Tintype Witches (almost), 1875

When is a sexy witch, not a sexy witch? Or rather, when does an image seem to depict a sexy witch, but on closer examination not depict either a witch or a sexy witch? I dabbled with this question during the Halloween Countdown in 2009, with a series of posts on “stuff I leave out.” These posts covered images of witches who were too young for inclusion (no.1), women with misleadingly broad-brimmed hats (no.2 and no.4) and women who are described as witches, but who are only described thus figuratively (usually, because they are either very naughty, or because they are so sexy that their allure acts like magic; no.3).

Sadly, I could do many more posts showing items I bought on spec but had to reject when I got a chance to get a closer look at them. I could also do quite a few posts showing items I bought knowing that the image wouldn’t qualify for this blog. Indeed, I have been buying more of these marginal items recently, precisely because they help define the margins (especially between clown/witch). But this one I bought because the image is just so unbelievably awesome and because it is so wacky that it might actually have been intended to allude to witches.

As you can see, here we have four young women (Sexy? Tick), the fourth one is holding a broom (Witch paraphernalia? Another tick), the first one has a misleadingly-broad-brimmed hat, with a convenient shadow suggesting a pointed crown (Witch’s hat? Almost a tick), and two middle one are cradling a taxidermied raptor—an eagle perhaps—(Gothic paraphernalia? Another tick).

Since the first woman holds a dustpan and brush it seems likely that the fourth woman is holding a broom for cleaning purposes. But, if so, WTF is going on with the dead bird?! It is all very confusing. (To say nothing of the fact that if these girls could step out of this tintype would look perfectly at home at a goth bar. In fact they would knock the torn fishnets off some of the competition.)

After looking at the image for a while I realised I really didn’t care that it was not clear, or even unlikely, that this image depicted four witches: I wanted the photo so that these four gothic beauties could come to Melbourne and live with me. For ever. And even though it is not clear, or even unlikely, that this image depicts four witches, I thought some of you might like to see it too.

23 Responses to “Tintype Witches (almost), 1875”

  1. Stunning. One of the most amazing photos you’ve posted.

  2. Dantalion Says:

    What a gorgeous photograph! Where did it come from?

  3. Not sexy, but sweet:


    I’m sure o’ll find some cosplay pics… happy digging!

  4. You always hear about the witch’s broom but rarely about the witch’s dustpan.

  5. The dead bird is to show that the middle two women are from a wealthly family. The women on the end, with the broom and dustpan, are their servants.

    Last semester, I took an immigration and ethnicity in the United States history class. We spent a class session on learning to “read” photos like this one.

    Thanks for sharing this photo—I love it.

  6. SCOTTtheBADGER Says:

    Looks like an owl from here.

  7. @Morgan: Sounds fun, reading photos…. I read faces… but the girl standing on extreme left doesnt sound like a servant to me..
    @SCOTT: yes, i also think its an owl… or may be a smaller species of eagles

    The picture is great… tells a whole lot of story…

  8. redwitch1 Says:

    Sadly, I think you could be right Morgan. Looking at the photo again with this in mind I note that only the two central figures are wearing jewelry, their hair is also more highly dressed, and their hats are small and decorative (and presumably more expensive) whereas the figures on the ends wear large (and cheap) straw hats. It is still an odd image, but at least it makes some sense now. Thanks!

    It sounds like a great history class—the sort of thing I’d love to do. Obviously, from this distance, that isn’t an option, but I wonder: did you use any textbooks or were you given any references that I could follow up?

    Dantalion: I got it off eBay a while back.

    Chas: indeed, though I have another vintage cleaner-not-a-witch photo which I might just post.

    Scott: I wondered that, but I am not familiar enough with the US owls … like aliabas I thought the beak more like a small eagle, but again, I am not familiar enough with the US eagles.

    And Twixraider, I do like the film, and watched it just in case, but Kiki is thirteen, so not suitable for here!


  9. What an amazing photo, I like it a lot! Got another curious one showing a witch’s air traffic trouble whilst Walpurgisnacht but I donnot know how resp. where to send it to you. The photo shows a statue of a sexy witch riding a broomstick. It was sculptured by a man called Prof. E. Herter and I think this statue was made in early 20th century. I didn’t find it in you amazing witch fund I enjoy a lot.

  10. I don’t think the bird is actually dead.If you look closely you will see that the two women in the middle are holding its head and feet pretty hard so it wouldn’t fly. If it was dead the grip wouldn’t be so firm.

  11. Melanie Kirchhoff Says:

    I love this photo… my mother collects witch artwork… I would LOVE to give her a print of this tintype…

  12. Fiona Timantti Says:

    I LOVE your blog! <3 Amazing!

  13. i don’t even care what this is! i love it, i just printed it to mat and frame it for our Halloween party! :) thank you so much! i will keep pretending that they are witches. :)

  14. Hi!
    I was just wondering if you were approached and credited by FX Network (AHS) as the owner of this image?
    Two of my tintypes have been used by them and I was never asked…..
    My Photos!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    All the best to you!

  15. Cuauhtemoc Says:

    Awesome find! Agreed, it does not really matter what this is, but I’ll go with WITCHES! Their expressions also add to the mystic. Very cool. The one on the right reminds me of Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice!

  16. The cleaning of ones life. The flight. The untamed.

  17. GOOD

  18. kristobaldude Says:

    Reblogged this on Randomly Mental ™ and commented:
    Witches from the Old West?

  19. Patricia Says:

    Hello i am from Germany please can you Tell me something about the pitcture because One of the womens Looks original like my mum. Thanks

  20. This has to be one of the coolest old photos I’ve ever seen!!

  21. Much more beautiful than modern crap.

  22. […] Tintype Witches, 1875 (via) […]

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