Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Edward Foster: Part 5, A good hand at spinning a yarn

Image © and courtesy of Virginia Silvester
Edward Foster, Derby, 8 November 1864

When I started to research the life of Edward Foster, silhouettist and book publisher of Derby, there was no shortage of material on which to draw. As described in Part 4, the accounts of this man's remarkable life continued to grow throughout the century and a half following his death, the latest article appearing in Derbyshire Life just two years ago. During the course of his reputed 102 years there appeared to be little that Mr Foster did not accomplish. Born of noble parentage, reduced by circumstance, he had a notable military career, became an accomplished miniature painter, with royal appointments, was an inventor, then became a silhouette artist, capturing the profiles of many eminent persons of the day, and finally was a compiler, publisher and distributer of educational charts and texts.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Profile of Thomas Marseille of Canterbury, by Edward Foster, 1822

His career as a prolific painter of profiles, which I covered in Part 2 of this series, was relatively straightforward to document. A series of newspaper advertisements and trade directory entries from 1809 to 1833 is supported by an impressive body of extant signed work, often with trade labels, an example of which I even managed to purchase for myself (pictured above).

Image © and courtesy of Google Books
Foster's Elementary French Grammar and Exercises, 1839

Then in the late 1830s and 1840s Foster and his son Edward Ward Foster (1819-1851) together compiled and published a number of educational texts and charts, discussed in part 3. After his son's death in 1851 Edward senior continued peddling scholastic charts throughout the United Kingdom, also easily verified through newspaper advertorials.

Image © and courtesy of
20th Regiment of Foot uniforms

His earlier life, however, proved to be far more difficult to corroborate. Although the events described in the reports of his military service did take place, details of his actual connection to them have been particularly elusive. Much has been made of his royal patronage, but I have not been able to unearth a single piece of contemporary evidence that Foster was ever a miniature painter to the Royal Family. Besides the single purported self portrait used to illustrate a 1907 article which I reproduced in Part 4, I have yet to find unequivocal evidence of a single miniature portrait, as opposed to a profile, painted by him.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of
from Derbyshire Gatherings by Joseph Barlow Robinson, 1866

With the first contemporary evidence of his activities only to be found in June 1809, when he was already reputedly in his mid-40s, I then began to wonder about the veracity of the stories concerning the years prior to his establishment as a silhouette artist. To this end, I carried out a comparison of the accounts which have appeared. Most, if not all, of the material in reports about Foster's early years written in the 20th century has most likely been taken from a chapter in Robinson's 1866 book Derbyshire Gatherings (PDF), with the usual slight embellishments that are expected with time. Although his sources are not stated, Robinson, in turn, appears to have based his account mostly on the text of a speech by Henry Adams at the "conratulatory dinner" to Foster in November 1862, probably supplemented by newspaper and other reports of the period.

Image © British Library and courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
A Veteran, The Derby Mercury, 7 May 1862
Click image to enlarge

The earliest of these reports that I've been able to find - at least in the 19th century British Library Newspapers selection presented online by Gale - is an undated article from Aris's Birmingham Gazette reprinted in The Derby Mercury on 7 May 1862. While primarily a promotion for his "admirable chronological charts," it states that Mr Foster will complete his 100th year in a few months" and refers to his military service, but strangely makes no mention whatsoever of his artisitic career. One very definitely gets the impression, on reading it, that Foster provided the information to the Gazette reporter himself. Likewise, much of the biographic material used by Henry Adams in his speech is likely to have been put forward by Foster who, as I demonstrated in Part 1, was particularly adept at self promotion using a variety of media.

The stories of Edward Foster's family and pre-silhouette years can be separated into the following "events," each of which will be dealt with separately:
  • Noble ancestry, birth, numerous wives and children, including:
    a. birth at All Saints, Derby on 8 November 1762,
    b. descendant of Duke of Norfolk,
    c. centenarian grandparents,
    d. father was land steward to Sit Robert Burdett, Baronet of Foremark,
    e. married 5 times and had 17 children.
  • 2. Entered Derby militia, aged 17, c.1780
  • 3. Military service as junior officer in 20th Regiment of Foot, c.1781-1805, including:
    a. under Marquis Cornwallis in latter part of American Revolution, c.1781,
    b. under Duke of York in Holland, c.1793-4,
    c. under Sir Ralph Abercrombie in Egypt, 1801,
    d. at Deal/Walmer, Kent, c.1801-5,
    e. resigned on ther day Nelson died, 21 October 1805.
  • 4. Involved with "Ragged schools."
  • 5. Appointed miniature painter to the Royal Family, with rooms at Round Tower, Windsor Castle.
  • 6. Invented and patented machine for taking profiles.

