This cabinet card photograph features a woman and her violin and bow. At least, I think its a violin. Hopefully, an informed visitor to the cabinet card gallery will confirm whether her instrument is a violin and if it isn’t, will correctly identify the stringed instrument. The portrait is a product of a photographer named W. C. Thompson. Mr Thompson operated the Opera House Studio in Amesbury, Massachusetts, as well as the Globe Studio which was located in Newsburyport, Massachusetts. One has to wonder whether the woman in this image was a performer at the Opera House in Amesbury. The Amesbury Opera House has an interesting history. P. Stevens, author of the History of Amesbury (1999) writes that the Opera House was “the most ostentatious building ever to grace the streets of Amesbury”. The citizens of Amesbury experienced a change of scenery when the building burned down in what is considered the worst fire in Amesbury’s history. A contributing factor to the lack of success that the fire department had in putting out the fire was the fact that the man in charge of keeping water pressure high to fight fires was away for the weekend and failed to designate anyone to relieve him during his time away. It seems safe to say that this portrait was photographed before the 1899 fire since the photographic studio likely also was destroyed in the the blaze. According to one source, the photographer of this image, William Cushing Thompson (1839-1917) operated his Amesbury studio between 1869 and 1893. It was located for at least some of this time at Market and Main Street. The Bulletin of Photography (1917) reported that Thompson was in the photography business when the civil war started and he temporarily quit his career to join the Union army. According to the article, he stayed in the war until it ended. Thompson entered the war as a private and mustered out as a sergeant. He served in Company A of the 48th Massachusetts Infantry. Some of Thompson’s photographs are in the collections of the New York Public Library and the Massachusetts Historical Society. Thompson was born and died in Newsburyport. He is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Newsburyport. To view other photographs by this photographer, click on the category “Photographer: Thompson”.


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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. A violin, of course.

  2. Yes, I’d say it’s a violin with a beautifully carved top, It appears to have been played a lot and well-kept.

    And look at the lace on her sleeves and collar ! !

  3. Many early photographers established studios in theater buildings, probably because traveling show business artists always needed photos. Theater fires were always a big worry for the public, and theater adverts in this era almost always promote the fire-safe qualities of the building. Usually the risk came from stage lights but a photographer’s dark room had chemicals that could easily start a fire.

    However I don’t think this young violinist was a burlesque vaudeville performer because her fashionable dress is not flashy enough and too demur. Instead I think she might be a member of a ladies orchestra. I have several similar photos of young female musicians from about 1892-1900 and a few from the Boston area which was an important center for these musical groups. Some became traveling groups with between 24 – 36 young women musicians, mostly string players with a few solo woodwind and brass instrumentalist.

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