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Images from early 1900s look downright newsy

They posed with their newspapers, these Spokane folks from the early 1900s. The smiling man in the top hat. The woman in the watercolor portrait. And F.N. LaVell, businessman, relaxing on a hammock in the backyard.

These photos come from The Spokesman-Review’s King Collection, an archive of photos and memorabilia from the King family that prospered in Spokane in the early 20th century. Like most family collections, the King photos do not include detailed notations.

You wonder: Why did people 100 years ago pose with newspapers? The collection provides a few hints, and you fill in the blanks with historical documents – and imagination.

The photo of the man in the top hat is undated. But the photo sleeve is engraved with “Wiffen and Waltman.” The photography studio, in business in 1913 and 1914, disappears from Spokane City directories in 1915.

The sleeve also says “Compliments of American Theatre Players.” American Theatre, built in 1910 at the corner of Post Street and then-Trent Avenue, was eventually renamed the Post Theater and survived until 1972.

The photo was likely a souvenir of a night out in a proud theater that advertised itself as “Spokane’s only fireproof playhouse.”

Is the man reading a play review? Impossible to know. Just as we don’t know why Iowa King Cowan painted a woman reading the newspaper, circa 1911.

Women in Washington state earned the right to vote in 1910. Was Iowa, then a young bride, and a graduate of Spokane High School and the Walton College of Expression, making a point? That women needed to keep up with the news, too?

On the back of F.N. Lavell’s photo is this notation: “Newt at home, 1908.” Newt was the family nickname for Francis N. LaVell, real estate and insurance man, married to Keo King. He never smiles in any of his photos, but he looks a bit relaxed here. The Spokane Daily Chronicle awaits him when rest time is over.

What do you and your family pose with in 2012? Stuffed animals, cellphone, barbecues, computers, cars? When you date your photos, add a line or two about the items. Family members 100 years from now will be grateful.