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Your questions answered

With our panel of experts Jayne Shrimpton, Kathy Chater, Kate Keter, Mary Evans and Graham Caldwell

Found tucked away behind another picture…

Q. I would be very grateful if this photograph could be dated, please. I found it behind an old picture in my mother’s bedroom and have no idea who these ancestors can be! The name of the photographer is AW Musto of High Road, Leytonstone. Reading the magazine, I realise what an important clue that is to dating the photograph.

Joan Grinjdrod

A. It is quite common for people to find old photographs behind other pictures. There doesn’t seem to be anything strange going on: perhaps this was simply a convenient way of storing family pictures when not on display, keeping them safe, flat and away from the light. The photograph that you uncovered is a professionally mounted print, its style of presentation on a cream/beige mount with a wide border surrounding the image characteristic of some of the larger photographs produced in the early 20th century. The card used was invariably stout, encouraging the pressing of small designs and outer ‘frames’ into the card, just as seen here.

Often a photographer or studio name was written or printed in the bottom right-hand corner and you are quite correct: if accurate operational dates for a named photographer can be established, this can help with successful photograph dating. Unfortunately I have not found comprehensive free-to-view business data online for Musto of Leytonstone. However, when searching for ‘Musto Leytonstone’ I came across some interesting links, including a military photograph by Musto, 1917, in the collection of the Imperial War Museum:

Another is a blog about historic photos of Essex villages, some reportedly taken by Alf Musto from Leytonstone, who stayed in the area in the early 1900s period, to photograph local life: – these references place him firmly in Leytonstone/Essex before and during WW1.

This scene, taken by Musto outdoors on location, is set in the garden of what must be a family home, posed just in front of the doorway. The building could be an old cottage and the profusion of plants and flowers suggest a suburban or possibly rural location, the season most likely late-spring or summer. Your ancestors’ appearance provides the most reliable idea of the date, especially the dress of the younger people – most likely to be following the latest trends. The young lady wears the white blouse and skirt combination typical of the early 20th century, the modern style of her frontbuttoning blouse with neat collar confirming a date of at least 1910. Her hairstyle also reflects the modes of the early 1910s, while her prominent wristwatch – a new accessory – also accords with my estimated date range of c1910-1915.

The young man wears a three-piece suit in the fashionable subtle striped material favoured at this time, his jacket lapel size and shape also indicating a late-Edwardian or early-WW1 date. The older couple are more conservatively dressed, the lady in the sober dark clothes favoured by mature women, the man sporting traditional bushy whiskers and an ill-fitting suit of 1870s styling – some 30-40 years out of date! They look to be aged in their late-forties or fifties or thereabouts, while the younger folk, aged in their late ‘teens’ or early twenties, could well be their children, or a son/daughter with their spouse. The men both wear festive buttonholes, in honour of a special occasion: perhaps this was the recent marriage of the young people or a milestone (Silver?) wedding anniversary for the older couple. With a firm 1910-1915 date range and these comments, hopefully you can find plausible identities for these ancestors.


Jayne Shrimpton estimates the date of this photo to be 1910-1915, but note that the old gentleman’s fashion is three or four decades behind the times!
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