Looking at a late 1890s cabinet card portrait of two brothers by Andrew B. Paxton of Astoria and Albany
I recently found this antique cabinet card portrait in a local shop near where I live in Tennessee. It’s a long way from where it was made in Astoria, Oregon — the city made famous as the setting for the 80s movie The Goonies.
The photograph is an albumen print mounted on a cabinet card, a style most popular in the 1890s. The image displays the typical yellow-red-brown coloration of an old albumen print. I’m assuming the image has faded over time, but perhaps it was sold to the clients underexposed.
I can reliably date this photograph to the late 1890s, or more specifically sometime between 1896 and 1899. Read on to see how I arrived at that timeframe.
On the verso of the photograph in pencil is written “Neal and Christ.”
It shows two young men, clearly brothers (could they even be twins?). They both wore nice suits and bow ties.
The seated brother on the left — presumably Neal — held a stetson hat, while the standing brother held a bowler hat. The standing brother wore a long overcoat with a white handkerchief in the breast pocket like a suit jacket. They stood before a painted backdrop and there is realistic grass around their polished boots. I believe this photograph may have even been shot outside with a backdrop stretched behind the subjects.
Retouched and restored version of the old Paxton portrait
The image is pretty faded so I made a retouched copy to bring out some of the details in the photograph.
About photographer Andrew B. Paxton
On the front of the card, below the mounted photo, is the embossed logo of the studio Paxton with a business address at 583 Commercial Street in Astoria, Oregon.
Paxton refers to the studio of photographer Andrew B. Paxton.
Andrew Bower Paxton was born in 1833 or 1834 or 1835 in Ohio or maybe Indiana . . . see the section below about being counted twice in the 1880 Census (Palmquist and Kailbourn). The website Cabinet Card Photographers, which includes a detailed timeline of Paxton’s life, says he was born on September 22, 1833 in Indiana, and that the family later moved to Ohio where Andrew learned to make harnesses for horses.
He moved to Oregon in 1852 and married Nancy Jane Gray in 1856.
He seems to have worked simultaneously as a photographer and also as a saddle and harness maker. In fact, he was listed in the 1860 census as a harness maker.
His first studio — Thompson and Paxton, established in 1865 — was a photography studio and a saddlery located in Albany, Oregon.
An 1867 advertisement for the studio, which they called a gallery, claimed the “best light on the coast,” and offered ambrotypes (photos made on the back of a glass plate), sun pearls (small tintype portraits made in multiples on a larger sheet of iron using multiple lenses on a camera), and cartes de visite (small albumen prints mounted on cards about the size of a modern business card).
The Thompson and Paxton partnership ended in 1869 and Paxton worked as a photographer in Santa Clara, California for a few years. In 1873, he returned to Albany, Oregon where he operated a business making photographic copies and enlargements of people’s old Daguerreotypes.
In 1885 Paxton sold his Albany studio to brothers James G. Crawford and Orville Crawford. By 1887, Paxton was in partnership with James Crawford back in his old studio space.
A stereograph photo with the Crawford and Paxton imprint taken in 1890 shows Paxton sitting on a rocky ledge in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. In the photo, Paxton appears slim (and somewhat oddly dressed for a mountain excursion) in a suit with a white handkerchief in his breast pocket. His hair was still dark at age 55 and he had a bushy chest-length beard.
Paxton was counted twice in the 1880 Census
The Albany Census
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Oddly, Andrew B. Paxton was counted twice in the 1880 census and he gave different responses in each survey. In one interview, he was listed as A.B. Paxton, owner of a Picture Gallery in Albany, Linn County, Oregon. He was listed as being age 44 and born in Ohio. He lived with a 20-year-old daughter named Eva, and a 25-year-old female photographer named Susie Howard. The birthplace of his father was listed as Kentucky, and the birthplace of his mother was listed as Illinois.
The Portland Census
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The alternative listing for Andrew B. Paxton showed him living in Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon. His occupation was listed as Photographer (misspelled as Photogographer). In this interview, he claimed to have been age 45 and born in Indiana and with no birthplaces listed for his mother and father. He lived with his spouse Nancy J. Paxton, age 37. Also living in the household were their children: O. Frank Paxton (a lawyer age 22), Nellie C. (age 18), Lizzie (age 15), and Rota (age 7). A lot of sites mistakenly refer to Rota as Rosa, but her name is spelled with a “t” in the census listing and in her obituary. By the way, Nancy would have been 15 years old when O. Frank was born.
Why the discrepancies? My theory is that perhaps his daughter Eva was interviewed in Albany and supplied her father’s details as best she could recall them.
Ill health and spotty business records
Records of Paxton’s last 10 years in business are confusing. He ended and resumed partnerships repeatedly. The local Albany newspaper said he quit photography and moved somewhere “east.” He returned and resumed business in Oregon. It seems he began having serious health problems during these years, but poor health plagued him from as early as 1866 when a newspaper notice announced that the Thompson and Paxton studio would be closed for a few weeks due to Paxton’s poor health. In 1871, Paxton announced he was quitting photography altogether because it was not good for his health. An 1896 business announcement in the newspaper claimed that Paxton was selling his business and moving to Arizona for health reasons, a move that apparently never occurred.
He also had some major life changes.
Sometime along the way, between the 1880 census and 1888, Andrew and Nancy were divorced. I can find no records about the divorce or the reasons, but the September 28, 1888 edition of the Albany Democrat announced that A.B. Paxton had returned to Albany with his new wife M.J. Dakins. The pair had been married at a church in Indiana.
The move to Astoria
It appears that in the midst of all the health problems and conflicting announcements about relocations and partnerships, Paxton opened the studio in Astoria, Oregon, where our featured photograph was made. He operated the Astoria studio from 1896 until January 1899, when he sold it and was stricken very ill in Spokane, Washington. This must have been his final business venture.
Andrew Bower Paxton died in New Castle, Indiana in 1902 at age 68, from chronic bronchitis.
Ex-wife Nancy Jane (Gray) Paxton died in Portland in 1937 at age 95. It appears that she never remarried, and she’s interred in a vault with her brother David. Her cause of death was listed as senility and arteriosclerosis.
Daughter Eva Paxton Lorillard died in 1929 in Los Angeles at age 69.
Sources and Links
Cabinet Card Photographers. “Crawford and Paxton.”
Family Search. “United States Census, 1880, Oregon, Linn County, Albany, ED 69.“
Family Search. “United States Census, 1880, Oregon, Multnomah, Portland, ED 140.”
Find a Grave. “Andrew Bower Paxton.”
Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865.
Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Foreword by Martha A. Sandweiss. 2000. Page 430.