Saturday, 10 September 2011

Photographic Ephemera: Posting envelopes and their relevance

Image © and courtesy of Graham Pare
Portrait of young man by Pollard Graham of Derby
Mounted print 250 x 350mm

Last week I wrote in the article "Which sibling is it?" about the importance of dating photographs in the process of identification of subjects. Today I return to this topic with an image sent to me three years ago by Graham Pare, who provided some background to the photograph:
It is the only photo I have from this area - my father's family were from Derbyshire, my great grandfather was Francis Willoughby Pare born Belper 1909 and his father was Robert Stanley Lee Pare, born Ripley 1887 - I guess it could be either of them, depending on your estimated year? There again it could be neither of them!
Image © and courtesy of Graham Pare
Imprint: Pollard Graham & Co, Head Office 108A Friar Gate, Derby
Negative number 68770

My response was as follows:
I believe that it was taken just before or during the First World War, perhaps between 1911 and 1916. This is from a comparison of the young man's clothing with other photos in my collection, as well as the number 68770 which you quoted from the reverse, and which I think must be a negative number. I have a post card photo of my own family by this studio with the negative number 70932, which is accurately dated at 13 Jul 1917, and I think yours must have been taken not too long before this date. I think it must therefore be the father, Robert Stanley Lee Pare, born in 1887, as the son would have been a maximum of seven years old, while the father was somewhere between 24 and 29. Does this fit with any conclusions you might have come to?
Image © and courtesy of Graham Pare
Portrait of young man by Pollard Graham of Derby
Mounted print

Then two years later I heard from Graham again with an update on the portrait:
I have now discovered that it is from my mother’s side of my family and not my father’s, as I originally thought. My brother had the same photo, but smaller, in his collection, and it was still in its original envelope!
Image © and courtesy of Graham Pare
Photograph envelope used by Pollard Graham of Derby

The envelope from Pollard Graham & Co. with Head Offices and Works at 108a Friar Gate, Derby is addressed to "Mr. S. Harding, The Rookery Cottage, Brixworth, Nr. Northampton," with a Derby postmark dated 31 July 1914, and the hand written negative number 68770.
The gentleman in the photo we now believe to be Sidney Harding, my grandfather’s brother. At the outset of WW1, Sidney enlisted as a Private, regimental number 25220, with the South Wales Borderers (formerly 8145 Army Cyclist Corps) at Northampton, where he was working as an engineering apprentice. He spent periods attached to 229 Company Royal Engineers and the Machine Gun Corps. Sid was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, on 4th February 1894 and would have therefore been around 20 years old at the time of this photo.
How nice for Graham to have not only an approximate date for the photograph, but also an address and a positive identification for the subject. I would be a little bit wary about the date, though, because the smaller mounted print posted within the envelope may have been an additional copy ordered after the original portrait had been received.

For me, however, the second portrait and the envelope with which it is associated provide additional information, rarely seen because these envelopes often don't survive.

View Pollard Graham Studios 1878-1932 in a larger map

Firstly it demonstrates that in mid-1914, on the eve of the British declaration of war on Germany, Pollard Graham & Co. was operating, in addition to the Derby studio, seven branches in Coventry, Northampton, Burslem, Longton, Rotherham, Luton and Lincoln simultaneously. This appears to have been the peak of a rapid period of expansion for the firm, commencing around 1904. Between then and 1905 Pollard Graham opened new studios in Peterborough, Burnely, Leigh, Wigan and Northampton. Around 1910, he went into partnership with Albert Hutchinson - hence the "Pollard Graham & Co.." The Peterborough and Burnley branches were closed, followed by Leigh in 1911 and Wigan in 1913, balanced by the opening of several branches in other, presumably more attractive, towns elsewhere in the Midlands.

As discussed in a previous article, lack of business due to wartime hardships quickly caused the closure of all the branches, and the partnership between Graham and Hutchinson was formally dissolved in March 1915. The Derby studio appears to have remained in business for much of the war's duration, judging by the number of portraits of servicemen taken there (see Pollard Graham portfolio), although the number of customers was no doubt significantly reduced.

Image courtesy of Rod Jewell's Yesterday's Derby and its Districts
Environs of 108A Friargate, Derby, c.1912, by F.W. Scarratt
Image courtesy of Rod Jewell's Yesterday's Derby and its Districts

Secondly it indicates that the exposed negatives of portraits taken at the branch studios, in this case the Northampton branch, were sent to the firm's Derby headquarters for printing. I had already suspected this, since they included the words "Head Office and Works" in their card mounts from c.1910 to 1915, and because most, if not all, of the negative numbers used between 1895 and 1922 appear to fit into a single sequence. However, it's good to have confirmation that it was happening in July 1914. Presumably increased efficiencies in the postal service of the time made it feasible, and both economies of scale and the reduced capital requirement for individual branches made it worthwhile.

Sending large numbers of glass plate negatives from around the Midlands by post to the Derby Works in Friargate seems to me a venture fraught with risk. Perhaps I'm underestimating the transport methods available at the time, but I can't imagine that even a small proportion of losses due to breakage would have been acceptable to either the firm or their clients. I wonder, therefore, if they were by this stage using roll film rather than dry-plate glass negatives, rapid developments having been made in roll film technology on the 1890s and early 1900s. Kodak introduced 9 new roll film sizes - from 3½" x 3½" up to 7" x 5" - to the commercial market in 1898 alone. I appreciate that glass plates still provided higher quality prints, and remained popular for some years. It's clear that this subject needs more research, but perhaps a reader or two can help with some in depth knowledge of the cameras used by studios at that time.


  1. Very interesting post, it's good that the envelope came to light, but as with a lot of things, it answers one question and raises another 10 or so :)

  2. your nickname is right!! you are quite the sleuth. i enjoyed this post.


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