8 Great Finds…and How to Tell They’re by Tonnesen!


Happy New Year! 2010 was a great year for collecting the works of Beatrice Tonnesen. With the recent Winneconne (WI) Historical Society find of over 100 of Tonnesen’s original photos, we now have a total of about 300 confirmed photos by Tonnesen, which can be referenced as we search for more examples of her published work. All of the Winneconne photos are featured on this blog in Catalog Album 15. The Oshkosh (WI) Public Museum has an unpublished archive of about the same size, and some of their photos appear here with permission. Another hundred or so original photos are known to be in the hands of individual collectors, some of whom have also agreed to let us display photos here on this blog, for which we are grateful.

But I believe Tonnesen produced more than 2000 photos during her long career, and many of those appeared as published prints and advertisements between about 1898 and 1930. Identifying them can be tricky, because she was seldom credited by the publishers. However, by referencing the hundreds of confirmed photos now available to us, as well as the relatively few signed and attributed published prints, we can recognize Tonnesen’s unidentified works, not only by matching them with these known photos, but through her props, models and costumes. As a result, I’ve been able to add scores of new finds to my collection this year. This year’s additions range from prints of beautiful flappers and Victorian mothers, children and pets to an original painting of Tonnesen’s own mother!

There are more to come, but, to start the new year, the slideshow at right shows eight new finds from my collection. The information below describes how I determined they originated as photos by Tonnesen.

1. Fashionable, hatted lady and her bulldog found on an advertising fan, ca. 1920, illustrator unknown. Both Oshkosh Public Museum and Winneconne Historical Society have original copies of this photo. The chair and the dog appear in other photos by Tonnesen. 2. Print by unknown illustrator of a mother and daughter seated at a desk, ca. 1918. The child is Jane Berghauer (1916-1994). The original photo is in the archive of the Oshkosh Public Museum, however it also shows a baby on the floor with a wastebasket from which papers have been scattered! The clothing and furnishings appear in many other examples of Tonnesen’s work. 3. “A Mother Is A Mother Still The Holiest Thing Alive,” attributed “From Painting by Tonnesen.” This can also be identified as Tonnesen’s work by the mother’s gown, which appears in other confirmed Tonnesen photos. (I’ve included the publisher’s write-up for this print, which undoubtedly appeared on a calendar. It’s interesting as a typical example of the lofty rhetoric used in the marketing of the artwork of the era.) 4. From “The Sandman,” by Tonnesen, original photo in the Oshkosh Public Museum. The illustrator of this print sealed in glass is unknown, but the photo from which it came dates to the early 1920’s. Tonnesen later wrote that the child was a girl. 5. This fan with a portrait of a beautiful woman bears a 1925 copyright date. Tonnesen shot a series of photos of this woman in the early 1920’s, one of them in the Winneconne collection shows her wearing this distinctive flower-strapped dress. 6. “Innocence,” an early colored print on glass, showing a toddler and an older girl with a butterfly. The original photo is owned by the Winneconne Historical Society. 7. “Memories”, ca 1899, in which a beautiful Victorian lady gazes out the window, accompanied by her faithful dog. The distinctive stool with a face on each corner is found in many of Tonnesen’s Victorian parlor scenes. The bottom of a standing clock with a heart motif, often used by Tonnesen, can be seen at left. 8. 1925 Advertisement sealed in glass and wood for H.T. Shahan “The Furniture Man.” In 1921- 1922, Tonnesen featured this toddler in a series of photos. Sometimes the child appeared to portray a boy; other times a girl. I have never found this child in a photo known to have been taken by anyone other than Tonnesen. However the proof of the photo’s origin is in the mother’s clothing: The crochet-type lace trimmed dress was a favorite Tonnesen costume.

I’ll be presenting more of my “new finds” over the next few months, as time permits. Perhaps you have some interesting finds of your own. If so, we’d love to have you share them. Just contact us using the “Reply” button below.

Copyright 2011 Lois Emerson

20 thoughts on “8 Great Finds…and How to Tell They’re by Tonnesen!

  1. You’ve no doubt seen “Inventor of the Silhouette Photograph” (about Beatrice Tonnesen) in Munsey’s Magazine, 1899? I didn’t see anything about this on your web site, but I apologize if it’s there–I wasn’t able to check your archives thoroughly.

