Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Occupational Images: Bakers

Part of an intermittent series featuring "occupational" images that have appeared online.

It's fall, and there are few finer pleasures in life than fresh baked loaves on a crisp autumn day. Bakeries have been a fixture of urban centers for centuries, but the professionalization and of the trade in America largely took place in the mid- and late nineteenth century. As city populations expanded and home baking began its long decline, the demand for bakers rose. In both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some bakers specialized in certain products such as pastries or ship's biscuits, and you can read a little about early bakers in the exhibition brochure linked here. As urban bakeries proliferated, photography was also on the rise, and, like nearly every other artisan of the day, bakers sometimes posed for "occupational" photographs wearing their work clothes and holding their tools and products.

In this 1890s cabinet card, two bakers stand in the studio of C.L. Judd in Fargo, North Dakota. The man on the right has a large tray of some sort of pastries.

A similar photograph was taken around the same time in the more lavish studio of E. Burke in London, Ontario. In the Fargo image above, the man on the left is wearing a jacket with built-in short sleeves. In this Canadian image, the bakers have rolled their sleeves up well above the elbows. Their trousers are flour-stained and their caps seem endearingly individual. In this case, their unique clothing suggests their occupation in the absence of any tools or baked goods.

The smaller card photograph below is possibly European (much of contextualizing unidentified photographs ends up being about hunches regarding clothing and style). This baker wears a nice silk tie and patterned suspenders. He also brought various accoutrements, including a cookie cutter, bread pan, rolling pin, and a fresh loaf.

Some bakers carried more than just their products and tools to the photographer's studio. The sitting member of the baking group below holds a large advertising hand sign (or perhaps even a giveaway fan?), on which you can just make out "...BURG, PA" (the image, like all tintypes, is reversed). Don't miss his great checked jacket, either.

The Pennsylvania tintype above reminds me of another of similar date (1870s). In this second image, a baker and his young helper stand proudly with rolling pin, tray, and a crate that was labelled (or perhaps highlighted) by a colorist: "HJ Myers, Bakery." 

From Cowan's Auctions. Forgive the low resolution.

Of course, while baking was increasingly a commercial business, domestic baking remained an essential activity for families well into the twentieth century. It was more common for professional bakers to commemorate their trade in photographs, but there were legions of home workers for whom baking was a chore or, sometimes, a pleasure. So I'll leave you with this fabulous 1860s tintype, currently on ebay, of an African American woman posing proudly with a freshly-baked pie.

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