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Who were they? Unidentified antique portraits show faces from before the Civil War

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Before the Civil War, a talented photographer named James Presley Ball, Sr. produced beautiful daguerreotype portraits for hundreds of people — among them Charles Dickens, PT Barnum, Queen Victoria and the family of President Ulysses S Grant.

Yet there were many other men, women and children he photographed — such as those shown below — people whose names we don’t know, but whose images survive to this day. Discovered while browsing the US Library of Congress’ vast collection, these faces all remain unidentified.

What else, besides this mystery, do these pictures have in common? Each of these antique daguerreotype portraits was apparently taken in Cincinnati, Ohio, between 1847 and 1860  (except where noted).

Unidentified young woman, half-length portrait

A woman in a patterned dress, wearing a ribbon choker and large hanging earrings, sits with her left arm resting on a table. Hand-coloring is visible on her cheeks.

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Unidentified man and boy

Probably a father and son. Father is wearing a military medal.

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (6)


Unidentified man, three-quarters length portrait

Standing in front of painted backdrop (photo from between 1858 and 1860)

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (5)


An unidentified couple, hand-colored

Probably a husband and wife, with the man seated and the woman standing. The man has a Lincoln-style goatee and may be holding a pen. The woman is wearing a chain belt, thick necklace, earrings, a bracelet on her left wrist, and a single brooch on her blouse.

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (8)


Three unidentified women

Possibly a mother, daughter and grandmother. The two older women have their arms intertwined.

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (9)


Unidentified woman in a bonnet

Holding a toddler in her lap

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Three unidentified women

Possibly a mother and her two daughters

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (4)


Unidentified man, half-length portrait

A man looks directly at the camera, his arm resting on table with tablecloth

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (7)


An unidentified couple

A stern-looking couple — likely a husband and wife. Though both wear unhappy expressions, he gently rests his right arm on her shoulder. (Portrait from c1862)

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (1)


More unidentified antique portraits from before the Civil War

Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (7)Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (1)

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Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (2)Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (3)Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (4)Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (5)Unidentified antique portrits - Faces from before the Civil War (6)

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