Monday, 9 May 2011

Derby Photographers: Monsieur Emmanuel Nicolas Charles (1827-1863)

Image © and Collection of Brett Payne

This photograph of an unidentified elderly man, seated in the studio E.N. Charles at 2 Midland Road, Derby, looking slightly weary, perhaps after a strenous walk to the studio, and with his top hat on the floor beside him, may be one of the first carte de visite portraits taken in that town.  Although undated, I believe it is earlier than any of the three other examples from this photographer that I have seen.  I’ve come to this conclusion partly from the seated pose, which is much closer to that typically used by photographers in the mid- to late 1850s, the era of the collodion positive or ambrotype.  Sadly, the reverse does not display a negative number, such as the No. 774 shown on the back of what I think must be a slightly later portrait from the same studio.

Image © and Collection of Brett Payne

The design on the reverse, printed in gold ink, shows two cherubs holding flags, a seated lion, a phoenix standing atop a laurel wreath, and a book with the following text: “Album Photo. by Mons. Charles Midland Road Derby.”  I believe the use of the term “Album Photo” may be a reflection of the main use of the carte de visite at that time, in other words intended to be placed in a purpose-designed album, side-by-side with portraits of royalty and other celebrities of the day.

The Derby Mercury, 12 November 1862

A newspaper advertisement from Derby stationers E. Clulow & Sons in November 1862 offers “carte de visite albums, a large stock of new and beautiful patterns just received.”

Emmanuel Nicolas Charles arrived in Derby in 1855 and set up a studio in Station Street with a partner,  possibly chemist James Morris.  Although born in France, he had married a young woman from Leicestershire in 1850, and lived briefly in both Nottingham – where he worked as a journeyman machinist - and Leicester, before settling in Derby.  By late 1856, he was working alone, with premises at 2 Midland Road, as shown by trade directory and census entries from 1857 until 1862.  He died on 29 March 1863, at the young age of 35, leaving his widow Sarah with two young sons.

Sarah Charles reputedly then operated the studio with the help of her husband’s assistant Walter William Winter, but it must have been only briefly, because she married him in the second quarter of 1864.  W.W. Winter took over the photographic studio, and built it up into a successful business which still thrives today.

E.N. Charles could only have been offering carte de visite portraits for a very limited period, perhaps from late 1860 at the earliest until March 1863.  Sarah Charles and W.W.Winter probably continued to use card mounts printed with her late husband’s name until stocks were exhausted, or new designs could be ordered.

In fact, a portrait in the collection of the Derby Local Studies Library taken before November 1865 (shown above) is mounted on a card with Mons. Charles’ name  and a coat of arms on the reverse, but “W.W. Winter, late M. Charles, Photo. Derby” printed on the front.  It seems likely that Winter may have had the remaining stock of cards overprinted not long after taking over the business.  This also provides us with the latest date of commencement of the Winter reign.

Winter continued to use the “late E.N. Charles” on his card mounts until the late 1860s or early 1870s, when a completely new design featuring an engraving of his new studio on the opposite side of Midland Road was introduced.


  1. I never cease to be amazed by your ability to blend real scholarly research with a presentation that appeals to the non-specialist just as much as the specialist.

  2. Thank you, Alan, I appreciate your kind comments. It is, as you know, tricky to find a balance between doing a proper job and providing something that's readable. I hope that I find that spot occasionally.

  3. Wow, what a story. It makes me so curious about Sarah. How tragic to lose a 35-year-old husband. And then to be left with two young children and a business to run. It sounds like it all worked out though. Very thorough research, as always.

  4. Interesting. . . first winter takes over the widow, then the husband's business logo.

  5. I did enjoy this interesting story. Great work you have done. I am not photographic specialist as Alan commented about but curious about vintage photos and stories. Thanks for sharing.


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