Birth in 1762, noble ancestry, family

Much of the legend which surrounds Edward Foster derives from his longevity. His claims of a great age can be traced somewhat earlier than the 1862 article, with his stated ages in the 1851 and 1861 Census records being 90 and 99 respectively. Reports in The York Herald (27 April 1861) and The Hull Packet (3 May 1861) also gave his age as 99 years. Unfortunately, I've as yet been unable to locate him in the 1841 Census.

Image courtesy of Frank Wattleworth
Baptism: Edward Foster, 13 November 1774, Egginton
Click image to enlarge

I was hoping that finding a record of his baptism would be a relatively straightforward matter, since the International Genealogical Index (IGI) has good, albeit not complete, coverage of the parish registers of Derby town, as well as the non-conformist registers. Disappointingly there was no sign of a suitable baptism in the IGI, and a trawl of microfilms of the parish registers for All Saints, St Werburgh, St Alkmund, St Michael and St Peter between 1760 and 1765, kindly carried out for me by Frank Wattleworth, also turned up empty. Spreading the net (and the fishing euphemisms) a little wider, both location- and time-wise, produced a baptism for an Edward Foster on 13 November 1774 at Egginton, a parish seven miles to the south-west of Derby, the son of Edward and Anne Foster.

Image courtesy of Frank Wattleworth
Marriage: Edward Foster & Ann Haward, 7 June 1774, Egginton
Click image to enlarge

Further research reveals that Edward Foster senior's wife, whom he married at Egginton in 1774, was Ann Haward, Heyward, Hayward or Haywood (but never Howard), baptised on 25 February 1753 at Egginton, one of six children of Robert and Ann Heyward. This is almost certainly the family of our Edward Foster, given the number of coincidental facts.

Ann Haywood senior was buried at Egginton on 12 September 1798. Her children were born between 1750 and 1763 so, given the oldest likely age of child bearing in the 18th century was about 45. Her earliest possible date of birth was therefore c.1718, and she is unlikely to have been more than 81 years old when she died, a far cry from the 103 years claimed by Robinson.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Henry Howard (1628-1684), 6th Duke of Norfolk

If her husband Robert was of a similar age, even give or take a couple of decades, the only Duke of Norfolk of that era to have been producing children was the 6th Duke, who died in 1683/84. The 7th, 8th and 9th Dukes died without issue, and the 10th was only born in 1720. The chances of his being a Howard of that family are, in my view, very slim indeed!

Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Foremarke Hall, 1805, seat of Sir Robert Burdett, 5th Baronet

Was Edward Foster senior ever land steward to Sir Robert Burdett, 4th Baronet, of Foremark Hall, Derbyshire? After all, the dates seem to fit, and Foremarke Hall is only four miles to the east of Egginton. I believe he was probably born in nearby Doveridge in 1748, so would have been in his mid-20s by the time Edward junior was born. In 1791, Burdett's land steward in Foremark was Robert C. Greaves, Esq. (Universal British Directory, 1791), and by 1821-22 William Crabtree was performing that duty (Pigot's Derbyshire Directory, 1821-1822). However, Foster's father may well have been the incumbent at some other time between those dates. This awaits further research, perhaps in the extensive collection of Burdett papers at the Derbyshire Record Office. A quick look at the catalogue contents, for example, reveals the names of further agents John Brand (1783), Benjamin Redfern (1783-1789) and Robert Banton (1808-1816), but no sign of Foster.

In the celebratory speech given by Adams in 1862, which I think we can now assume was based largely on information supplied by Foster himself, he boasted of having been married five times, and to have fathered 17 children, with the oldest daughter born c.1784. The last of these claims is obviously unrealistic, if we now accept that he was born in 1774, and would have been a mere 10 years old at the time. While I have only found evidence for two children, I accept there may well have been several others.

Image courtesy of
Marriage: Edward Ward Foster & Isabella Magdalene Graham, 22 December 1841, Islington

  • Edward Ward Foster was probably born at Scarborough, Yorkshire around 1819, son of Edward and Elizabeth Foster. He married Isabella Magdalene Graham at Islington in 1841, died in Peckham and was buried at Nunhead Cemetery, Linden Grove, Southwark on 3 May 1851.
  • Phillis Howard Foster was born at Barony, a suburb of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland on 2 November 1852 and baptised on 13 June 1855 at the High St Presbyterian or Unitarian Chapel in Portsmouth, Hampshire, daughter of Edward Foster and Margaret Mothersill (IGI). After Foster's death she moved to Southport, Lancashire but was back in Derby visiting in April 1881 and married Matthew Brunskill soon after. They had five children, and lived in Barrow-in-Furness, Waterloo and then Liverpool, where he was a grocer's assistant and coal merchant's agent. Phillis Howard Brunskill died in 1927, aged 74.
Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Death: Eliza Foster, The Derby Mercury, 4 August 1847

Edward Foster had married Margaret Mothersill, the mother of his youngest child, at Manchester in late 1851, the 1851 Census having described him as a widower. Four years earlier, a report in The Derby Mercury stated, "DEATHS. On Tuesday, July 27, in London, Eliza, the beloved wife of Edward Foster, Esq., formerly of St. John's Terrace, Derby, aged 67." It seems likely, given her age, that she was the Elizabeth Ward that Edward Foster married at St Margaret's, Leicester on 10 October 1818, and was presumably the mother of Edward Ward Foster.

