A History Mystery?
There's a touch of mystery and bit of controversy to one of the auction items, however, which is billed as the only known image of Samuel Wilson and is said to have been taken by the early Troy photographer Christopher Schoonmaker at his studio in 282 River Street in 1852 shortly before Sam Wilson's death in Troy in 1854. On the back plate of the image there is an inscription reading "Sam'l Wilson, St. Mary's Str., Troy, N.Y. 1852."

Questions arise when considering that the technology to create this ferrotype was not in use until one year after Samuel Wilson's death, according to Kathy Sheehan, Rensselaer County and City of Troy historian, who obtained that information from the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, the world's oldest museum dedicated to photography.


A representative of Forsythes' Auctions, LLC., however, said the image on the tintype was probably created from a earlier process such as daguerreotype or ambrotype.


But then there's the age of the man in the image.


"Given the time period, this really doesn't look like an 86-year old man," said Sheehan, noting the age that Samuel Wilson would have been in 1852 when the image was allegedly created. "Maybe it was his son? Or a nephew? That's entirely plausible."


Though not adamant one way or the other, Troy author and booster Duncan Crary suggests that the date on the back of the tintype could have been written haphazardly, perhaps years after the portrait was taken, on a tintype copy of an earlier daguerreotype of a much younger Samuel Wilson.


"At the very least, these items are curiosities that are a part of the Uncle Sam story," Crary said. "We should have them in our collection here in our city so that researchers can further study them in the context of Samuel Wilson and Troy."