Thursday, 25 July 2013

Sepia Saturday 187: Ephemera and the preservation of family photo albums

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett

The image prompt for Sepia Saturday this week gives me an opportunity to look at some of the non-photographic material often found in family photo albums, as well as to show off some of the photo-related ephemera in my collection. Although Victorian carte de visite and cabinet portrait albums contain largely that, i.e. photographic portraits - the purpose-designed sleeves weren't really suitable for flimsy pieces of paper and arbitrarily sized cards - one does often find a variety of family history-related ephemera in them.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Edith Mary Morton's photo album
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This album was an eBay purchase a few years ago. It is in a rather dilapidated state, but in addition to 45 cartes de visite, five cabinet cards and a postcard format photo, the album also contains an ornate baptism card and a printed memorial card.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

An inscription on the front page of the album demonstrates that it was a birthday gift to Edith Morton from her sister Amy.

May 19th 1895
To Edith Morton
With best wishes For a
Happy Birthday
From her sister Amy.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Baptism certificate for Sidney Stephen Sears
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Near the front of the album, and loose between the pages, I found a brightly coloured baptismal certificate for Sidney Stephen Sears, dated April 12th 1903 at St James Enfield Highway, filled in and signed by the vicar, J. Leonard Boulden. The baptismal certificate is of a type that appears to have been used quite commonly in parish churches in the early twentieth century. I have found almost identical examples from as late as 1933. [1,2] Boulden was vicar of St James until at least 1922. [3]

Image © London Metropolitan Archives and courtesy of
Entry in baptism register for Sidney Stephen Sears
Enfield Highway St James, Register of Baptism, Ref. DRO/054, Item 007
Image © London Metropolitan Archives and courtesy of [4]

The entry in the baptism register for St James, archived at the London Metropolital Archives, is in the same handwriting. Not only does it confirm the baptism date, but it also provides the very useful information - not given on the certificate - that Sidney Stephen was born on 16th February 1903, the son of Stephen and Edith Mary Sears of 22 Durrants Road.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Edith Mary Sears, c. 1897-1901
Albumen print (96 x 139mm), probably detached from cabinet card
Attrib. Henry Bown, 31/33 Jamaica Rd & 43 New Kent Rd, S.E. London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Using this information, I was able to identify the owner of the album as Edith Mary Morton (1874-1944). Edith was born in 1874 at Riverhead in Kent, to a railway clerk Frederick William Morton (1843-1891) and his wife Emily Wanstall née Andrews (1843-1896). She grew up with her six sisters and three brothers in Sevenoaks and Deptford in Kent and as a young woman worked as a book folder. [5]

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Stephen George Sears, c.1896-1900
Cabinet card (107 x 166mm) by W.H. Fawn, 13 Evelyn Street, Deptford
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

On Christmas Day 1897 Eadie married Stephen George Sears (1875-1934). They lived at 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Enfield Highway in Middlesex and had three children, Ethel Edith (born 15 November 1898), Helen Amy (born 27 August 1900) and the youngest Sidney Stephen.

Image © and courtesy of John Bradley
Roadworkers in Church Street, Ashover, c.1900-1910
Mounted albumen print by J.J. Shipman of Ashover
Image © and courtesy of John Bradley

Stephen Sears' occupation is listed in various records (marriage, baptisms of children, etc.) as engine driver or engineer, but in 1891 he was employed as a "plowing portable engine boy," i.e. an agricultural traction engine, and by the time of the 1901 census he described himself as a "steam road roller driver." This gives me the chance to re-use this excellent image of a steam road roller at work, albeit in a small Derbyshire village, which I wrote about for Sepia Saturday a couple of years ago. The 1911 Census shows him as an "engineer fireman" working for the District Council.

Image © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett PayneImage © and collection of Brett Payne
Four unidentified women from Edith Sears' photo album
Cabinet cards from the studio of Henry Bown, S.E. London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Sadly, the album doesn't seem to contain photographs of any children that I can identify unequivocally as Ethel, Helen or Sidney. In fact, the bulk of the portraits are of young women dressed to the nines, taken between the late 1880s and the late 1890s, probably Edith's sisters and possibly including some of her friends. There are a few photos of children, but I suspect they are Edith's nephews and nieces.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Frederick William Morton, c. December 1908
Postcard portrait (87 x 138mm) by unidentified photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This postcard addressed to Edith was sent from Toronto, Canada by her younger brother Frederick William Morton in 1908.