Image courtesy of
Death of General Abercrombie at Alexandria, 28 March 1801

Military Service

While Edward Foster may have served in a Derby militia of some kind, if he was born in 1774 then his stated military service as a lieutenant with the 20th Regiment of Foot in America and Holland was impossible. I confirmed that the 20th Regiment were in Minorca in early 1801, travelled to Egypt in June that year, and went to Malta in September. I also found a note that 80 men suffering from ophthalmia were sent back to England. He would have been 25 for the expedition to Egypt, but it is physically impossible that he witnessed General Abercrombie's death in the moment of triumph at Alexandria, since that event occurred on 28 March, prior to the regiment's arrival in Alexandria. Nor have I have been able to find any record of his service with that regiment. It seems to me to have been a complete fabrication.

Image courtesy of
Rev Guthrie at Ragged School, Princes Street, Edinburgh, 1851

Ragged Schools

The Ragged Schools movement has been fairly well documented in a number of texts, but I've been unable to find any mention of either Edward Foster or his son, who described himself as an "Author Lecturer & Professor of Elocution &c." in the 1851 Census, having a prominent role in their promotion or growth.

Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement in The Hull Packet, 26 December 1809

Miniature Painter and Royal Patronage

Mention is made of two "water-colour miniatures" and a miniature of a lady signed in ink on the reverse "Edward Foster / York" and dated 1803 by Daphne Foskett in Miniatures: Dictionary and Guide (1987). He is also mentioned in Harry Blättel's International Dictionary of Miniature Painters, Porcelain Painters, Silhouettists (1992). Once again, I've been unable to find any contemporary evidence of supportive this claim of patronage. He did, however, include a royal coat of arms in some of his advertisements, such as the 1809 example above, which also claims "By His Majesty's Royal Letters Patent."

Image courtesy of Gale CENGAGE Learning
Advertisement in The Leeds Mercury, 17 June 1809

Invention and Patent of Profile-Taking Machine

The first indisputable contemporary evidence found during this study of Foster's commercial artistic activity is an advertisement that he placed in The Leeds Mercury of 17 June 1809. The words "By His Majesty's Royal Letters Patent" suggest that a Royal patent had been granted for the newly invented machine for sketching profiles in a short space of time, accurately and in great detail, although Foster in this particular case neither implicitly states that he was the inventor of the machine nor the grantee of the patent.

Image courtesy of
Patent application for physiognotrace by Schmalcalder, 1806

Later descriptions of the machine render it likely to have been a pantograph, which had been invented at least some two centuries earlier, or at the least an adaptation of one like the physiognotrace, but was perhaps not in common everyday use. Cynthia McKinley described a similar process in use by profile miniature artist James H. Gillespie, who also claimed to have invented a "new optiocal contrivance" which enabled him to draw likenesses in one minute. Although I have not carried out a search at the British Patent Office, I think it rather unlikely that such a patent in Foster's name exists.

Conclusion & Foster's Legacy

I believe the clue to all of these stories lies in the series of four educational charts which Foster was hawking for the last decade of his life. He stated in 1862 that these had been compiled by him at the British Museum, covering histories of the scriptures, England, France, Rome and the British Empire. It is my view that he developed his own "early history" during this voyage of discovery, and used it to good advantage in the years following. As his friend John Haslem stated in 1882, "He was a good hand at spinning a yarn, and in doing so appeared at times to draw somewhat on his imagination."

Image © and courtesy of Peggy McClard Antiques & Cynthia McKinley of Wigs on the Green

So, after that hatchet job, what remains of Edward Foster's legacy? He is unlikely to have had noble ancestry, he does not appear to have served in the miltary, probably never had royal patronage, let alone a royal appointment, and did not live to be a hundred (he was ninety years old when he died). For me it is his fine body of work that stands out, dozens - perhaps hundreds - of gilt-tinged black and reddish brown silhouettes in public and private collections, most signed simply below the bust with "Foster Pinxit" (Foster painted it) and a date, and a good proportion with the trademark "Foster & Crown" brass hanger. If you have a Foster silhouette in your collection, I'd very much appreciate seeing a scan or photograph of it, and if you would be happy for it to be shared via this blog, so much the better.

