugher Lou Adelaide Bigelow became a prominent photographer.

Childress, R.W. Rome c1900 detail

 Portrait ( 2 1/4″ x 3 1/2″) of an unidentified young woman in straw boater, or skimmer hat, ca. 1898 , by R. W. Childress, Rome, GA; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth 

Robert William Childress (1861-1901) was in Rome as a photographer by about 1895, and remained so until he died six years later. I believe it could be he working in LaGrange with a partner named Lee, as Childress & Lee, from 1875 until he left for Rome in the mid-1890s, probably to take over someone else’s studio.

In 1900 he had a young nineteen year old photographer named Rufus Blake working for him in Rome. By 1904 an R. B. Blake, likely he, was working independently in Rome as Blake Studio; perhaps he took over Childress’s business. I know little else about either man at this time, but I do love the photograph by Childress you see above.

Clench, F. B. - Kate Peacock Arendall

Kate Peacock Arenadall in picture hat with feather, ca. 1905, portrait by F. B. Clench, Madison GA; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth 

Frank B. Clench (1838-1914) was a working photographer before 1870. He immigrated to Canada in 1871, and was back in New York state by 1880, and remained there through 1900. Clench was in Madison, Georgia by 1902, when an image he made titled “Rosebud,” was reproduced in Wilson’s Photographic Magazine (May 1902, p.187), and he remained there until his death.

Buyers Photo Co., Carrollton, detail

Portrait detail, seated unidentified woman in white, with jewelry and a picture hat with feathered plumes, ca. 1910, by Buyers Photo Co., Carrollton, GA; collection of E. Lee Eltzroth 

The above photo is on a mat measuring 6 3/4″ by 10 3/4″. James Gartrell Buyers (1875-1969) was working in Whitesburg by 1900 until about 1908. He had a studio located in nearby Carrollton from 1908-1918 and used the name Buyers Photograph Company. He also did work out of his photo tent in nearby Villa Rica ca. 1905. He had a wonderful motto – “Our lens is like love – blind to every defect.”

I hope you enjoyed looking at these images by Georgia photographers and could glean something from these brief biographies. For more on the history of hat styles with examples, one simple site is

 © E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Judy Bales · · Reply

    Excellent and interesting article.

  2. Thanks, Judy, and for reading it!

  3. Rebecca Watts · · Reply

    Fun article!

  4. Thanks for reading it!

  5. Jeanne Wiant · · Reply

    An old photograph has recently come to me made by Oredit Steigers Studio with no name or date.
    The picture is identified as 1-4746-3. Is it possible it was made by your studio and you might have a history of it? It’s a beautiful baby, probably around 1 yr old, but we have no clue who it could be.

    1. Hi – I will be in touch with you via email, but “my” J.G (George) Steiger died at sea in July 1873 but he did work in New Haven Connecticut at least 1860-61 and probably longer, before coming to Savannah in 1866.

  6. Tara Crowley · · Reply

    Lyman Bigelow was my great-great grandfather. If you have any more information on him, I would be most interested. Thanks.

    1. Hi,

      I will contact you with lots more information, but here are the basics you may have:

      L [Lyman] G [Goodale] Bigelow, b.June 30, 1841 in Springfield township Michigan, and d.April 25, 1940 in Coronado CA (interred Ft. Rosencrans National Cemetery)

      In Augusta GA he and his brother A. H. Bigelow bought the J.J. Usher studio in late 1885 and renamed it the Augusta Photo Co.; in Jan. 1889 – 1890 he was in Rome GA – his brother ran the Augusta studio a while longer; in Dec. 1890 he was working in nearby Chattanooga TN. In February 1891 he was in Marietta GA working with photographer D. A. Warlick.

      I will send you via email additional information.

  7. Sharon Garrett · · Reply

    I have a photograph of my great grandfather Saxon Lee Boozer in a military type uniform & on the back it says Pelot & Cole’s Art Gallery Augusta, Georgia. He was born after the Civil War.

    1. I will be in touch with you via email to give you dates on Pelot & Cole in Augusta.

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