Wednesday, January 12, 2011

When an Illustrated Advertisement Helps Date a Photograph

This undated photo is of my maternal grandmother, Emma Bickerstaff Meinzen. She married my grandfather, William Carl Robert Meinzen, on September 8, 1914. There are no known photos of her in a white bridal gown nor photos of her and my grandfather as a bridal couple. As I was scanning photos last fall I wondered if this was taken at or near the time of her wedding and if, possibly, this could have been her traveling suit, worn after the wedding. The stained glass window in the background of the photo looks like a church window, and she looks about 21, her age at the time she was married. I'll never know that for sure unless my aunt knows the answer. Still, it seems a definite possibility.

When I was at the Ohio Historical Society searching for any newspaper article announcing my grandparents' marriage, this newspaper advertisement for The H. H. Hoffman Company in Niles, Ohio, caught my eye. You can see why if you notice the suit illustrated in the upper left side of the ad. While not identical to my grandmother's, both suits have very similar lines and lengths. Amazingly, this ad was published on September 11, 1914, just days after my grandmother was married.

Mineral Ridge, where my grandmother lived before her marriage, is about three miles from Niles. She certainly would have shopped in Niles and very likely at Hoffman's. She may not have bought her suit at Hoffman's but she certainly bought it around the time of her marriage.

When I was a young child we sometimes went to Hoffman's. The store was interesting because the offices were in a balcony that overlooked the sales floor. Traveling from the check-out counter to the balcony was a little overhead trolley which carried a small box from one point to the other. When checking out the clerk wrote the purchases on an order check, tallied the bill, and told the customer the amount. When the customer gave money for the purchase, the clerk sent the money and the order check to the balcony in the little trolley box. I suppose that was my favorite reason to shop at Hoffman's: to watch the little trolley box make its way from clerk to office and back again with the change in tow.

I cannot remember when Hoffman's closed its doors. It was one of the last little old-fashioned shops in Niles. I remember it fondly. I was pleased to see The H. H. Hoffman Co. advertisement depicting a suit so much like my grandmother's.

Other blog posts about my grandparents and their marriage:
Married in 1914 - posted on September 8, 1910
Marriage Licenses Announced - posted on October 18, 1910
Reviewing Marriage Records - posted on October 20, 1910


  1. What a wonderful piece of research. Respect, my friend.

  2. Somehow, I can just see you in the Historical Society, poring over the documents and books (I imagine). Even though I don't know what you really look like in person, I have a sense of who you are as a character and yes, I see you in that environment quite clearly.
    How interesting to piece together the pieces with an ad!
    Oh, and I loved the way you related the details of Hoffman's. It sounds a wonderful place indeed!


  3. We frequented a department store that had that same contraption in Excelsior Springs, MO in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately an accident put the store out of business. It was the first time I's seen the money travel that way. I think Heather who is celebrating her birthday looks like your grandmother. I hope they're related! Now, maybe I'll go look at some newspaper ads to date some of my photographs. Good job!

  4. I like the idea of rotating family birthdays I the sidebar too.

  5. Comparing an undated photo with vintage ads is a great way of placing them in time. Also, thanks for your comment on my List of 10. I do sometimes get the feeling that some hope of communicating with the future was in their minds - or perhaps it was just their "save everything" nature -- living at a time when saving stuff was next to a religion! Or maybe she didn't want to forget anything. Either way, I benefit. I'm responding here because I don't think people go back to look for responses - who has the time? The suggestion to email doesn't work. Most people don't seem to have an email link - only link to blog --like this. An email link would help, but many don't want I guess.

  6. Alan, it was a lucky find. I was really searching for a marriage announcement and just happened to notice the ad. Thanks, though.

  7. Kat, if only I could just pore over books and newspapers. Instead, I sit and scroll through rolls of microfilm which, as you probably know, cause eyes and head to hurt. And yes, I probably am a "character." ;-)

    Hoffman's was fun. I wish stores like that were still around.

  8. Kristen, it's amazing to me that there were still the little trolleys in the 1980s.

    Heather is a great-granddaughter of Emma in the photo with the suit. I hadn't noticed before but as a child, she did look a lot like my grandmother. There's not much resemblance now that Heather's an adult. I hope my family (the few who view this blog) like the rotating photos in the sidebard.

    I wish you success dating your photos.

  9. Nancy, I was thinking you must have eagle eyes to have spotted that ad and the similarity to your photo. Now I know you were looking for a marriage and just happened to see the ad, I'm CERTAIN you have eagle eyes! well spotted :-) Jo

  10. How great you were able to find this! It seems as if she was up to date in the fashion of the time!

  11. Today's Gift, I suspect that suit was a relatively expensive purchase for her and was probably one she knew she'd wear for several years. Or, maybe her mother was an excellent seamstress and sewed it....

  12. Jo, not eagle eyes, just a happy surprise. Thanks, though!


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