Four Cowboys? (detail)

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    Now here is an interesting item.

    At the end of a long trail ride, four cowboys got a buzz at the local saloon and decided to commemorate the event by having their picture taken at the photographer’s studio just down the street.

    Well, probably not. It seems to be a fake. But, how fake is it?

    First of all, all four are wearing dress ties under their bandannas. Three of them are wearing suit coats all tucked in under their gun belts and chaps. The one on the left even has a kerchief peeking out of his breast pocket.

    The one on the far right seems to be wearing a horizontal stripe pattern narrow tie or maybe that’s just the narrow end of the tie showing, the wide half being tucked up under that big bandanna. Second-from-right has his collar unbuttoned and his diagonal stripe tie loosened at the neck. Second-from-left has his collar buttoned and his tie up tight. Left-end wears a solid color wide tie. They all seem to be tied in Four In Hand or perhaps very tight Windsor knots. So when was it fashionable to wear both narrow ties and wide, patterned and solid?

    Their hats are all too big. They rest on their ears. Second-from-right has his pushed well back on his head. The other three have the front brim turned up to put light on their faces for the camera. These hats are probably photographer’s props.

    Dusty cattle trail riders? No, probably not. Here are four young men at a county or state fair getting their picture taken at the photo booth with fake cowboy costumes. That’s a more likely scenario. Their girlfriends stood off camera and teased them. Note the one on the left end is looking in a different direction than the rest. He also appears to be speaking.


    According to the postcard backing, the AZO design in the upper right hand corner indicates it was printed between 1904 and 1918. For the moment, let’s say it is not a counterfeit backing to give an “authentic” edge to the fake novelty photograph on the front.

    The photo qualities seem true for the time period just before 1918. The face of our cowboy on the left is slightly blurred. He moved. The slow shutters of the time would have captured that movement as a slight blur. Faster film media and lenses and consequently shutters didn’t appear until a little later.

    The eyes of second-from-left seem very light. As we have learned, blues tended to photograph as white in early photo media, just as reds tend to appear black. Second-from-right has what appears to be leather chaps, probably brown, making his suit probably brown also since they appear to be similar gray in the photo. First on left is probably dressed in blue. Since it seems to be a joke type photo, the chaps on second from right might very well be bright red. Well, maybe not.

    The black wedge in the lower right corner might indicate that the light sensitive media was not quite straight in the carrier when it was exposed. That is something that a good expensive studio photographer would not allow, nor would their customer accept. This was probably a carnival or fair or other novelty operation.

    The paper stock is the right weight for the time. The yellowing, fading and wrinkles seem appropriate for the age.

    With today’s technology, we know it could ALL be faked on a home desktop computer and printer. For paper you could use the blank flyleaf pages of old law books or catalogs. Without the use of a very technical lab to test the chemical composition of the emulsion on the front or the ink on the reverse, it would be hard to tell if it was printed yesterday or really nearly a hundred years ago. And what junk store shopper is going to go to all that trouble? An enterprising junk dealer could whip up a few of these to shuffle among a few real ones and maybe peddle them for four or six dollars each. The good sellers could be printed over and over.

    What do you think?

    laikmen, Martin Gommel, and 23 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    1. anyjazz65 82 months ago | reply

      The above is a crop for detail. This is the original with reverse also shown.

      Four Cowboys

    2. meagain625 82 months ago | reply

      This is a good one!! Well seen :)

    3. nikiforberg 73 months ago | reply

      cool, photo. Chewbacca pants ???

    4. anyjazz65 73 months ago | reply

      Seems to be!

    5. Price Engines 61 months ago | reply

      Hi - I'm so glad I found this photo to illustrate a story on my blog about green scientists 'fighting back' after the recent 'climategate'.

      The story behind the picture also captivated me - so much so that I've broken normal 'protocol' and commented on it underneath the photo credit.

      Hope you get a few more views as a result.

      Oh - here's a link to your photo in situ:

      Thanks for sharing - Jonathan

    6. anyjazz65 61 months ago | reply

      Glad to help. The photo prompted an analysis of the old photo industry.

    7. Price Engines 61 months ago | reply

      Hi - me again.

      Every month I do a round up (no cowboy pun intended) of the months posts and pick out my favourite illustration too.

      Thought you'd be pleased to know I chose your photo - as much for the fascinating deductions you make as the quaintness of the photo itself.

      Cheers and thanks for taking the trouble to reply back.


      p.s here's a link to the round up including your photo (again):

    8. anyjazz65 60 months ago | reply

      Thanks very much for your comment.

    9. Nancy D. Brown 60 months ago | reply

      I'd like permission to use your Four Cowboys jpg for my "What to Pack for a Horseback Riding Vacation" post at Of course, I would link to your Flickr photostream and give you credit for the photo.
      Thank you. Nancy Brown

    10. anyjazz65 60 months ago | reply

      Of course. go right ahead. This is a very popular found photograph. I just noticed that it has been visited nearly 3500 times since I first rescued it in 2006. Looking forward to seeing your page.

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