Paper Shadows

When I found the hand shadow trade card for Salem furrier T.N. Covell below I thought I had stumbled onto something unique, but it turns out that shadowgraphy, ombromanie, or “Ombres Chinoises” was just another Victorian fad, like phrenology, penny farthings, and mesmerism. It didn’t take long to find other examples, and other “animals”: the seal led to search for other shadow cards made in Boston and elsewhere, and the offerings of John Bufford, who was a very serious lithographer and businessman. So here we have a late nineteenth-century variation on the silhouette: more whimsical than documentary and more commercial than personal. An ephemeral art, as (electric) light was already too bright when it appeared, and very reflective of a much simpler time!

Paper Shadows

Paper Shadows 2

Paper Shadows 3

Paper Shadows 4 Chatterbox

PicMonkey Collage

Victorian hand shadow trade cards and the December 15, 1869 edition of Chatterbox, Library of Congress; Illustrations from the Ombres chinoises, guignol, marionnettes, par Émile Lagarde , 1900, Bibliothèque nationale de France

7 responses to “Paper Shadows

  • soifollowjulian

    I heard of shadowography for the first time when I read Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery. However I have never seen illustrations; they’re quite lovely.

  • Nina Cohen

    The dialogue line is mysterious. Do you think he’s trying to say “dog” with a Brooklyn accent?

  • markd60

    I used to have a book with a lot of different “designs” you could make. Do a YouTube search for “Shadow Dancing”. The same thing but they use their whole bodies.

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