5/17/12

The mystery of the photographer E. C. SWAIN


E. C. Swain was a photographer in Malden, Massachusetts within the county of Middlesex. Born in 1835 in Maine, he is shown in the 1870 Massachusetts census as being 35 years old and married to a 22 year old woman whose name begins with an “M” whom I believe to be Mary, also born in Maine. There are no children listed. He is listed as a photographer.

In the 1880 census there is a Mary A. Swain listed in Malden, Massachusetts as being 32 years old, with her occupation as “keeping house.” There are two sons listed, Fred A., age 9, and a name that begins with an “H” which I cannot read, age 6. E. C. is not in the census.

What became of E. C. between the years of the 1870 and 1880 census? Did he die? Did they separate? And what actually was his name? What did the “E” and “C” stand for? I cannot find any written biographical information about him.

There is a book, Malden, published by the Malden Historical Society, that contains many landscape shots taken by Swain. The photo below, from the book, shows his fascinating photography studio in Malden. Of his photos in the book, the dates vary from the mid-1860s to 1875.


You can see more images from the book here, and the book is available for sale at Amazon.

In 1868 a quote by Swain is shown in a book entitled The American Carbon Manual: The Production of Photographic Prints in Permanent Pigmenets. He supplied a testimonial for a journal called The Philadelpha Photographer.


Searching for photos taken by him I find that most of the shots are landscapes, many stereographic cards. I have found very few portraits.

The portrait, to the left, is currently available on eBay which means this link may not work in the future.

Here you’ll find a photo taken by Swain in 1870 of a cemetery in Boston.

Here you’ll find a stereographic card showing the “Coliseum.”

Here you’ll find the back of one of his cabinet card advertisements, which you'll note is different than the photo I show below which is in my collection.

Here is another image for sale on eBay, another landscape, this time of Saugus, Massachusetts.

And finally, what began my research for this post is the photo below given to me by my friend Bert. Other than knowing Swain took this shot, I have no other information.


Click on image to see it larger.



Perhaps sometime in the future someone will be able to identify this body of water with the waterfall and buildings in the background. For now let it be the beginning of the “Who was E. C. Swain?” mystery.

UPDATE: I knew someone would come along and add some pieces to the puzzle. Thank you AnyJazz@!
How odd that he appears nowhere in the 1880 census. There are references to him before and after. He seems still living with Mary, Fred and Herbert in the census of 1900 and with Mary and Herbert (then 36) in the census of 1910. Perhaps he was traveling in 1880 and when enumerated, the census taker fouled up the name so badly that the index search does not pick him up. He could have been “on location” for a scenic shoot.

I can clear up the names I think.

Edwin Chandler Swain (1835-1911)
Mary Alden Lovejoy (Swain) (1847-1933)
Son-Fred Allen Swain (1871-1963)
Son-Herbert (Burton) Smith Swain (1873-1922)

UPDATE: The following images are provided by reader Chris who has this for sale on ebay as of 5/23/14. Thanks Chris!



8 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. I always try to find out something about the photographer when I post a photograph on my blog and sometimes it is next to impossible while other times there is much information. I have never come across an actual photo of the photographer's studio. How wonderful! I feel the early photographers were such pioneers and provided us with such insight into the 19th and early 20th century. Hopefully your mystery will be solved

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  2. It is fun to find out about the person behind the camera in these old shots. Probably the most complete one I ever did was for the Baker Art Gallery.

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  3. How odd that he appears nowhere in the 1880 census. There are references to him before and after. He seems still living with Mary, Fred and Herbert in the census of 1900 and with Mary and Herbert (then 36) in the census of 1910. Perhaps he was traveling in 1880 and when enumerated, the census taker fouled up the name so badly that the index search does not pick him up. He could have been “on location” for a scenic shoot.

    I can clear up the names I think.

    Edwin Chandler Swain (1835-1911)
    Mary Alden Lovejoy (Swain) (1847-1933)
    Son-Fred Allen Swain (1871-1963)
    Son-Herbert (Burton) Smith Swain (1873-1922)

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  4. Thank you! I knew someone would have access to information I could never find.

    What's interesting also is that I found a lot of Lovejoy names on a couple of the census I looked at. Of course I see the name "Lovejoy" and I'm immediately thinking about the British series...Lovejoy.

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  5. Could it be spot pond in Melrose? http://melrosemirror.media.mit.edu/servlet/pluto?state=3030347061676530303757656250616765303032696430303437343731

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    1. I truthfully have no way of knowing. Someone familiar with the area will have to verify this for you, but thanks for taking a stab at it. Hopefully someone will find your comment and give a thumbs up or down.

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  6. It certainly doesn't clear things up, but I just found a stereoscope card portrait of children by him -- two photos glued to a card with his information on the back -- I've put it on ebay, but please grab the images from there and save them since I'm guessing ebay will send them off into nowhere before long.
    The back of the card says:

    Photographed by
    E. C. SWAIN,
    MALDEN CENTRE,
    MASS
    ~~~
    Views of Residences, &c., taken at short notice.

    Ebay link (seriously, grab the pictures, Swain's are in the public domain at this point and mine aren't really adding anything!) -- http://www.ebay.com/itm/151308866267

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    1. Thanks! I'll add them to the post.

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