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

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

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.

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (3)

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

daguerreotype-portraits-unidentified-james-ball-1847-1860 (2)

Civil War-era dresses for women (1861-1867)

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)

What's one thing that Civil War soldiers really wanted? Love letters

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)

If you liked this, please share it! You can also get our free newsletter, follow us on Facebook & Pinterest, plus see retro-inspired products in our shop. Thanks for visiting!

More stories you might like

Check out our books!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Because the fun never ends:

Join the fun

Don’t miss out on the latest and greatest vintage stuff!

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter here.