Carte de Visite Witch, ca. 1880
This small fancy-dress photograph was taken by W. J. Rea at his Grand Central Gallery, on the corner of Fourth and Edmond Streets, St. Joseph, Missouri at some time between 1878 and 1872 (see here for details). The type of photograph is a carte de visite (or cdv to the cognoscenti), which was hugely popular in the 1860s. It is only 93 x 55 mm (3.75 x 2.125 inches).
While it may be a Halloween photo, I am inclined to think it is a posed fancy-dress photo. That is, the young woman in the photo has prepared an elaborate costume for a fancy-dress party, and had her photo taken in the costume to memorialise the occasion. I say “young woman” with some confidence because the photo is small but sharp and a 2400 dpi scan of the face and hands leave little doubt. It is also seems pretty unlikely that an old woman would allow herself to be dressed up in a costume as a witch!
So, although the costume is of an old witch, the photo is of a young one. And while it may be stretching things a little to describe the young woman as a sexy witch she is certainly very pretty (and I am sure she should would have been delighted to have been described as either sexy or pretty, or bewitching, or beautiful, or any other term you prefer, since she is wearing a tight waistcoat “that imprison[s] the waist merely to give greater freedom to the chest”*). More importantly, this is the oldest photograph of a witch on my blog thus far. I have only one which is older, and that will have to wait until next week!
* This quote is from Leigh Hunt, Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres (London: J. Hunt, 1807), 177.