  2. Hi,\nThanks for writing. Yes, I do have an article about Tonnesen’s involvement in the development of silhouette photographs. I haven’t looked at it in awhile, and I don’t remember for sure if it was in Munsey’s, but it showed examples of her work. I believe she even did a silhouette of herself. She was certainly very inventive! Thanks for reminding me. I’ll get it out when I have a little extra time and see what we can post.\n-Lois

  3. Hi Lois!\nMy grandmother had a lovely picture of a woman on a furry bench, wrapped in white gauze. She’s holding a shallow bowl in one hand and what appears to be a cigarette in the other, with some round object (almost like a shell) falling into the bowl. On the bottom right it says “A.L. Swift & Co. Chicago” & on the right is penned “Copyright 1900 Tonneson Sisters”. I can’t tell if this is an actual photograph, the paper feels almost too thin, but the top right corner appears to be peeling. Any ideas?

  4. Hi Kelli,\n\nTonnesen did at least two other photos on this same theme. These are among my favorites of her early work. I don’t recognize this specific image, but is it possible that the “cigarette” might be a bubble blower or pipe? Could the shell-like item be a bubble, or part of one? The bubble theme is present in several of Tonnesen’s works. I would imagine your local photography studio could tell you whether yours is a photo or a print. Thanks for writing.\n-Lois

  5. I have a Photo of a little Choir boy with a halo . he is holding a book and looking upwards, on the bottom right hand corner it reads Copyright by Tonnesen sisters chicago , on the other corner is a stamp that reads AJ or AL Swift and Co. i cant make it all out , It is a beautiful pic but is it real?

  6. Hello Laurie,\nUnless you have some reason to think that this is a recently-produced copy, it sounds as though you have an original print, dating to about 1900, of an original photo by the Tonnesen Sisters. AL Swift and Co. was one of the publishers who published Tonnesen’s photos as prints. However, it is also possible that you have an original photo. This would be very rare, but it is certainly possible. Are there any markings on the back of the item? What size is it? Does it look and feel like a photo? Or does it look and feel like a print of a photo? Is it possible for you to scan it and email it so that I can take a look at it? Thanks.\nLois

  7. My mother bought at a yard sale a framed photo, which is a little over 9″ tall and a little over 7″ wide. It looks and feels like a photo. The subject is a little girl with glasses loosely wearing a bonnet and also, a long, colonial style long light colored, plain dress. She is holding a newspaper. At the bottom right corner, it is written in white, “Tonnsesen Sisters Copyright 1901 by Osgood Co. Chicago.” We removed it from a very old and crappy basic frame to access the photo. The photo was glued to the matting (glue on the back of the matting and the front of the photo), so it’s too big to fit on my scanner. The photo can’t be removed from the matting without damaging it. To send you a copy of the image, I will have to take a digital photo of the photo. Before I bother, can you tell me if you’re already aware of this one? How can I be sure that I have a photo and not a print?

  8. Hello,\nThanks for writing! Yes, I have seen a print of this description. The only thing I can suggest to further determine if it is a print or a photo is to take it to a professional photographer and ask. The Tonnesen photos that I own are 8 X 10, and I believe that most of them were made that in that size. Of course, it’s possible that they came in other sizes and it’s possible that a photo might be cropped to fit a frame. A photo would, of course, feel firmer than a print. I’d be interested to know what you find out. Good Luck!\n-Lois

  9. Hello Lois,\n I bought a print from a flea market many years ago. It is of a woman in a long white dress holding an infant that is reaching out and touching her chin. Behind her stands an older female child with curly hair that seems to be jealous and nibbling on her nails. There seems to be a chair or table to the far left with some sort of curtain on each side. It is an 8×10. It has on the bottom left corner – Copy Right 1900 By Tonnsen Sisters. On the right hand lower corner is has – Chicago Inter Ocean. Also as in a circle.. Copy Right Prints, AL swift & CO. 1901 Chicago. I don’t believe this is an actual photograph. It feels like a paper print. Is there more you can tell me about this? I Fell in love with it the moment I saw it. Please keep in touch. Thank you, Lillian

  10. Hi Lillian,\nIs it the print that we have posted in Catalog Album 3, Image #8? I love that print. It appears to be part of a series of photos that Tonnesen did using those three models. Taken together, they seem to tell a story, with this one depicting a little case of sibling rivalry. But I don’t have any additional information about the print. The little girl is seen often in Tonnesen prints of the era. Thanks for writing.\nLois

