The Definitive Dwiggins no. 108—James Ferguson, the Photograph Swindler

 This post is an addendum to The Definitive Dwiggins no. 97—W.A. Dwiggins’ Childhood (1880–1889) continued.

W.A. Dwiggins as a child (1886). Photograph by James Ferguson (Richmond, Indiana). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.

W.A. Dwiggins as a child (1886). Photograph by James Ferguson (Richmond, Indiana). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.

In The Definitive Dwiggins no. 97, I included two photographs of W.A. Dwiggins as a child, both taken by well-respected Richmond photographic studios. The earliest one was by Jacob Harry Swaine (1838–1917) whose studio at the time was located at the corner of Eighth Street and Main Street. [1] Swaine was born in New Paris, Ohio, seven miles to the east of Richmond. He began his career as a “daguerrotypist” there about 1860. By 1866 he had moved to Richmond to practice his trade, initially in partnership with Elisha Mote and then on his own, with a studio at Fifth Street and Main Street. [2] Despite his success in Richmond he returned to New Paris in 1885, perhaps to care for his ailing father. Swaine died in Brookville, Indiana in 1917. [3]

Advertisement for J.H. Swaine, "Artistic Photographer" in The City Tribune (Cambridge City, Indiana), 27 June 1878.

Advertisement for J.H. Swaine, “Artistic Photographer” in The City Tribune (Cambridge City, Indiana), 27 June 1878.

Back of photographic frame for J. Harry Swaine, Photographer (Richmond, Indiana). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.

Back of photographic frame for J. Harry Swaine, Photographer (Richmond, Indiana). Courtesy Special Collections, Boston Public Library.

The second photograph was taken taken by the East End Studios of Stigleman & Son. George W. Stigleman, Sr. (1836–1895) was the scion of a photographic family. Listed as a painter in the 1860 United States Federal Census, his career as a photographer in Richmond began in 1867. By 1880 his eldest son Edward (1895–1925) had joined him in the business which became known as Stigleman & Son or the East End Studios. [4] Two years later there were two Stigleman studios in Richmond: Stigleman & Son had moved to 826 Main Street (advertised as the corner of Eighth Street and Main Street) while George W., Jr. (1863–1927) and Rolland (1867–1905), the two youngest sons, had opened Stigleman & Bro. at the old 537 Main Street address (advertised as the corner of Sixth Street and Main Street). By 1890 Stigleman & Son had changed their identity to G.W. Stigleman, Sr. & Son, East End Gallery; and Rolland is listed by himself at the 537 Main Street address. [5] Although George W., Jr. is listed as still living in Richmond that year, he was apparently preparing to leave the city to ply his trade elsewhere. [6] After a fire destroyed G.W. Stigleman, Sr. & Son in 1894, Rolland and Edward restarted the business at 826 Main Street. Edward left it by 1897 and the next year Rolland sold it to Edwin F. Dalbey. [7]

Back of photographic frame from G.W. Stigleman, Sr. & Son, East End Gallery (Richmond, Indiana) (c.1890). From blog Forgotten Faces and Long-Ago Places.

Back of photographic frame from G.W. Stigleman, Sr. & Son, East End Gallery (Richmond, Indiana) (c.1890). From blog Forgotten Faces and Long-Ago Places.*

The detailed backgrounds on both J.H. Swaine and the Stigleman family is a prelude to a discussion about Ferguson, the photographer who took the photograph of a young W.A. Dwiggins at the top of this post. Identifying Ferguson has not only been difficult, but it has led to a surprising story. Unlike Swaine and the Stiglemans, no photographer named Ferguson appears in any of the 1880s city directories for Richmond, Indiana. And there is no Ferguson in Indiana at Langdon’s List of 19th & Early 20th Century Photographers. However, James E. Ferguson (b. 1851) is listed—though without any additional information—at in its Directory of Indiana Photographers. This clue led to the discovery of James E. Furgason, the son of a farmer, living in Cass County, Indiana near Logansport in the 1870 United States Federal Census. In the 1880 census he was J.E. Furgason, artist, living in Monticello, twenty-two miles west of Logansport. The following year he was James E. Furguson, a photographer in Logansport, where he apparently died in 1908. [8]

Between November 27 and Christmas, 1886 a small advertisement entitled “$1 per dozen” appeared regularly in The Evening Item of Richmond:

James Ferguson has fitted up a new and very neat gallery on north side of Main street, near corner of 6th and Main. In order to introduce new work, I will make strictly first-class cabinet photographs at $1.00 per dozen for thirty days. We absolutely guarantee to please every customer. Over 1,000 cabinets on exhibition at the gallery. Call and see them. [9]