124 John St, Toronto, Canada, Dec 8th 12/08.
Dear Eadie.
Just a line hoping you are quite well as it leaves me the same hoping steve and the children are the same and wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year we have got winter here now and the sleighs out with the Bells Jingling and nice frosty air hoping you will know this photo allright I remain your affectionate Brother.
Fred Morton

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Memorial card for Emily Wanstall Morton (1843-1896)
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Also found loose in the album was this memorial card for Edith's mother, who died in August 1896, only fifteen months after Edith had received the photo album as a gift for her 23rd birthday.

Emily Wanstall Morton,
Who died 12th August, 1896,

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Probably Emily Wanstall Morton, c.1892-1896
Carte de visite portrait by Parisian School of Photography, London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

There are two photographs in the album which could be of Edith's mother. This carte de visite portrait shows a middle-age woman dressed in rather heavy clothing, perhaps even mourning dress, and was taken in the early to mid-1890s. Emily was widowed in 1891.

Possibly Emily Wanstall Morton, c.1866-1871
Carte de visite portrait by Hellis & Sons, London
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Another carte de visite portrait, of which there are two similar copies, may also be of Emily. It was printed at one of the Hellis & Sons branch studios, judging by the addresses list on the reverse of the card mount, probably between 1899 and 1901. However, I can tell from the hair, clothing and pose styles, as well as the studio furniture, oval vignetting (a technique commonly employed to hide the edges of the original) and faded nature, that it was almost certainly copied from a much earlier photographic portrait, perhaps taken in the late 1860s or very early 1870s.

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22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Enfield

Sidney died in 1920, aged only 16. For the rest of their lives, his parents continued to love in the same house at Ponders End that they had moved into after their marriage in 1897 [6]. Stephen Sears died in 1934, aged 59, while Edith lived to the age of 70; she died in 1944. Ethel and Helen never married, and passed away in 1976 and 1991 respectively. Presumably the lack of any surviving descendants is what resulted in the album eventually finding its way onto eBay.

Morton-Sears Album

I find it interesting that there don't appear to be any photographs in the album of the Sears family after their marriage, except perhaps the portraits of Stephen and Edith Sears. Why would this be? After a lengthy contemplation of the album's contents I've come to the conclusion that it has survived largely intact since the most recent photograph (Fred's postcard sent from Canada in 1908) was inserted in it. There are some portraits taken after her wedding in 1897, but these are probably of her siblings and their children. Edith may have kept this album as a record of her life prior to becoming a wife and mother.

Image © The National Archives and courtesy of
Sears family at 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, Sunday, 2 April 1911
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of

Even though the album contains very few items with inscriptions - effectively three photographs and a further three pieces of documentary ephemera - I was able to identify the original owner of the album with a high degree of confidence. Using census and birth, marriage and death records, it was then possible to build up an extensive tree of both Edith and her husband's families. Quite apart from generating a list of potential candidates for the remaining photographs in the album, it also enabled me to locate and contact a descendant of one of Edith's sisters.

Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley
Group at front door of 22 Durants Road, Ponders End, c.1915-1920
Loose amateur print by unidentified photographer
Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley

Ron Plumley is the grandson of Edith's sister Emily, and among his Nan's photographs he found this snapshot, which turns out to have have been taken outside the Sears family's front door at 22 Durants Road - compare this with the modern Streetview image above. Although it isn't a very high resolution scan, it's detailed enough to see that the clothing of the woman (at left), the man (at right) and three possible teenagers standing in the doorway equates with the fashions worn immediately before and during the Great War.

I estimate that it was taken between 1915 and 1920 and it's difficult to be sure, but I think this must be the Sears family. Apart, that is, from the man standing at the right, who seems to be too old to be Stephen Sears, then in his early 40s. Perhaps that is Ron's grandfather William Henry Plumley (1869-1919), who would then have been in his late 40s or early 50s, and the Plumleys could have been on a day visit to the Sears family on the northern outskirts of London from their home in Deptford, also in London, but just south of the Thames?

Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley
The Morton sisters: Grace Harriett Jenkins? (1870-1945), Agnes Helen Wright (1882-1947), Amy Maria Morton (1875-1963), Florence Maud Zillwood (1866-1946) and Emily Wanstall Plumley (1872-1958)
Postcard portrait by unidentified photographer, c.1930s
Image © and courtesy of Ron Plumley

Finally, this image also shared by Ron shows his grandmother (at far right) with her sisters. It's quite a contrast with the photographs of the Morton sisters taken four decades earlier, naturally, but they look like they are having a lot more fun.

