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Dating Old Photos
Dated Imprints
Public Domain

Joseph Kirk of Newark NJ

Copyright 2006 by Andrew J Morris

Joseph Kirk was surprisingly elusive. I have a carte-de-visite of a toddler named John Clapp taken by Kirk (see below), that includes the helpful information that little John was born in 1870, so we know Kirk was in business in the early 1870s at 661 Broad street, in Newark New Jersey.

My first check was in our own photographers database, where I found three references to a Joseph Kirk. Two were from Craig's Daguerreian Registry, both dated 1860. The other was the 1890 City Directory for Newark New Jersey. A fourth listing looked suspiciously like it should be Joseph, and that was for an 'I Kirk' in Newark NJ in the 1880 census.

One of Craig's listings also mentioned Newark, though not as the place of business for Joseph Kirk. He records a Joseph Kirk in partnership with R W Barnes at 559 Broadway in New York City, but mentions that Kirk lived in Newark. Richard W Barnes is listed as a photographer in the 1860 census for New York City, Ward 20, living with his mother Harriet, two brothers and three sisters, aged 24 and born in NY. The youngest in the family, 15 year old Charles A Barnes, is also shown as a photographer.

Joseph Kirk, however, is not listed in either New York City nor Newark New Jersey in the 1860 Census. Craig's second listing for a Joseph Kirk in 1860 shows him in far-off Ohio. Might this be the same Joseph Kirk? Craig shows Joseph Kirk as an ambrotypist in New Garden Ohio. New Garden is in Columbiana county, and in Hanover, Columbiana county Ohio we find Joseph Kirk listed in the 1860 census, boarding in the Dennis household, age 30, born Ohio, occupation Daguerrian.

It is possible Joseph Kirk was in New York working with Barnes in late 1859 or early 1860 when the 1860 directory was being prepared (I'm assuming that was the source of Craig's information, though he doesn't specifically say so). Then perhaps in the Spring of 1860 Kirk 'went West' -- at least so far as Ohio, to try his hand at the photography business there. If so, the birthplace of Ohio is wrong in the census, and Kirk returned to Newark within a few years.

Here is a photograph of 1st Lt. Charles H. Canfield of the 13th NJ Volunteers, from a Civil War era carte-de-visite. It is attributed to J. Kirk, [Newark, NJ] on the New Jersey Department of State Archives website. I assume the square brackets indicate that the indexer supplied the location, but they also show other Civil War era photographs from Kirk that do not include the brackets, so the location is presumably printed on at least some of the CDVs. Unfortunately, they do not show the backs of the cards, so we don't know exactly what the imprints say.

So we know Joseph Kirk was in business with his own studio in Newark by at least 1864 or 1865. Then we have the following photo, a portrait of Janet McGregor. The card did not copy well, so it is difficult to see the full imprint, but we can clearly read J Kirk and Newark. If there is a street address we can not make it out. That style of imprint dates from 1864 to 1870, but Janet's dress style narrows the date even further, the dark ribbon applied yoke effect was popular 1866-1868.

Our next reference to him should be the 1870 census, but there is no J or Joseph Kirk listed in New Jersey or New York, or even in Ohio, with information close to what we have on 'this' Joseph Kirk. The closest we come is a William W Kirk, age 45, born England, occupation Artist. Census listings for photographers often cited them as artists, so that, at least, is not too far off. William Kirk is shown with his wife Sarah B Kirk, age 45, born New Jersey, and their domestic servant.

We know Kirk was still in business in the early 1870s because of this image, from my personal collection, which I mentioned above. It shows the typical (for 1870s) ornate CDV back, with a J and K monogram, and the text J Kirk, Photographer, 661 Broad Street, Newark, N.J. as well as the information at bottom that No. of Negative (with 30911 written in) and By sending the above number, duplicates can be procured.

In the 1880 census we find J Kirk listed, though the index showed I Kirk. This mistake can be understood by looking at other names on the same page that begin with I (Isabella) and J (Julia) -- there is very little difference. The J usually goes below the base line, but not always. In any case, we know this is J because the full listing shows this person's occupation as photographer. Kirk is listed as a boarder in a boarding house, and the full citation is of some interest:

Kirk, J     w m 50     boarder     marr.     Photographer     England

So, he is married, but his wife is not living with him. And his birthplace was England. Compare this to the William listed in 1870, and the co-incidences begin to mount. Both were born in England, both are married, the birthdates have been rounded, but are within five years. But where then is Sarah B Kirk? We found her in the 1880 census too, in Bethel New York:

Kirk, Sarah B     w f 52     head     marr.     Farmer     NJ NJ NJ

That this is the same Sarah B Kirk there can be little doubt, though there is a three year discrepency in the age. The interesting part is that she too shows 'married' -- but her husband is not listed in the household (she has a single boarder).

Since census information may be provided by neighbors or the hired help when the principals were not home, it is not too far-fetched to believe that this is what occured when the Kirk household was counted in 1870, and 'Joseph' (known only to the domestic as Mr Kirk no doubt) became William W.

There is no surviving 1890 census for Newark, but we do find Kirk listed in the 1890 City Directory for that year. It lists Joseph Kirk, photographer at 661 Broad, and shows his residence as 130 Sherman avenue.

Our final photo is also from about that time, an unidentified gentleman, the image is on a cabinet card mount, with a notched and beveled gilt edge. There is a front imprint saying Kirk on the left and Newark, N.J. on the right, with his JK monogram in the center. These strongly-notched cards seem to have been introduced around 1893, though I have seen more finely-notched varieties as early as 1887. We don't have the back of the image, but a notation with it indicated that the address 661 Broad St is on the back.

In summary then, we know that Joseph Kirk learned the photographic techniques early, toward the end of the daguerrian era, and was in business by 1860 in New York with Richard W Barnes at 559 Broadway. He may have gone to Ohio in 1860 and opened a gallery there, but before the Civil War was over he was back in Newark New Jersey, where he opened his own gallery. We do know if that gallery was originally at 661 Broad street, but by the early 1870s he was at that address, where he remained until the early 1890s, at which time he probably retired as he was likely 60 years old in 1890. We have not found a death record for him, but could not find him in the 1900 U.S. census.

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