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The Lembke Tintype

Years ago my grandmother had this in her room. Written over its oval paper mat were (left, middle, right): “Mamie; Uncle Johnny; Mother.” Her mother, Martha Sophie Lembke, was born in October of 1868. Aunt Mamie was not born until 1878. Uncle Johnny, the oldest, was born back in 1864. The problem is that everybody is young; the two figures flanking the older boy are really toddlers — perhaps three and a half or four, while the boy cannot be over eight. But Martha Sophie (my great-grandmother) was an adolescent when sister Mamie was a toddler. What gives?

The solution: Martha Sophie’s twin brother Frank, who died in 1875, aged eight. Martha Sophie and Frank are dressed in coordinated get-ups but one is a boy and one is a girl. The styling of the suits gives things away: the boy is at right, without a frilly hem and without a shirred bodice. He wears a sort of bolero and kilt. The other giveaway, I learn from somewhere (I think something by Maureen Taylor) is the parting of the hair: boys usually got a center part, while girls got the side part. Here Frank actually has more hair, with a middle clump sitting high; Martha Sophie gets a side part and hair slicked down. I would say this is about 1871. Amazing, thick layer of paint over the entire surface of the tintype, too, including abstract swirls on the carpet. I’ve never seen anything like this.

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