The braid, ornate collar and cuff embroidery, epaulettes and feathered chapeau worn by this mustachioed officer reminds one of “Old Fuss and Feathers”—Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott.
But the identity of this man is a mystery. Could he be a U.S. Army infantry officer? A militia staff officer? A member of the diplomatic corps? His uniform and the mat framing the image offer clues to his identity.
Several details in the portrait point to the Mexican War era. The edged weapon is a Model 1840 foot officer’s sword typically carried by a captain or lieutenant. The belt plate features a wreath and the letter S (the U is covered by braid) consistent with the 1832 pattern. The design of the plumed chapeau also dates to 1832. The buttons, which appear to be the 22mm staff variety, have been obscured by gold gilt.
The image, a quarter plate daguerreotype, includes a mat that is original to the photo and marked “Helme” and “111 Bowery.” Photographer John C. Helme operated a gallery at this New York City address between 1846 and 1856. Helme, born about 1808 in Providence, R.I., served as the captain of Company A, 9th New York State Militia in the 1840s. His association with the militia continued into the Civil War, during which he helped quell the Draft Riots that consumed the city in 1863. He died in 1881.
One theory holds that the man pictured here is one of Helme’s fellow captains in the 9th. Another, more tantalizing, possibility is that this is Helme’s self-portrait — an 1840s selfie.
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