One day this album will return to a family member, but it is only by a stroke of luck that this has been possible. It could easily have been broken up and offered for sale on eBay as individual photos, as many such albums in a somewhat worn state clearly are. If that had happened, almost all of the photographs would have lost all connection with the provenance, history and genealogy that it has been possible to deduce from them as an intact collection.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

I cannot stress enough how important it is not to break up albums, even if the paucity of documentation suggests there is little chance of identifying the subjects of the portraits, as clues may only become apparent at a future date. Sadly, inevitable financial imperatives will result in the continued dissolution of many such family collections from deceased estates and yard sales via eBay, but we can all do our part to make sure those in our own families do not share the same fate.

I hope you'll join the other Sepia Saturday enthusiasts this week presenting their own family heirlooms, bibles, books, letters and a variety of other ephemera.


[1] Baptism certificate for Hilda Charlson, 12 April 1911, on Hindsford St Anne Parish Page, Lancashire Online Parish Clerk Project.

[2] Baptism certificate for Ian Brackenbury Channell, Easter Day 1933, St Michael's Framlingham, Website of the Wizard of New Zealand.

[3] Licence from Bishop of London to Joseph Leonard Boulden, Vicar of St James, (To officiate in the district chapel of St Peter and St Paul, Enfield Lock, in the parish of St James), The National Archives, Ref. DRO54/45/2, 18 Aug 1922.

[4] London, England, Births and Baptisms, 1813-1906 database, from

[5] 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911 Census records, UK Census Collection from

[6] London, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1965, from

Friday, 19 July 2013

Sepia Saturday 186: Jack and Gill, a Christmas Pantomime?

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett

Although by far the majority of carte de visite and cabinet photographs were run-of-the-mill studio portraits of people in their Sunday best, browsing of old photo collections shows that even from the early 1860s many visited the studio wearing costumes. Some of these are clear representations of a particular character popular on the stage or in folklore, perhaps imitating the copyrighted photographs of actors published in significant numbers which have become sought after collectibles, while others are not quite so obvious.

I have previously written about such portraits from the mid-1880s by Derbyshire photographers Schmidt and Brennen, possibly depicting characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical (Dame Hannah and Ruddigore). Later examples from my collection include group photos with costumes from G+S's The Mikado and Tennyson's poem-play Dream of Fair Women.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
"Jack & Gill," Capt. Marshall & Miss Pepworth, c.1881-1883
Cabinet card by H. Kisch, Maritzburg, Natal, South Africa
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

This week we have a South African couple, he at least dressed in costume, and an inscription on the reverse informs us that the subjects, identified as Captain Marshall and Miss Pepworth, are masquerading as "Jack & Gill." Whether this was for a stage performance - perhaps even a Christmas pantomine - or to attend a fancy dress party, will probably never be revealed. The portrait was almost certainly taken outdoors, although the latticework window, rocks, branches and plants appear to have been at least partly arranged by the photographer. The nature of the "second edge" close to the lower edge of the print suggests to me that it is a copy of a slightly earlier print mounted on card.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Reverse of cabinet card mount by Henry Kisch
with inscription handwritten in black/dark blue ink
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Although the portrait is undated, Bensusan's comprehensive list of South African photographers shows that Henry Kisch operated photographic studios in Maritzburg (now Pietermaritzburg) between 1877 and 1885, after which he moved to Durban. The arrangement on the reverse of the card mount, with a diagonal signature, large ornate initial letters and ivy/scroll work, is typical of the "large letter" designs by Marion Imp of Paris that Roger Vaughan describes as being commonly used in the late 1870s and early 1880s.

Image © and courtesy of David Hill
Captain George Marshall (centre), Pietermaritzburg racecourse, 1890
Image © and courtesy of David Hill

A search on the net quickly led me to David Marshall's family history web pages, which include biographical details of his great-grandparents George Marshall (1850-1921) and Sarah Eleanor Pepworth (1859-1890). After an education at Rugby school, George went into the family business as a timber merchant. From 1873 he served with the Middlesex Yeomanry Cavalry, and in 1878 went with them out to South Africa where they fought in the Anglo-Zulu War in that and the following year.

