How old was the boy in the picture, and why are the other characters so ugly?
It’s not hard to answer the last two questions in the same way that it is to answer the first. The flapper dress was invented to get attention; the boy is in a photo of three children who might not be much older than his own children, and is wearing a dress that, with the rest of his outfit, looks like he grew up in the era of the flapper.
When the photos are taken at age 14, there’s nothing particularly wrong with them. The boy looks like what most 14-year-olds would look like today (if all other things held constant). But here’s the problem: His father’s family owns the photo, and so there’s nothing in their archives that says that child of his was ever a flapper.
There are plenty of images in the public domain at that age — some of them taken decades later — that would be totally indistinguishable from these boys. It gets especially bad if the family owns the copyright.
When they don’t own the copyright, the pictures turn into something of a scavenger hunt, complete with a search through every scrap of material. It’s usually not difficult to find a match, because the images come from dozens of different sources with names like The Museum of Old Children, the Smithsonian, and so on. But there’s an entire archive of the photos at the National Archives, and you’ll still find thousands of photos that aren’t even in the US government’s collection, from all over the world — many of them in countries like Japan, India, and China, where it’s legal to sell or rent images for commercial profit.
What about the older boys who had been flappers? That’s not very clear, either. The only thing certain is that they were almost certainly too old to be flappers. The US government had already banned the use of children in publicity in 1922, and in 1924, there was the first case concerning a child who had made a successful career on the cover of a flapper magazine (see page 3).
The US has also banned the commercial use of children, so that means that there’s no way that these photos ever get out there, because no one can afford to buy their rights.
There is no doubt that flappers, at that time, had very little financial incentive to get their faces on the cover of magazines, but even that, in the mid-’20s, was
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