Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Ambrotype group of Springfield family

c. 1855
Collection of Richard E. Hart

The invention of photography in 1839 transformed the way portraits were made and acquired. Photographic portraits – faster, less expensive, and more accurate than painted portraits – were within the reach of all levels of society. By the early 1850s an estimated 2,000 photographers were in business in the United States, and three million Americans had their photographic portraits taken annually.

Nicholas Shepherd opened Springfield’s first photography studio in 1845; by the 1850s, several photographic studios were in operation. Local citizens embraced the new technology, and many families who would not have spared the expense to have portraits painted had their photographs taken instead, especially of children. Small and easily portable, photographs were desirable keepsakes for distant loved ones. They also served as reminders of departed family members, who were sometimes photographed after death to preserve their images if they had not been photographed in life.