[EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY] -- [ALCOTT, Elizabeth Sewall (1835-1858)]. Ninth plate ruby ambrotype attributed to Elizabeth Sewall Alcott. N.p., [ca 1856-1857].

Ninth plate ruby ambrotype with hand-tinting. Housed with glass, brass mat, and preserver (some tarnishing). Inscription to tape on verso reads: "Alcott, Elizabeth." Provenance: Elephant's Trunk, New Milford, CT.

The portrait, attributed to Elizabeth Alcott, depicts a young woman wearing a striped dress with wide sleeves and elaborate trim. She wears rings on her fingers and a cameo brooch. With hair parted down the middle and coiffed, her cheeks are delicately hand-tinted. The ambrotype was acquired in Connecticut, not far from Alcott's hometown of Wolcott. There are no known photographs of Elizabeth Alcott, younger sister of Louisa May Alcott, but an undated extant drawing of her bears a strong resemblance to this photographic portrait. 

Elizabeth Alcott contracted scarlet fever in 1856, recovered from the initial infection, but with gradually worsening heart damage. If she had a photograph taken, it would likely have been in late 1856, by which time she would have recovered somewhat from the initial infection, or by the fall of 1857 before she began to be much sicker, consistent with this young woman’s clothing and the popularity and availability of ambrotypes. There are extant photos of the other Alcott sisters whom this young woman appears to resemble. 

Louisa May Alcott based the character of Beth March after her sister in the semi-autobiographical Little Women: "Elizabeth - or Beth as everyone called her - was a rosy, smooth-haired, bright-eyed girl, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression, which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her 'Little Tranquility' and the name suited her perfectly for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted."

Starting Price: $1,500
Estimate: $3,000 - $5,000
Internet Bidding

Have a Similar Item?

Consign With Us


Cowan’s Cincinnati Office offers an in-house, full-service shipping department which is unparalleled in the auction industry. Shipping costs are provided with your finalized invoice 24-48 hours after auction. For furniture and oversized items, we recommend using third-party services. For more information, click HERE or contact cowansshipping@hindmanauctions.com.  

NOTE: All pickups and preview are by appointment only. To make an appointment, please call 513-871-1670 or email cincinnati@hindmanauctions.com