Photographic plates a real steal at auction

Several years ago, I attended an auction in Ramsey for the late Lois Stoddard.

Among the treasures I carried home that day were three shoeboxes of photographic glass plates. As my bid was accepted, a man over my shoulder said, ‘You probably just got the best deal of the day.’ I had to agree.

Lucky for me, Judy Stoddard Lampkin of Chicago was attending the auction. BJ Mueller introduced us, for which Im grateful, because Judy knew a lot about the plates. She told me they were most probably those of Frances Willis Mattes, who had been dead for many years.

According to Judy, Frances was an amateur photographer, and some of her favorite subjects were her nieces and nephews. The children would be off playing, and their Aunt Frances would call them to the house, have them put on their good clothes and pose for her while she tried different camera angles. This didnt always thrill the children, who looked at the sessions as an imposition on their playing time.

Frances was born May 22, 1887, in Ramsey, the youngest daughter of Azro and Carrie Locke Willis. Her father was born Sept. 29, 1829, in Townline, N.Y. He came to Ramsey in 1864 from Wenona, and was the station agent here for Illinois Central Railroad.

He later engaged in the lumber business, and became a stockholder and director of Farmers & Merchants Bank in Vandalia.

Azro was married three times, but I have only the names of his last two wives: Antonia Easton, born 1854, in Vermilion County, whom he married in November 1874, and Carrie Newell Locke of Rye, N.H., the mother of his three youngest children.

Azro and Carries children were Minnie, born in 1879, married Frederick Moody Stoddard; Locke A. Willis; and Frances, who married Berthold Mattes. He had one son from a previous marriage Maurice C. Willis, who died at Waco, Texas, in 1892.

The glass plates are mainly 5 inches by 7 inches in size, and the negative images are difficult to see. I have been able to divide the plates into three basic groups people, houses and outdoor scenes.

One plate, in particular, fascinates me. It is of a large house standing on a small rise, and the house appears to be under construction.

The walls are built about 6 feet high, and two chimneys are complete that stretch two stories high. It appears to be brick, because the window and door openings are cut. The VanVranken house also appears on one of the plates.

Many of the plates are of children, including those of Frances niece and nephews, the Stoddard children, Willis, Genevieve, Frank and Joe.

The old Ramsey reservoir was also one of Frances favorite places to take pictures.

Only one picture was developed, and this is of an infant in 1930. Frances has signed her name in the corner, and used a pencil to add shading. The infant is not identified.

Frances married Berthold Mattes on Aug. 19, 1918, and they were the parents of a son, Frank, who was only 4 years old when his mother died, three days before Christmas in 1936.

Frances loved the outdoors, and spent several years in Colorado, as well as the Eastern states, where her parents had first settled. Returning to her Ramsey home, she joined the D.A.R. and worked at various clerical jobs until her marriage.

There arent many people today who process glass plates. Special chemicals are needed to bring the images out.

When and how the glass plates came into the care of Joe and Lois Stoddard, I can only guess. The close relationship of Frances to her sister, Minnie, may be why they were entrusted to the Stoddard family.

One of these days, I will find a way to have the plates developed, and it will be wonderful to see the Ramsey history that will be revealed.

The man at the auction was right. I did get the best deal of the day.

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