Image © and courtesy of David Hill
Sarah Eleanor Pepworth, c. late 1870s
Image © and courtesy of David Hill

After the conclusion of the war he settled in Natal and on 4 July 1883 married Sarah Eleanor Pepworth, daughter of a prominent local resident and former mayor, Henry Pepworth, J.P. George started a timber business in Natal, while he and Sarah lived on a farm in the Dargle Valley, in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains. Sarah died in August 1890, a few weeks after giving birth to their second child, and two years later George Marshall returned to England with the two young children, ending their association with South Africa.


Bensusan, A.D. (1963), 19th Century Photographers in South Africa, Africana Notes and News, Volume 15, No. 6, pp. 219-52, from South African Photographers of the 19th Century, on Ancestry24.

David Murray Marshall Hall's Ancestors and their Descendants

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sepia Saturday 185: Ready with the Bulls-Eye, come rain or shine

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett

A couple of weeks ago I used scans of a couple of amateur lantern slides to illustrate an article on Dovedale. This week's Sepia Saturday prompt of a rainy street scene gives me an opportunity to use a couple more from the same set, as well as featuring another recent purchase, a popular box camera which preceded the ubiquitous Brownie by almost a decade.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified couple seated on bench, c.1900-1905
Lantern slide (83 x 83mm) by unknown photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The delightful image depicts a couple enjoying what might have been a quiet glass of beer, seated on a bench outside a pub, if it hadn't started to rain. At least I think the white, nearly vertical streaks must be rain drops; after some deliberation I've decided that if they were merely scratches made during processing, they wouldn't all be roughly the same length (about 10cm). Since rain drops fall between 7 and 18 miles per hour (Source: Yahoo Answers), I estimate that this corresponds with a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/60 second. What has made this photograph possible is the bright, albeit slightly dappled, sunlight which accompanies the light shower of rain. The lack of self-consciousness in this candid snapshot is unusual, considering it was probably taken around 1900-1905.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified group seated on lawn, c.1900-1905
Lantern slide (83 x 83mm) by unknown photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

From what I've been able to tell, the very wide-brimmed and low-crowned straw hats in this second lantern slide were popular shortly after the turn of the century, which correlates well time-wise with the high-collared, wide-sleeved white blouses and long dark skirts. Here a group of three women and a young girl, the last facing away from the camera, are seated on and around a picnic blanket, placed in the middle of a well-clipped lawn surrounded by shrubs and trees. They are boiling a small kettle on a primus stove and a teapot waits patiently on the corner of the blanket. Presumably they're in a private garden, as two chickens can be seen making an appearance from the left hand edge of the picture.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
No 2 Bulls-Eye Kodak
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The image would probably have been produced by contact printing from the original negative onto a thin glass plate, thus producing a positive transparency. Unless a portion of it was masked off - an unlikely scenario, given the composition of the shots - the original negative would therefore have been roughly the same size as the slide. The 83 x 83mm measurements of the square slides equate to the 3½" x 3½" format of 101 roll film and the short-lived 106 cartridge roll holder. The No 2 Bulls-Eye Kodak, originally manufactured by the Boston Camera Manufacturing Company in 1892, but later taken over by Kodak from 1895, was the first camera to use numbered paper-backed roll film. Both this and the No 2 Bullet Kodak, introduced in March 1895 in competition with the Bulls-Eye, used 101 format film, as did a number of other box cameras:

CameraFilm FormatDates of Manufacture
Boston Bull's-Eye3½" x 3½"1892-1895
No 2 Bullet Kodak101Mar 1895-1902
No 2 Bulls-Eye Kodak101Aug 1895-1913
No 2 Eureka106Jun 1897-1899
No 2 Falcon Kodak101Sep 1897-Dec 1899
No 2 Bullet Special Kodak101May 1898-Apr 1904
No 2 Bulls-Eye Special Kodak1011898-Apr 1904
No 2 Flexo Kodak101Dec 1899-Apr 1913
No 2 Plico Kodak101Mar 1901-1913

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Rotary shutter, No 2 Bulls-Eye Kodak
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

Of all these models, the No 2 Bulls-Eye was the most successful, Coe (1988) estimating a total of roughly 257,000 to have been manufactured, and rivalled in sales during the 1890s only by its diminutive cousin the Pocket Kodak, which used the smaller 102 format film. Although I haven't found anything definitive about the rotary shutter used in the Bulls-Eye, other Kodak box cameras were manufactured with shutter speeds of 1/35 to 1/50 seconds, which corresponds well with my calculations of the exposure time using rain drop tracks.