Sepia Saturday 100: Edward Foster, Part 4 - Growth of a Legend

Turning one hundred is an event to be celebrated with much fanfare, whether one receives a traditional letter from the Queen - in the case of the United States, it's the president - or prefers a more muted affair. Alan Burnett's Sepia Saturday series marks its hundredth weekly post this week, with many thousands of historical images and supporting words submitted as part of the weekly themes over the last two years.

Although I've only participated in slightly under a third of those, I've been following the series for a good deal longer. The contributions from all over the world, by participants from a variety of backgrounds, have given me a great deal of enjoyment, as well as providing a very useful regular flow of ideas for my own blog. Congratulations to the originators, Alan and Kat, and to all contributors. By the way Alan, what happened to the first ten in the series?

Image © & courtesy of Virginia Silvester
Edward Foster, Derby, 8 November 1864
Carte de visite by John Burton & Sons, Derby
Image © & courtesy of Virginia Silvester

In three previous Photo-Sleuth articles (Parts 1, 2 and 3) I have talked about the lengthy and intriguing life of Derby celebrity Edward Foster, silhouettist and publisher of educational charts. From c.1808 until at least the mid-1830s he established something of a reputation as a silhouette artist, leaving an impressive residue of work with portraits still valued in collections all over the world. In the 1840s and 1850s, he turned to the compilation and publishing of various educational aids, including scholastic charts. He spent much of his time travelling throughout the British Isles selling these - even in his old age, he was a sprightly fellow.

For much of his life he had made Derby his home town, and on 8 November 1862 a congratulatory dinner was held in honour of "a gentleman who has attained to the ripe old age of one hundred." Thomas Clarke, the town's new mayor, various town councillors and other town worthies were among the 38 guests, while the editor of The Derbyshire and Chesterfield Advertiser, the local Liberal newspaper, Henry Adams proposed the toast of the evening:
Our juvenile friend who sits on my right, looking more like a young Archbishop than a centenarian, betrays no signs of rapidly failing health, notwithstanding a life of great activity and vicissitude. Born on the 8th of November, 1762 - in the first American war, many years ago, he joined the militia [as an ensign], and when the French revolution broke out he went to Egypt with Gen. Abercrombie, and at his death Mr. Foster returned home with 104 men all more or less afflicted with ophthalmia. His friends persuaded him to leave the army, which he did on the day Nelson died.
Being of an active turn of mind, and having also a taste for the fine arts, he in the first instance invented and patented a machine ; and, in the second instance, he turned his attention to the fine arts.
At the death of his son he took to the publishing trade, having compiled some charts, many thousands of which have been sold to clergymen and other ministers, and have found ready acceptance in public and private schools ... our guest has been the husband of five wives, that he has seventeen children, that the first born, if now living, would have attained her 78th year, and that the last and only one which has been left, we hope, to solace and comfort him in his declining days, only a few days ago celebrated her 10th birthday.
Thomas Rose, timber merchant and future mayor, continued:
... many persons had expressed their surprise that their guest was so old a man, but for himself he was not at all surprised, for, judging from the conversations he had had with Mr. Foster, he had found him to be a history within himself - a sort of walking encyclodpaedia.

The Derby Mercury, 15 March 1865

Although he continued to actively tour, Foster appears to have experienced a downturn in sales of his educational aids, and by late 1863 was in such "straitened circumstances" that the Mayor of Derby applied for and was granted £60 from the Royal Bounty Fund for his benefit. The visit to John Burton & Sons' photographic studio in Derby took place in November 1864. His financial situation did not improve, and a further subscription for his benefit was called for by the proprietors of The Derby Mercury and The Derby Advertiser in January 1865. By then, he was ailing rapidly, and he died on Sunday 12th March 1865.

The Derby Mercury, 22 March 1865

Ten days later The Derby Mercury carried a report of his funeral at the New Cemetery in Nottingham Road, Derby on Thursday 16 March.
On Thursday last the remains of Mr. Edward Foster, 'the Derby centenarian' were interred at the new cemetery. The ceremony was conducted by the Rev. W. Oates, and was witnessed by many friends.
Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of
from Derbyshire Gatherings by Joseph Barlow Robinson, 1866

It did not take long for the legend of Edward Foster to take hold. Just a year later, in April 1866, Bemrose and Sons of Derby published a handsome volume entitled Derbyshire Gatherings; a Fund of Delight for the Antiquary, the Historian, the Topographer, the Biographer, and the General Reader, by sculptor and author Joseph Barlow Robinson. This included a section on several "remarkable and eccentric characters," the first of whom was "Mr. Edward Foster, the Derby Centenarian." As can be seen from the full text of this article (transcribed PDF), the biographical notes elaborated considerably on those presented by Henry Adams in Foster's birthday speech, and included several plaudits in prose and verse written during Foster's lifetime.

