The Charles J. Merz photograph album contains approximately 147 images, the majority of which show places and people around the area of Detroit, Michigan, during the late 19th and early 20th-centuries.
The album (27 x 36 cm) has maroon faux leather covers with "Photographs" stamped on the front and shows signs of considerable wear, including a damaged spine and detached front cover. While the album contains some traditional formal portraits, the majority of the photographs of people are more candid snapshots in nature. Images are presented on 9 x 12.5 cm prints with four to a page. Most photographs were taken in the Detroit-area (presumably all or mostly by Merz), with images including pictures of Belle Isle Park, elevated perspectives of city streets, boats (such as ferries, sailboats, and cargo boats) on the Detroit River, scenes from the aftermath of the Buick and Sherwood factory fire, Elmwood Cemetery, bridges, railroads, carriages, and family and friends in informal settings, including one portrait of an individual dressed in blackface. Also of interest are 32 photographs related to a militia group, with images showcasing training sessions such as rifle practice and marching drills, tongue-in-cheek portraits of militia members posing humorously in front of their tents at camp, and four views of a military parade in Washington, D.C. near the U.S. Capitol. The militia group being documented was likely the volunteer militia known as the Detroit Grays; one photograph is captioned “Detroit Gray’s Camp Sylvan Lake” while “Detroit Grays” also appears on flags present in some of the images. It may be the case that Merz was a member of the Detroit Grays. There are also a few images taken in Chicago and Colorado, including views of Michigan Avenue and the Garden of the Gods.
Several details help provide a date range for this album. One caption below a photograph of young men with bicycles simply reads “1888,” while the Buick and Sherwood factory fire (the aftermath of which is depicted in several images) took place in 1892. A flag visible in one of the militia camp photographs also reads, “Detroit Grays Organized May 7, 1895,” and a picture of the side paddle ferry Greyhound indicates that it was part of the White Star Line, which acquired the Greyhound in 1902. Finally, the caption of a view of the Belle Isle Power House states that the site represented is “where the casino is today.” Since a casino was built at that location in 1907, this would suggest that the album may have been compiled a number of years after the photos were taken.
Merz himself is identified in a photograph showing him holding a box camera and standing next to two other young men on a city street. He is identified in the caption as “Charles J. Merz Photographer,” and stands alongside two other young men identified as "Charles Rapp" and "Gus Hartman." A self-portrait of an unidentified young man and his camera taken in a mirror could also possibly be Merz, and he appears to show up in other photographs as well. He may also be pictured some of the militia photos, but due to the general lack of captions it is difficult to be certain. Two unused pages at the end of the album are covered with childish doodling, including one drawing adjacent to the inscribed name “Olive Merz”, Charles’s daughter, which would suggest that the album was once in the possession of the Merz family.