The offer of inexpensive photographs as Christmas gifts was catnip to the citizens of Richmond who thronged to Ferguson’s new gallery—near Stigleman & Bro. But it was too good to be true. What happened next was detailed (complete with an excessive use of semi-colons) in the Christmas Eve issue of The Evening Item under the heading, “The Heathen Photo Man.” Here are excerpts from the one-and-a-half column article:

When he came here and stuck out his shingle announcing that he would make cabinet photographs at a dollar a dozen, we all went crazy. We did not stop to consider that we had photo artists who had been here a life time; who were good business men, with the best galleries in the state; that these had stuck to it for years, early and late; had charged $4.00 to $6.00 a dozen for the same pictures; and yet had never got rich, little more than respected; meantime running so economically that they didn’t even advertise.

We never stopped to inquire and find out that the negative which should crack with our smiling features would cost the man $1.85 per dozen; that the silvered paper on which we were to shine would cost him 60 cents without a mark on it; that the work of retouching, printing and finishing would cost a dollar or so more; but we all shot up that gallery stairs a hundred at a time. The gentlemanly artist sat us all down, shot his camera at us, winked a wily wunk to himself, and shoved our dollar in his vest pocket—all work was “to be paid for when ordered.” Well, that was the end of it. We didn’t get our pictures and we never will.

The work seemed to end when the negative was made. No printing was being done, and by and by some one caught on that the artist when he pretended to make a negative was only making a blind. He didn’t even put a plate in the camera. He sat the victim down, winked at him through the lens, pocketed the dollar and that was all. [10]

When anxious crowd gathered for their pictures the day before Christmas, it discovered that Ferguson had absconded earlier in the morning.

…the fellow had sloped, and the gallery was full of emptiness… Ferguson has departed, where to, no one knows… He left about 150 old pictures and three thousand negatives, one or two old boxes, two glass frames, and other worthless traps. The straw was left on the floor. This morning the police took charge of the place and carried the pictures to the mayor’s office. Their owners called this morning and searched for their pictures, but only two were successful in discovering anything. [11]

The Evening Item discovered that Ferguson and an accomplice named Losson [sic] had pulled the same stunt at Logansport. The paper estimated that the pair had made at least 2700 negatives before fleeing Richmond, and thus probably got $3000–4000 dollars. However, local photographers—probably Swaine, the Stiglemans, Mote, William Young and Bradway Brothers—had offered to print out the negatives for people, so there was a relatively happy ending for the citizens of Richmond. However, the newspaper was stuck with an unpaid bill for the advertisements Ferguson had placed. [12]

The story of Ferguson and Lawson, the photo swindlers, was not over. Nearly two years later, Edwin Lawson of Middletown, Ohio sent a letter to The Evening Item claiming that Ferguson and Lawson (no relation to him) were working a similar scheme in his city, though this time the cost was $1.50 per dozen cabinet photographs. They had made 3,500 sittings before vanishing. [13] Several months later, in May 1889, The Evening Item reported that Ferguson had perpetuated his con in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Danville, Illinois. Finally, in March 1890, the newspaper told its readers that he had been found guilty of obtaining money under false pretenses in Michigan and sentenced to prison. [14]

If Ferguson failed to develop the negatives he made, then how did the photograph of a young W.A. Dwiggins come to exist? The presence of a frame with “Ferguson Richmond, Ind.” printed on it—a nice touch by Ferguson to convince people his gallery was for real—indicates that the photograph was not subsequently developed by one of the other Richmond photographers. Was Moses Dwiggins one of the two people reported to have found their developed photographs in the debris left behind by Ferguson when he fled Richmond? Or did Ferguson furnish early customers with photographs as a way to entice more people to patronize his studio?