Reputed self portrait by Edward Foster (Bailey, 1907)

In 1882 a brief mention was made by contemporary John Haslem of Derby of Foster's silhouettes, his longevity and, curiously, his being a "good hand at spinning a yarn, and in doing so appeared at times to draw somewhat on his imagination." An article in a 1907 edition of The Connoisseur, An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors outlined Foster's background, made specific reference to his career as a miniature painter, and included a reputed self portrait by him, in the form of a miniature in a cameo frame - reproduced above - although the source was not given. The author claimed to have "gathered and authenticated" information from Foster's sole surviving daughter, then "living in a suburb of Liverpool, in poor circumstances."

By the time knowledgeable silhouette collector Emily Nevill Jackson published the first significant text on that art form in 1911, Foster's body of work had become sufficiently well known to warrant a siginificant mention. Desmond Coke's The Art of Silhouette, published two years later, espoused the view that Foster was not sufficiently appreciated for his innovative techniques. More recently McKechnie (1978) has written what is possibly the most complete account of Foster's career as a profilist, with a detailed study of extant works, advertisements and trade labels. The biographical material included appears to be a conglomeration of those from the earlier works mentioned above.

Writers of Derbyshire history have also paid periodic attention to Foster over the last century and a half since his death. John Woodiwiss' 1962 article, timed to coincide with the bi-centenary of Edward Foster's birth date, consisted of a re-hash of Robinson's Derbyshire Gatherings biography, a description of some of his extant red and black profiles, and illustrations of three examples from his personal collection. Most recently Peter Seddon has reprised the subject in 2009, with a number of fine illustrations of Foster's work and a well written article, but no new biographical information.

Image © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Edward Foster's grave site, Nottingham Road Cemetery, Derby, 2011
Image © & courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

Even to this day, visitors on a tour of Derby's Nottingham Road Cemetery are shown the site Edward Foster's unmarked "pauper's grave," and regaled with the legend of Derby's much lauded centenarian.

So much for the legend. In the concluding article (Part 5) of this rather drawn-out series, which I intend to also publish this week, I will investigate the nature of this legend, and address some of the uncomfortable discrepancies in the various accounts of his life.


Anon (1862) Congratulatory Dinner to a Centenarian, The Derby Mercury, 12 November 1862.

Anon (1863) Mr. Edward Foster, the Centenarian, The Derby Mercury, 2 December 1863.

Anon (1863) Death of Mr. Edward Foster, The Derby Mercury, 15 March 1865.

Anon (1882) Silhouettes, or Black Profile Portraits, Notes and Queries, April 1882, s6-V (121) : 301 - 320

Bailey, J.T.H. (1907) Edward Foster, the Centenarian Miniature Painter, in The Connoisseur, An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors, Vol. XIX (September-December 1907), p.120,

Coke, Desmond (1913) The Art of Silhouette, M. Secker, 230p.

Haslem, John (1882) Silhouettes, or Black Profile Portraits, in Notes & Queries, Oxford University Press, 6th S. VI. July 15, 1882, from Google Books.

Jackson, Emily Nevill (1911) The History of Silhouettes, The Connoisseur, London.

Jackson, Emily Nevill (1938) Silhouettes - Notes and Dictionary, Methuen Ltd., Republished 1981 as Silhouettes - History and Dictionary of Artists, New York: Dover Publications, 154 p., 103 pl.

McKechnie, Sue (1978) British Silhouette Artists and their Work, 1760-1860, London: Sotheby Parke Bernet, 799p.

Robinson, Joseph Barlow (1866) Derbyshire Gatherings: A fund of delight for the antiquary, the historian, the topographer, the biographer, and the general reader, London: J.R. Smith, 106p, (Mr. Edward Foster, The Derby Centenarian, p. 81-84), Internet Archive (Transcript by Brett Payne, PDF).

Seddon, Peter (2009) Edward Foster: A Master in Profile, Derbyshire Life, July 2009, p.170-173.

White, Francis (1857) History, Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Derby, courtesy of Neil Wilson

Woodiwiss, John (1962) Edward Foster: Derby Silhouettist and Centenarian, Derbyshire Countryside, 8 Nov 1962.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Sepia Saturday 99: Brass bandsman, by J.J. Gascoigne of Mosborough

Image © and courtesy of Brett Payne
Unidentified bandsman with cornet, c. late 1890s
Cabinet portrait by J.J. Gascoigne of Mosborough
Image © and courtesy of Brett Payne

In the 1890s and early 1900s, when this portrait was probably taken, Mosborough was a small hamlet a mile north of Eckington church, south-east of Sheffield. I thought his uniform might suggest that he was a member of a military band, perhaps even a local militia, but a knowledgeable member of the Victorian Wars Forum has suggested that he was more likely to have been a civilian bandsman. The instrument appears to my untrained eye to be a cornet, but perhaps a sharp-eyed and more musically minded reader will provide the chapter and verse on this. Nor can I offer much in the way of useful comments on the rather large sheepskin or the small dog seated very obediently at the bandsman's feet.

