Wednesday, July 5, 2017

THE Key Figure To My Mystery Identified!

 WAY over a year into this amazing find, I have come to a deeper appreciation of it, and yet different conclusions about its origins.

If you have followed this saga, you know I originally imagined these tintypes were the personal collection of the infamous actress Adah Menken, until I discovered so many antique images specific to the personal life of Mark Twain, and long after her demise. And soon so many Pinkerton detectives and outlaws emerged that I concluded it must have been remnants of some old law enforcement rogue's gallery, even that of the famous Pinkerton's National Detective Agency.


These were all decent guesses,  but lately after a few more important clues, I believe I have narrowed the field of possible owners/creators of what is now a collection of way over two hundred images, (selected out of thousands!) all obtained from one source in Florida. Constant study and comparison and have brought me to a very exciting theory, and that is all it is, that many of these images may have been taken by one early photographer, someone who traveled quite a bit, especially through the middle of America and also all over Europe, and by the 1890's had access to the most important and interesting people in Western culture, and someone who might have known Mark Twain and his family and friends intimately.

This person's life and career would exactly explain this collection, and suddenly the chances of it being made by anyone else become slim. And as it turns out, there was such a person.

Albert Bigelow Paine
Outdoorsman, children's book writer, photographer, world traveler,
 and most importantly, personal friend and biographer 
of Mark Twain, Lillian Gish, Thomas Nast, and 
Texas Ranger Captain Bill McDonald, among others.
I had long suspected that Paine was the key to this whole mystery, when the image (center and upper right) popped up in the "stubborn flame" collection.


Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain's closest confidant, biographer and the official Clemens family historian, started his career as an itinerant photographer, wandering all over the South and later settling in Ft. Scott, Kansas, where he operated a photography studio and photographic supply shop.  After a fortuitous break in his budding writing career, he abandoned everything and relocated in New York, which began a virtual fairy tale saga for this forgotten American icon.


Paine ultimately wrote numerous popular children's books, ingratiated himself to the iconoclasts and who's who of the East Coast, traveled with Samuel Clemens extensively in Europe for over a decade, and became the gatekeeper for all things Twain after his death.

Strangely, even though Albert Bigelow Paine made his living from photography for many years, there are few known photographs attributed to him. Perhaps this collection will change that. My assessment is that Paine was a poor photographer, his crude craftsmanship only acceptable in impoverished and remote spots where there was no competition; That he stayed on the move, and was a sort of chameleon, befriending all walks of life and photographing them.  This gave him access to Counts and no-counts. After his writing career was sufficiently launched, he made few photographs, although experimenting some with later processes.

I am convinced that the photographs featured on this website were made by him for these reasons:

1) Using Google search techniques, I have identified the persons in the photographs with no particular bias, yet have amassed several stunningly inter-related Victorian groups... The Twain group, the Civil War spy group, the law enforcement group, the American outlaw group, the French Impressionist group... and many could have been in Paine's studio at one time or another during his photography career. The odds would be astronomical against finding at random so many related images, and inter-related groups, all from a fairly narrow window of time, without there being a deliberate collection.

2) The diversity of the photographs demands a lot of travel or serious collecting for a lifetime. Few photographers have made Paine's trail in history. Few had his social skills or have covered so much ground. The unique combination of his talents and travels fit the photographs here like a glove. Again, sheer odds demand that Albert Bigelow Paine either made or collected the photographs himself.

3) The person from whom I have collected these images lives less than a hundred miles from where Albert Bigelow Paine drew his last breath. Paine's descendants, clueless about most of this enormous tintype legacy,  might easily have discarded or sold them after his death in Florida, where they have sat unidentified for almost one hundred years. Without the assistance of Google search, identification of so many obscure people would have been nearly impossible without a legion of experts.

There are very good reasons why this collection was never displayed or recorded. Facts which emerge from them sometimes conflict with accepted versions of history... in some cases written by Paine himself. Among other thongs, Paine had a talent for "whitewashing," perhaps perfecting the art of spin-doctoring. Almost all of his biographies have been artful re-inventions of their subjects, where there would be no trace of scandal or impropriety. Paine was the prototype of the American public relations industry.

With these things in mind... enjoy the images which virtually retrace his steps, as he followed his idol and mentor, Mark Twain, and together they fabricated an enduring American  myth.

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