The origins of Snapchat

There is a very famous photograph of Queen Victoria, flanked by Edward VII and George V, and holding her Great-Grandson, the future Duke of Windsor. The photographer’s name, W&D Downey from Ebury Street in Pimlico, is printed beneath the image, and arguably this was the most memorable photograph from the year 1894. Her Majesty The Queen, has doubtless made a similar record to illustrate the present four generations of the Royal Family.

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Downey’s success produced other photographers in Pimlico, not least A.J.Daniels in Tachbrook Street where in 1907 their young assistant, Cecile Martin, negotiated with Bovril Limited the production of a copyright image representing a girl covered in Bovril labels. Commercial photography for all, whether as a record, a portrait, a propaganda or an advertisement was established, and was to remain forever.

Private collections from this fascinating genre seem to be scarce on the market nowadays, so it is particularly welcome to see a collection of Victorian and Edwardian images in our next sale at Itchen Stoke which takes place on 7th and 8th February. The Collection comprises 20 good lots containing some real gems. These include a terrific photograph album with some significant portraits. Notably, an original image of Miss Letty Lind by the famous W&D Downey (still with the Crown copyright symbol). This shows one of the real superstars of the late Victorian era. Miss Lind achieved huge fame in the big craze of skirt dancing, famous for the twenty odd years between 1890-1910, in much the same way as Strictly Come Dancing is today. The same album also contains a cabinet photograph of  Miss Ellen Terry, the great Shakespearean actress. Her interpretation of Portia in the Merchant of Venice in 1875, would probably be considered dated today, but it was sufficiently overwhelming to inspire a sonnet from Oscar Wilde. Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905), the great Hamlet, whose statue stands beside the National Portrait Gallery, is also here, in a photograph by Window & Grove (also a studio with a Royal Warrant). Altogether there are eight cabinet photographs in the album which is estimated at £50-100.

Tintypes are particularly well represented in the collection, and perhaps these are the most interesting of all. Also known as Ferrotypes, they are often very telling images taken from a wide spectrum of society. They are good for showing the people and the fashion from the 80 odd years from about 1860-1940. The lots here, all attractively divided up with estimates of £50-100 again, tell stories and remember lives which would otherwise be untold and forgotten. Children in prams, boys in bowler hats, girls in aprons, and tired looking parents with children at the seaside. They remind us both of how much life has changed, and also how much the same that things really are. Tintypes are not rare since they were taken in great quantity by beach, and other, photographers as souvenirs of holidays and other events. If you wanted to start collecting something that was both accessible, and good value in 2017, then perhaps tintypes should be considered.

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Of course, no collection of early images would be complete without representatives from both daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. These are also included, and divided into lots also with estimates at under £100. The long exposure time necessary for daguerreotypes, initially made the taking of portraits extremely difficult, but nevertheless the first portrait studio available to the general public appeared in March 1841, set up by Richard Beard in Regent Street. Queen Victoria was enthusiastic, and daguerreotypes were taken of the Royal Family in 1847, although Victoria bemoaned the complete failure of the children’s images. Ambrotypes and daguerreotypes with good images of fidgety children do exist, however and the collection here has good examples of both.  There is something truly thrilling about looking at a daguerreotype of an elderly man or women, since they were alive at a time when Jane Austen was still writing. It is the closest that we can get to travelling through time to meet our ancestors face-to-face.

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