Image © and courtesy of Brett Payne
Image © and courtesy of Brett Payne

The painted backdrop is rather crude, suggesting a somewhat earlier time period than the rest of the portrait's attributes, in particular the card mount, which is a typical generic "flowers and cherub" design popularised in the mid-1890s. The photographer's name is only printed on the front of the card mount, and has been partly worn off, but reference to my index of Derbyshire photographers shows him to be J.J. Gascoigne (or Gascoyne) of Mosborough, near Sheffield.

John Joseph Gascoigne was born at Bolsover, Derbyshire in 1875, son of a chimney sweep Enoch Gascoigne (1838-1916) and his wife Matilda Godfrey (1843-1916). He married his first cousin Matilda Esther Godfrey (1873-1969) in 1896, and they had at least four sons. John Gascoigne was described only as a chimney sweep, like his father, in the 1901 and 1911 censuses, but trade directories reveal that he practised as a photographer from his home in South Street, Mosborough from at least 1908 until 1912.

Although I haven't had the opportunity to devote as much time as usual to this week's Sepia Saturday theme, I think it does still qualify as a themer. Hopefully a lot more will be forthcoming for the centenary celebration next week.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Sepia Saturday 98: Cart, Coach and Carriage Drivers and the Day Excursion

Image © and courtesy of Marion Oubhie
Reverse of card mount by George Renwick, Burton-on-Trent
Image © and courtesy of Marion Oubhie

Marion Oubhie sent me an image of an unidentified man, possibly from her Showell family, asking if I could estimate a date. It is a standard carte de visite by the Burton-upon-Trent (Staffordshire) studio of George Renwick. From the design of the card mount (see image below) and the negative number, I believe that the photograph was produced around 1883-1885.

Image © and courtesy of Marion Oubhie
Unidentified man with a whip, c. late 1870s/early 1880s
Carte de visite portrait by George Renwick, Burton-on-Trent
Image © and courtesy of Marion Oubhie

The date of the portrait sitting is a little more difficult to estimate, partly because the studio setting and furniture are not visible, but also because my knowledge of the subject of men's clothing fashions is meagre. It is possible that the subject sat for the portrait in the early to mid-1880s, as suggested by the mount, but I think it more likely that it is actually a copy of a slightly earlier photograph, taken perhaps in the mid- to late 1870s. Perhaps the man visited a studio first in the late 1870s, and then ordered a further copy of the portrait half a dozen or so years later.

I was intrigued with the object in the man's right hand, which appears to be a whip and suggests an occupation involving driving a team of horses or draft animals. He was probably a wagon, coach or carriage driver. Marion's Showell ancestors were agricultural or brewer's labourers and farmers, so it seems likely that this man drove a wagon transporting farm produce or supplies for the brewing industry in Burton.

Image © and courtesy of Linda Snyder
William Mottram and his daughter Sarah, c. late 1860s/early 1870s
Carte de visite portrait by John Clark of Matlock Bath
Image © and courtesy of Linda Snyder

These two images sent to me by Linda Snyder, and taken by Matlock Bath photographer John Clark, portray an occupation which is far less equivocal. William Mottram (c.1813-1879) is shown as an ostler in the 1861 Census, and as a labourer ten years later, but Linda tells me that he was employed as a coachman at the time these portraits were taken.

Image © and courtesy of Linda Snyder
William Mottram, c. late 1860s/early 1870s
Carte de visite portrait by John Clark of Matlock Bath
Image © and courtesy of Linda Snyder

The clothing certainly gives that impression, with the short ornamented jacket, top hat and leather riding boots. He also has a special leather side flap fastened with buckles to the outer side of his lower right leg, presumably to protect his boots, clothes and calves from the horses harness or something similar. I'm sure there's a name for these, something like leggings or chaps, although neither of those terms seem to quite fit this item.

Image © and courtesy of Linda SnyderImage © and courtesy of Linda Snyder
Reverse of card mounts, John Clark of Matlock Bath

Although clearly taken at the same sitting the card mounts used for these two portraits are different. Together with the studio setting and clothing and hair styles of the young woman, the card designs suggest to me that the portrait was taken in the late 1860s or very early 1870s. Sarah would have turned 18 years old in late 1871 or early 1872.

Image © and courtesy of Ann Bruce

The last image in this series was sent to me by Ann Bruce, whose great-grandparents James and Ann Smith (nee Gosling), he standing up in the carriage, are about to head off on a day's excursion from Aberystwyth. They lived in Smethwick, near Birmingham so would have travelled by train to the coastal town in north Wales, and stayed in a hotel there before taking the excursion. Unfortunately the driver is mostly hidden by a passenger in the front seat anxious to show his best side to the camera.