Image courtesy of Royal RussiaImage courtesy of Jos Erdkamp
Bulls-Eye held by Grand Duchesses Olga (left) and Anastasia (right)
Taken by unknown photographer, Imperial Yacht Standart, c. 1911
Images courtesy of Royal Russia & Jos Erdkamp

Jos Erdkamp has a wonderful example of a No. 2 Bull's-Eye Kodak, complete with its original carrying case, a film cartridge, an instruction booklet, and a portrait lens attachment. He has also written an account - unfortunately in Dutch, of his detective work (Erdkamp, 1995) unearthing an intriguing fact, that the Romanov family were amongst the many enthusiastic users of the Bulls-Eye camera.


No. 2 Bull's-Eye Kodak (1896), on Antique Kodak Cameras from the Collection of Kodaksefke.

f/Stops and Shutter Speeds, on The Brownie Camera Page.

RUSSIAN IMPERIAL YACHTS: On Board the Imperial Yacht Standart, on Royal Russia.

Coe, Brian (1978) Cameras: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, United States: Crown Publishers.

Coe, Brian (1988) Kodak Cameras: the First Hundred Years, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Hove Foto Books, 298p.

Erdkamp, Jos (1995) De Romanov Kodaks, in Photohistorisch Tijdschrift, Issue 3 of 1995.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Sepia Saturday 184: Burmese Days

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett and Kat Mortensen

The Sepia Saturday prompt this week is, rather unusually, an image of a bas relief sculpture. I'm stretching the third dimension somewhat, but I think my offering fits the bill quite well.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne
Unidentified man in colonial uniform, Burma, c.1920s-1930s
Loose silver gelatin print (91 x 115mm) by unknown photographer
Image © and collection of Brett Payne

It was the 110th anniversary of George Orwell's birth last week, so what better opportunity to use this loose paper print from my collection. Sadly it has lost all provenance, and I have no idea who the colonial wallah in his solar topee and tropical khaki uniform was, but the inscription on the back clearly identifies it has having been taken in Burma. I estimate it to have been taken in the 1920s and, since Orwell (aka Eric Arthur Blair) served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma from October 1922 until July 1927, they were quite possibly colleagues and may well have known each other.

I've looked at several hundred images of seated Buddhas in arched niches trying to find this particular one to no avail, so I'm hoping that a reader will one day be able to identify where this snapshot was taken.

Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection
No 3 Autographic Kodak Model G
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection

The 3¼" x 4¼" format implies it was printed from 118, 119 or 124 format film, which in turn suggests that the photographer used a roll film camera such as the No 3 Autographic Kodak Model G (above) or the Blair No 3 Folding Hawkeye Model 3 (below).

Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection
Blair No 3 Folding Hawk-Eye Model 3
Image © and courtesy of the Tauranga Heritage Collection

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

I hope you will like this Photo better than the last one it was taken by my mate
the figure by which I am standing is one of the Budhas which the Burmese worship

Eric Blair (back row, 3rd from left), 1923
Police Training School, Mandalay, Burma

In an essay written some years later, Orwell makes it clear that he spent five formative years working in a job he despised, and in a position which left him feeling incredibly uncomfortable.

I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better ... All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty

... when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the "natives," and so in every crisis he has got to do what the "natives" expect of him. He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it.

George Orwell, Shooting an Elephant

The British Club in Katha, Myanmar (Burma)
Image © Aung Shine Oo and courtesy of The New York Times

In 1927, during sick leave in England, Orwell finally made the decision to resign from the service to become an author and never returned to Burma. His experiences there formed the basis of his first major work, Burmese Days and, some would argue, were instrumental in developing the political beliefs which pervaded all of his subsequent work.

... it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it.

George Orwell, Burmese Days

Most have heard of, if not read, Orwell's seminal works, Animal Farm and 1984. If you haven't already done so, I think his lesser known works, such as Burmese Days, Down and Out in Paris and London, Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia are well worth adding to your reading list.


Quotes from Burmese Days by George Orwell, on Goodreads.

Orwell, George (1936) Shooting an Elephant, New Writing, 2, Autumn 1936.

Perlez, Jane (2013) In Myanmar Outpost, a Fading Orwellian Link, The New York Times, 23 May 2013.

George Orwell [The Characteristics of Burmese Days], on Ba Kaung, 17 Oct 2007.
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