Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Dating of card mounts from overprints - Richard Keene Junior of Derby & Burton-onTrent

Richard Keene (1825-1894) was probably Derby's most renowned Victorian photographer, taking a leading and pioneering role in the development of photography in the region. Keene's Derby by Maxwell Craven (publ. 1993 by Breedon Books, ISBN 1 873626 60 6) describes his career as a landscape and portrait photographer in some detail. Two of his sons also became photographers: Richard Keene Junior (1852-1899) had studios in both Derby and Burton-on-Trent, while Charles Barrow Keene (1863-1937) continued the Derby business, which included printing, publishing and bookselling, after his father's death.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Although he was in London working in an accountant's office in 1871, Richard Keene Jnr. opened the Midland Studio in Siddals Road, Derby in the mid-1870s. The business is not listed in Wright's 1874 trade directory, so he presumably started after that it compiled. Adamson (1997) shows him as operating at 49 Siddals Road in 1876, which appears to have been on the south side, somewhere between Liversage and John streets. A carte de visite taken at the Siddals Road premises is shown above. It has square corners suggesting a date of 1875-1876. The style of clothing worn by the subject is simlar to that in a portrait on Roger Vaughan's web site, dated as roughly 1875.

It is interesting to note, as an aside, that Keene claimed to be the "inventor of the new dry process." Nothing further is known about the process, although it is worth acknowledging the role that his father played "in encouraging the career of Sir William Abney, a major second-generation pioneer of photography," who made important discoveries in the field of chemistry and colour photography (Craven, 1992).

Image © & collection of Brett Payne Image © & collection of Brett Payne

Keene apparently did not last very long in Siddals Road, because the electoral register for 1877 (nominally dated 1 October) shows him at Derwent Street East. The second cdv has a similar mount which is overprinted with the Derwent Street address, indicating that he had moved, and was using up old card stock. There are, however, some differences in the card mount, indicating that he was in the earlier location at least long enough to have a second batch of card mounts printed. The corners are rounded instead of square, and a simpler font has been used for the words, "PHOTOGRAPHER & ENAMELLER."

Note the broad sash around the child's waist, which probably went all the way around the back of the chair. This was one of several tricks commonly used by Victorian photographers to ensure that children didn't move during the lengthy exposure times necessary to ensure a good picture. Other early methods included having the children seated on their mother's lap, firmly in their arms. In some portraits it is just possible to make out a mother, disguised or hidden behind a blanket, sheet or curtain. Getting the child to maintain that smile for any length of time would have been a trickier prospect, I'm sure.

Image © & collection of Brett Payne Image © & collection of Brett Payne

The third carte de visite is a half-length seated portrait of an unidentified young woman on a newly designed, slightly more elaborate card mount with the Derwent Street address, again with the "Midland Studio" title. He still described himself as a "photographer and enameller," but also as the "sole inventor of the new dry process."

The low negative number (632) on the reverse of the portrait taken shortly after his move to Derwent Street suggests that he had not seen a large number of customers at his previous locale. Examination of negative numbers from card mounts of other, more successful Derby photographers from the same period, e.g. W.W. Winter in the perhaps more convenient Midland Road, shows thousands of portraits per year, rather than hundreds.

Although there had been rapid redevelopment in shops and other businesses of what used to be private gardens along Derwent Road East in the 1860s and 1780s, as a result of the rebuilding of the Exeter Bridge, and the resultant increase in traffic, Keene was sadly still unable to make his studio pay. In January 1878 his creditors met to discuss arrangements for liquidation of his assets. He was declared bankrupt in March, and his entire "stock-in-trade" and his portrait gallery in Derwent Street were auctioned off at the end of April. A dividend in the liquidated estate was declared in October.

Image © & courtesy of Paul Clarke Image © & courtesy of Paul Clarke

Keene then moved to Burton-on-Trent, where he had set up in business at 56 High Street by the time the 1880 edition of Kelly's Directory of Staffordshire was compiled. [Source: GENUKI Staffordshire Photographers Index by Mike Harbach] The fourth cdv in the sequence is a half-length portrait of an unidentified young woman leaning on the back of a chair. The rounded shoulders, corseted boddice with embroidery and buttons down the front, a high frilly collar, brooch at her neck, with her hair tightly drawn back from a centre-parting and braids tied up at the back, all suggest to me a date of between 1878 and 1880.

This estimate is borne out by an examination of the reverse of the photograph, which reveals that it is a Derwent Street mount, overprinted in red ink with the words, "REMOVED TO 56, HIGH STREET, BURTON-ON-TRENT." Another low negative number (873) further supports the interpretation, from the use of the overprinted card, that he had only recently moved to Burton.

Image © & courtesy of Samantha Smith Image © & courtesy of Samantha Smith

I'm happy to report that by the time the fifth portrait in this series was taken, probably in the mid- to late 1880s, Keene had reached negative number 3144, which showed at least a moderate degree of success. The design on the reverse of the card mount is of a type referred to generically by Roger Vaughan as "Bamboo and Fan"; after being originally designed by Marion & Co. c. 1884, it was wideley copied and adpated by other publishers, and this particular design is by A.A.C. I estimate this portrait was taken between 1884 and 1888.

Many thanks to Samantha Smith and Paul Clarke for images of photographs used in this article.

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