From the size of the "leg of mutton" sleeves of the dresses that the two visible women members of the party are wearing, I estimate the photograph to have been taken in the mid-1890s. The number "935" appears to have been written in black ink on the negative, this printing out white on the print. The photographer is likely to have handed out tickets with this number printed to members of the excursion party, and they would no doubt have been able to buy a print upon their return, much as Bailey did in Bournemouth between the wars (Sepia Saturday 92: All Aboard the Bournemouth Queen). It also suggests that the photographer was a regular habitue of excursion parties, and it may well be that there are other such photographs surviving out there. Actually, I'm being somewhat disingenuous, because I have already featured an Aberystwyth excursion photo by Gyde, using an identical card mount, and with the negative number "1139," on Photo-Sleuth three years ago.

I see there is a second, as yet unoccupied, horse drawn carriage behind the first, presumably waiting for the next party to arrive, and I suspect that the large, double storey building in the background was some sort of inn or hotel. There is something behind and to the left of the main carriage, but I can't work out exactly what it is. The printing on it, "THE DE... WATER ... AND G..." is tantalising, but as yet unrevealing.

Thank you very much Marion, Linda and Ann for these excellent examples of occupational photographs, which have slotted nicely into my take on this week's Sepia Saturday theme. I trust you will now head over there to check out what the other slaves to sepia have on offer.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Crystoleum: Bringing the Art of Photo Colourisation into the Home

Crystoleum sounds like the name of a Victorian fairground attraction, an entrance for which you might expect to see between Strange and Wilson's Aetherscope and the helter skelter. In fact it was another of the many photographic formats which appeared in the 1880s and 1890s and enjoyed a period of popularity which lasted until the Great War.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Edith and Maud Barnes of Ashbourne, c.1883-1885
Cabinet card portrait by Alfred Cox & Co., Nottingham
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

This is a standard cabinet portrait, showing Edith and Maud Barnes dressed for a stroll in the noon day sun, complete with fake boulders and a landscape backdrop to complete the outdoors scene. Although they lived in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, where their father William Barnes was an ironmonger, it appears the family visited Nottingham frequently, because several of their photographic portraits were taken at the studio of Alfred W. Cox & Co. Edith was born in mid-1877, Maud roughly two years later, which places this portrait sitting around 1883-1885.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
"Bamboo and Fan" card design by Trapp & Münch, Berlin
Cabinet card by Alfred Cox & Co., Tavistock Chambers, Market Place, Nottingham

Turning over the cabinet card reveals a design printed on the reverse which is very similar to "Bamboo and Fan" from Marion of Paris, described by Vaughan (2003) as introduced in 1884, although this particular example is by Trapp & Münch of Berlin.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The card stock used is of a medium intensity grey colour and has the appearance of having been made from recycled pulp in which the darker fibres are still visible, as shown above, of a type which became more commonly used in the mid-to late 1880s.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Edith and Maud Barnes of Ashbourne, c.1883-1885
Colourised cabinet card portrait by Alfred Cox & Co., Nottingham
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

A second cabinet portrait, taken from the same negative, is likely to have been produced on the same occasion. The card mount is identical - albeit this one has not been trimmed at the base - but it shows signs of having been hand coloured. Although somewhat faded, the yellow in the hair, pink cheeks and dresses, brownish fur and red hat bands and cloth are still visible. The studio did, after all, bill themselves as "Photographers Miniature & Portrait Painters," and had offered "portraits in oil or crayon" from at least the early 1870s.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Edith and Maud Barnes of Ashbourne, c.1883-1885
Crystoleum portrait on glass
Photograph by Alfred Cox & Co., Nottingham
Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The third in this series of similar portraits, while appearing in this image to be somewhat similar, bar the different colouring, is quite another format altogether. Closer examination of the original shows it to have been printed on the back of a slightly convex rectangular piece of fully translucent glass, roughly the same size as the original cabinet card.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Recycled carboard backing of crystoleum portrait

This is backed with a piece of card, apparently reused from an unwanted cardboard-backed print of an engraving, possibly of some European city. (Full marks to the first reader who can tell me what city it is, although it's not likely to have much relevance to this post).

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Colourised back of crystoleum portrait

Carefully separating the cardboard from the glass, the owner (not myself) revealed a rather surprising picture, appearing similar to the efforts of a young child in a "paint-by-numbers" book. It was obvious, though, that the colours of this crude picture on the concave side of the glass matched perfectly those visible through the convex side and were, in fact, directly responsible for the not altogether displeasing colourised portrait.

