Is it George or Jack? Engagement Photograph Identification

The 15th post in the 50 Marriage Mondays series illustrates how documents handed down through the family can both clarify and confuse.  Winifred (known as Winnie) Smith’s papers included her marriage certificate.

Marriage Certificate - Coulson, George Edward & Smith, Winifred

Marriage Certificate – Coulson, George Edward & Smith, Winifred

Bride: Winifred Smith
Groom: George Edward Coulson
Date: 14 December 1929
Location: St Saviour church, Saltley, Birmingham

The photograph collection that belonged to Mabel Coulson, Winnie’s sister–in-law, includes pictures of Winnie.  This pair of photos clearly represents a couple.  The young woman is Winnie, so it would be natural to assume that the young man is her husband George.

Winnie & Jack engagement photos

Winnie & Jack engagement photos

However, the family folklore says that the young man is John William (known as Jack) Coulson, George’s brother.  Winnie and Jack were engaged and it is thought that the photos commemorate the betrothal.  Tragically Jack died of tetanus on 11 April 1927.  Can the photos be dated to confirm or refute the story?

The Local Photographer

Portrait of Winnie in fox fur

Portrait of Winnie in fox fur

Mabel’s collection includes another photo of Winnie.  All three are postcard prints, a format popular from the 1890s to the 1960s, marked with the photographer’s details:

LOUIS, 104 Alum Rock Road Studio, Birmingham

Arthur Louis is listed as a photographer at the address in the 1932 and 1939 Kelly’s Directory of Birmingham.  I have not yet consulted earlier trade directories, but there is evidence that Louis was in business as early as 1924.  Pictures from a Family History attributes wedding photographs for a couple who married on 26 July 1924 to Louis.  Winnie was recorded on the 1911 census at 13 Ash Tree Cottages, Alum Rock Road, Saltley, Birmingham, the same address as her residence on her marriage to George.  Winnie lived at 131 Washwood Heath Road, Birmingham in 1957 when George died and in 1971 and 1973 when she first made and altered a will.  All of Winnie’s known addresses are in close proximity to the photographic studio.  The 1924-1939 date range of Louis’ business does not rule out either Jack or George as the subject.

Costume evidence

In the engagement photos, Winnie’s round neckline and long, single string of pearls suggests a 1920s date.  Winnie’s short waved bob and Jack’s very short hairstyles were popular throughout the 1920s and 1930s.  Jack’s tie-bar suggests a 1920s date, but wearing a V-necked pullover rather than a waistcoat was more popular in the 1930s.  So, the internal dating evidence is not definitive, but points more to the 1920s.

The fox fur stole dates Winnie’s portrait to the 1930s.  As the composition and studio background differs from the engagement photos, I think this photo was taken on a separate occasion.  I also think Winnie looks a little older in this picture, putting the engagement photos at an earlier date.

Now turn over

From the front, the two engagement photos match in composition, background and possibly date.  You won’t have noticed from the digital copies presented that they are slightly different sizes.  Stacking photos like a pack of cards is a quick, accurate way of comparing by size.

Photo Width (mm) Length (mm)
Winnie engagement 87 135
Jack engagement 85 135
Winnie in fox fur 85 135

Winnie’s engagement photo is 2mm wider and also has subtle differences on the printed post card back compared to the other photos.

Back of Winnie's engagement photo

Back of Winnie’s engagement photo

An interpretation

What do I make of all this?  A possible explanation that is consistent with all the evidence is as follows:

Winnie and Jack had their photos taken when they became engaged.  Copies were distributed to friends and relatives, which is how Mabel, the sister of Jack and George, came to own the engagement photo of Winnie.  After Jack’s death and probably a few years after the engagement, Winnie decided to have her photo taken.  By that time Mabel had no photo of Jack, so asked for a copy.  Winnie obliged and also gave Mabel a copy of herself in the fox fur.  Consequently, the same card stock was used for these two prints.

Shrimpton, Jayne. (2008). Family Photographs and How to Date Them. Countryside Books: Newbury.

© Sue Adams 2012

2 Comments on “Is it George or Jack? Engagement Photograph Identification”

  1. […] her family, particularly the Smith side.  If you want to put a face to the name, she featured in ‘Is it George or Jack?  Engagement photograph identification’.  This collection identifies her parents, grandparents, and all 4 […]


  2. […] Is it George or Jack?  Engagement photograph identification […]


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