  11. Hi Lois, I purchased a photo or print by Beatrice Tonnesen for $10. It is a black and white of a woman with a “crown” of leaves and leaves and berries as a drape. It is a photo from the chest up. Do you know the title of this photo and what the value is. Thank you. Lynn

  12. Hi Lynn,\nThanks for writing. I believe you are referring to a black and white photo print that is shown in Album 2 of the Beatrice Tonnesen Catalog on this blog. It’s such an interesting and unusal print! It’s hard to determine the individual values of these black and white Tonnesen Sisters prints and I am not an antiques dealer. I would say, in general though, that the unusual nature of this one makes it a very good buy at $10.\nLois

  13. Hello Lois,\n\nI have found a beautiful framed black & white picture in my family’s belongs. It is marked “Grandma’s Tea” copyright 1899 by Tonneson Sisters. Are you able to give me any information regarding this picture ? Thank you.\nBest regards,\nCharlotte

  14. Hello Charlotte,\n\nIt’s a charming picture and I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of information about it. I know that it was issued for use as a Sunday newspaper art supplement. The print in my collection also shows the 1899 copyright by the Tonnesen Sisters, and is imprinted “Sun. Dec. 16, 1900 Minneapolis Tribune.” That line of information appears at the very bottom of the print, under the title. It can only be seen when I tilt it toward the light. You might look closely to see if yours has a similar marking. The way I understand it, art prints were purchased by the various newspaper chains across the country for use by their individual newspapers. So this print probably appeared in any number of publications. Readers often removed the prints from their newspapers, framed them and hung them in their homes. I don’t know the name of the little girl who is bringing Grandma her tea, but she does appear in other works by Tonnesen. One other print in my collection shows her wearing the same dress as in “Grandma’s Tea.” Hope this helps!\n-Lois

  15. Hello I have a picture of a little girl I would say about 6 years old, she is holding a puppy and looking down at it.On the right hand side of the little girl there is a puppy laying down in a basket and another puppy just a little behind the basket on the left closer to the little girl.There is a copyright on the left hand corner that says,copyright 1900 Tonnensen sisters chicago.The right hand corner has a very small stamp that says copyright prints A.L.Swiet CO 1901 I have an original here or is this a replica?

  16. Hello,\nI have that same print and I think it’s one of Tonnesen’s most appealing early works! I am not aware of any commercial reproduction (replica) of this print, but, of course, with current technology, it’s possible for anyone to make a copy of just about anything. A.L. Swift was one of Tonnesen’s early publishers and 7 X 9 was the usual size of these published prints. Like yours, my print also has the 1900 Tonnesen Sisters copyright. These prints were most often published as free art supplements to newspapers. Newspaper purchasers or subscribers would then remove the prints for framing and hang them in their homes. Your print sounds like the real thing to me, but without actually examining it, I cannot say for sure.\nThank you for writing,\nLois

  17. Hello,\nthank you for writing me back I was very curious about this photo it was in an old wooden frame and i deceided to take it out only to find that there was dates and such in the corners,amazing what you can find behind old how do i find out if its the real thing? can i scan it into my printer to show you,and the value on this? not like im ever going to part with it,again im curious,thanks a Bunch!!

  18. Hello,\nFrom what you are saying, I would be very surprised if it is a replica. However, I am not an antique dealer or an expert. If you have doubts that it is an original print, I would suggest that you take it to an antique dealer or appraiser for expert advice.\nGood luck,\nLois

  19. Hello. I believe I have a Tonneson Sisters photo in my possession. I found it at an estate sale.\nIt depicts a women standing beside a small child lying with a large dog. She has her head lying on the dogs back. The women appears to be the mother who is quietly watching her child as she sleeps. The mother is holding her right hand to her chin as she looks upon her child.

  20. Hello,\nThanks for writing. Sorry for the delayed response – we have been on vacation. Do you believe your image is an original photo? Or is it an original print? Tonnesen Sister photos were published as prints by newspapers across the country. The image you reference can be seen in Album 2 and Album 11 in the Tonnesen Catalogue, which can be accessed by the button in the top right corner of our homepage. Mouse over the images to read the information. The image in Album 11 appears as part of a pictorial page from The Chicago Daily Tribune, October 14,1900. It names the models as Julius Caesar (dog) and Little Edna (identified elsewhere on the page as Edna Clifford.) Both were frequent Tonnesen models.\n-Lois

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