Image courtesy of Google Books
Section of Crystoleum (Jones, 1911)

This portrait is a crystoleum, a format distinct from the crystalotype, an albumen-on-glass process patented by the American John Adams Whipple in 1850, used first for negatives and later for positives. The clearest description I have found of the process involved in producing a crystoleum portrait is by "P.R.S." in Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography (Jones, 1911), which includes the following brief summary:
A is the front glass, on which a photograph B is pasted face downwards. When dry the photograph is made transparent, and delicate details coloured with ordinary oil colours, but the broad masses of colour are not put on. Another glass D, of the same size and shape as A, as put at the back, but is prevented from touching the photograph by means of strips of paper H, which leave a small space at C. On the back E of the second glass are painted the broad masses of colour. The whole is backed up with a piece of flat cardboard or other backing G, leaving a space F. When viewed from the front the coloyrs are seen through the transparent photograph and the whole has the appearance of a delicately painted picture on glass.

Image © and courtesy of Whitman et al (2007)
Disassembled crystoleum portrait (Whitman et al, 2007)

Whitman et al (2007) show a disassembled crystoleum portrait (above) and describe the process:
The Crystoleum process was popular from the 1880’s until the 1910’s, and was usually a albumen print face-mounted to convex glass with gum or paste. The paper is then rubbed away with sandpaper until the emulsion layer is exposed. What was left of the paper was made translucent, if needed, with a dry oil, wax or varnish. The fine details were then painted on the back of the photograph, a second piece of convex glass that has been broadly coloured is layered behind the image glass, and the package is bound with a paper backing.

Image © and courtesy of Nordiska museet/The Nordic MuseumImage © and courtesy of Nordiska museet/The Nordic Museum
Crystoleum portrait of unidentified young girl, undated
Chromo-Photographie, Jules Delarue, Genève
Image © and courtesy of Nordiska museet/The Nordic Museum

This crystoleum portrait of a young Swiss girl from the Nordic Museum, also usefully disassembled, has the same components, and the web site provides an image showing the back of the front glass with the "fine details" (below).

Image © and courtesy of Nordiska museet/The Nordic Museum
Crystoleum portrait, back of front glass and front of second glass

The first mention of the crystoleum that I have been able to find in the British newspapers is an advertisement in The Morning Post in June 1882 offering "Lessons given in this new and easily acquired Art of Painting in Oils. Proficiency guaranteed or money will be returned," in Oxford Street, London. This suggests to me that, provided one had an albumen print with which to work and the materials, which could readily be had at the local chemist, no great artistic skills were required to transform the photograph into a work of art.

Image © and courtesy of Nordiska museet/The Nordic Museum
Crystoleum portrait, back of second glass and front of backing card

Indeed by July 1885 the process was being described in full for readers of The Observer (Anon, 1885). It took another decade for it to reach such far flung parts of the Empire as New Zealand, but in August 1896 residents of Dunedin were regaled with details of how to participate in the delights of the "crystoleum craze" by an enthusiastic contributer to the Otago Witness (Anon, 1896).

Image © and courtesy of Länsmuseet Gävleborg/Gävleborg County MuseumImage © and courtesy of Länsmuseet Gävleborg/Gävleborg County Museum
Crystoleum portrait, unidentified place and photographer, undated
Image © and courtesy of Länsmuseet Gävleborg/Gävleborg County Museum

As shown by this scene of a country estate, perhaps somewhere in Sweden, the crystoleum process was not limited to portraits, and could be used to very good effect on landscape photographs.

The portrait of Edith and Maud Barnes was taken in the early to mid-1880s, which roughly equates to the period when the crystoleum started to become popular, transforming into something of a do-it-yourself style process. The Barnes crystoleum may of course have been created some time after the original cabinet cards, but it is interesting to speculate whether it was done by the Nottingham studio of Alfred Cox, or perhaps by a member of the Barnes family. Either is conceivable, and we are unlikely to ever know for sure, unless the reused engraving print can be identified as coming from the Barnes household.

If you have a crystoleum in your own collection, I'd be interested in hearing from you and seeing some images, particularly if the subjects are members your own family. Although it appears to have been very popular in late Victorian and Edwardian times, many examples won't have survived and they may not be very common.


Anon (1885) All About Crystoleum Painting, Observer, Volume 7, Issue 345, 18 July 1885, Page 4, Courtesy of Early Canterbury Photographers.

Anon (1896) A Lesson in Crystoleum Painting (by Cigarette), Otago Witness, 27 August 1896, p.42, Courtesy of Papers Past.

Anon (2009) Victorian Crystoleums - How they were made,

Jones, B.E. (1974) Crystoleums, in Cassell's Cyclopedia of Photography, Ayer Publishing (Reprint of the 1911 Edition by Cassell, London), p. 154-155.

Vaughan, Roger (2003) Dating CDV photographs from the designs on the back: The 1880s Page Two, Victorian and Edwardian Photographs - Roger Vaughan Personal Collection.

Whitman, K., Osterman, M. & Chen, J.-J. (2007) The History and Conservation of Glass Supported Photographs, George Eastman House, Advanced Residency Program in Photograph Conservation, p. 36.

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