1. J.H. Swaine advertised his location as the corner of Eighth Street and Main Street but the actual address was one door down at 730 Main Street above a drugstore. See Richmond City Directory for 1883–1884… compiled by M. Cullaton (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co. Book and Job Printers, 1883).
2. Swaine is listed as a “daguerrotypist” in the 1860 United States Federal Census in Preble Township, Jackson County, Ohio which includes New Paris. The Richmond Evening Item 23 April 1881 says that Swaine has been practicing as a daguerreotyper in town for 15 years. There is an advertisement in The American Friend vol. II, no. 11 (November 1868), p. 2 for Mote & Swain, General Photographers. In a series of advertisements in The  City Tribune [Cambridge City, Indiana] in December 1878, Swaine gives his address as Fifth Street and Main Street. He describes himself as an “Artistic Photographer.” Mote continued to work in Richmond on his own, focusing on outdoor photography.
3. The Richmond Evening Item 16 December 1885 and 23 December 1886 mention Swaine working in New Paris; The Richmond Evening Item 27 January 1887 suggests that Swaine is planning to return to Richmond to open a new studio once he finishes taking care of his father who is dying from cancer. Although his father died in April there is no evidence that Swaine followed through on his plans to return to Richmond since he is not in the 1887 or 1888 city directories. In 1890 he is mentioned as having a studio in New Madison, Indiana. See The Richmond Evening Item 16 May 1890.
4. For information on George W. Stigleman, Sr. see the 1860, 1870 and 1880 United States Federal Censuses; the Richmond city directories for 1883, 1885, 1886–1887, 1888–1889 and 1890; and History of Wayne County, Indiana… (Chicago: Inter-State Publishing Co., 1884), vol. I, pp. 237–238; and Specifications and Drawings of Patents Issued from the U.S. Patent Office for March 1878 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1878), pp. 243–244. The latter outlines his patent no. 201,065 for Preparation of Photographic Negatives, filed February 16, 1877 and granted March 5, 1878.
5. Untangling the story of the different Stigleman photography studios is not easy. As a start see Richmond City Directory for 1883–84… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., 1883); Kramer Publishing and Advertising Company’s City Directory of Richmond, Indiana 1885–1886… and Wayne County vol. I (Lafayette, Indiana: Kramer Publishing and Advertising Co., 1885); Richmond City Directory for 1886–87, Comprising a List of the Inhabitants of the City and Suburbs… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1886); Richmond City Directory for 1888–89 Comprising a List of the Inhabitants of the City and Suburbs above the Age of Fifteen Years, with a Classified Business Directory, and Other Useful Information (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1888); Emerson’s City Directory of Richmond, Ind. 1890–91… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1890); R.L. Polk’s Richmond Directory 1893–4… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1893); R.L. Polk’s Biennial Directory of Richmond and Wayne County, 1897–8… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1897); and R.L. Polk & Co.’s Richmond Directory 1901–1902… (Richmond, Indiana: M. Cullaton & Co., Book and Job Printers, 1901). The photograph of Moses F. Dwiggins, Eva Dwiggins, and a very young W.A. Dwiggins in The Definitive Dwiggins no. 94 is labeled G.W. Stigleman, Jr. & Bro., a variant not found in the city directories or other documentary sources.
6. A search for George W. Stigleman, Jr. after 1890 on indicated that he had become an itinerant photographer with the following listings in city directories over the next three decades: 1893 Louisville, Kentucky; 1894 Terre Haute, Indiana; 1898 Denver, Colorado; 1901 Omaha, Nebraska; 1902 Council Bluffs, Iowa; 1909–1911 Joplin, Missouri; 1912 St. Louis; 1914 Galveston, Texas; 1919–1920 Pomona, California; and 1923-1937 Santa Barbara, California. In 1922 he formed a photographic studio with E.A. Deacon in Santa Barbara. See Bulletin of Photography, vol. XXX, no. 763 (March 22, 1922), p. 377.
7. The fire is noted in The Photographic Times and American Photographer, vol. XXV, no. 692 (December 21, 1894), p. 407. The information about the sale of the studio to Edwin F. Dalbey is from the blog Forgotten Faces and Long-Ago Places.
8.  This information comes from But tracking James E. Ferguson/J.E. Furgason/James E. Furguson beyond that with the genealogy website databases has proven futile. The information that James E. Furguson was a photographer in Logansport comes from a Google snippet of Charles O. Ebel and Company’s Logansport Directory for 1881–1882… (Terre Haute, Indiana: Chas. O. Ebel & Company, 1881), p. 103.
9. The Richmond Evening Item 27 November 1886, p. 2.
10. The Richmond Evening Item 24 December 1886, p. 1
11. ibid.
12. ibid. Logansport was not the only place where Ferguson and Lawson had pulled their stunt prior to Richmond. The City Tribune of Cambridge City 6 January 1886 reported that they swindled people in Dublin, Indiana.
13. The Richmond Evening Item 1 November 1888.
14. See The Richmond Evening Item 23 May 1889 and 13 March 1890. In 1886 the Richmond police told the newspaper that no crime had been committed by Ferguson, only a breach of promise. Apparently, a jury in Michigan saw that as a crime. One reason that Ferguson succeeded with his scam for so long, in the opinion of The Evening Item, was that he stole so little from each person.

*This photograph frame back is nearly identical to a damaged one for a portrait of Moses F. Dwiggins (c.1889) in Folder 5, Box 39, 2001 W.A. Dwiggins Collection, Boston Public Library. The only difference is that the Dwiggins frame is printed in red on cream-colored paper.