What’s the date of this photo? Take your best guess, and then I’ll mention some clues I pursued.
The photo shows the busy catalog card distribution office at the Library of Congress. There’s no date on the photographic print. Recently, we needed to determine when the photo was taken, so out came my magnifying glass.
The typewriters and the women’s clothing suggest the early 1900s. I looked in vain for calendars on the walls or desks that might have pinned down the date further. Then I wondered about the posters in the background.
Come to find out, we have both posters, and they’re dated!
The posters were issued in 1918 and 1919, so the photo was taken in 1919 or later. Although the office might have displayed the posters as decorations for a while, it seems more likely that the photo was taken shortly after the end of World War I. We added the date of “1919?” to the photo’s online description to help future researchers.
The dating question comes up often in historical picture collections. It’s not always easy to answer, because the people who made or collected the picture often didn’t leave much written information. Instead, looking closely at the image content frequently provides clues.
Looking into this dating mystery offered an intriguing excursion into Library of Congress history and reminded me of the wonderful connections to be found among the collections.