Thursday, 9 April 2015

Sepia Saturday 274: A Grand Tour of Europe, 1904

Sepia Saturday by Alan Burnett & Marilyn Brindley

A year ago in Vacation Days are Kodak Days I featured a few images from a collection shared with me by Bill Nelson, scanned from a series of nitrocellulose negatives taken by an as yet unidentified amateur photographer on a European tour in 1904, probably using a No 3 Folding Pocket Kodak camera. Most of these high quality shots were taken in locations that were, even in 1904, relatively well known tourist destinations, but with an eye for composition and a technique that betrays not inconsiderable experience.

Today, given this week's Sepia Saturday image prompt of a poster of a coal cart drawn by two horses, I'd like to show you a few more of these images. I was initially struck by how many scenes included carts, carriages, wagons and other vehicles drawn by animals, wondering whether the photographer had intentionally focused on them, but in those pre-motor days, such methods of conveyance were a normal facet of everyday life in Europe, and our photographer would have used at least some of these during his journey.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Horse-drawn omnibuses, London, England, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

The journey appears to have started in bustling London, where the wide and still unpaved streets were full of pedestrians dodging a variety of horse-drawn hansom cabs, carriages and omnibuses, overshadowed by the tall buildings of the city. A deluge of advertisements flood the viewer with admonishments to buy Horlick's Malted or Nestle's Milk and Fry's Cocoa, or to watch the latest show at the Adelphi or Wyndham's theatre.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Organ grinder tableau, possibly in London, England, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

In a quieter suburban street, with a background of sash windows drawn up to let in the languid afternoon air, he captured this engaging image of an organ grinder busy shutting up shop at the end of a day's performances. His hat is perched jauntily on the back of his tousled head, a monkey balances on the organ and his daughter poses between the shafts of the hand cart, totally absorbed by the photographer setting up his apparatus on a tripod. Almost as an afterthought, a pedestrian in a straw boater walking along the pavement, perhaps on her way home from shopping, is momentarily distracted by the tableau.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Suburban scene, possibly in London, England, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

A less well framed, and yet just as charming, scene captured in a slightly upmarket residential area appears to record a visit to a private house. The upstairs windows are neatly framed by chintz curtains and underscored with an ornate wrought iron balcony. A hansom cab waits at the kerb, a horse impatiently champing at the bit and stretching its neck against the pull of the reins, while a group of young boys loitering on the pavement ham it up for the camera.

A woman wearing an enormous pancake hat, so characteristic of the mid-1900s, pauses on the threshold, in front of the already open doorway, while the somewhat disembodied lady of the house and a uniformed house maid peer as if taken unawares over decorated flower boxes through an open window. A scullery maid, caught as if by accident while having an rare break from her daily drudgery, leans wearily against the railings on the steps leading down to the servants' quarters in the basement.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Outside the Blue Ball Inn, Countisbury, Lynmouth, Devon, England, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

In Somerset the photographer visited several locations popularised by Romantic poets, such as in R.D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone (published in 1869), including Lynmouth, Countisbury and Porlock. Here a coach drawn by six horses prepares for departure from the Blue Ball Inn, which still operates to this day as a bed and breakfast.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Donkeys outside the New Inn, Clovelly, England, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

The tiny but picturesque fishing village of Clovelly in North Devon, brought to public attention by Charles Kingsley's 1855 novel Westward Ho! was another destination visited. Its steep cobbled streets, wattle-and-daub cottages, donkeys with pannier baskets and crusty old characters provided fertile ground for photographic procrastinations.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Dog cart in the Netherlands, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

A journey on one of the many ferries crossing the Channel took our photographer to Normandy, where the lives of peasants and fishermen on the pebbly beaches around √Čtretat caught his attention for a while, and then to the Netherlands, where he photographed this young man selling wares from a small dog cart parked in a leafy avenue.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Smock mill Sanssouci Park, Potsdam, Germany, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

The ubiquitous Dutch windmills and canals were photographed too, but it was this huge smock mill in Sanssouci Park, Potsdam (just west of Berlin, Germany) that caught my eye, particularly because of the marked contrast presented by the bizarrely shaped horse-drawn van. Unfortunately I can't quite make out the name of the business painted on its side, and the banner-shaped sign on top is facing the wrong direction, but I wouldn't mind buying a frankfurter or an ice cream from him, should either of those be on offer (perhaps not a frankfurter in Berlin).

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Oxen and wagon, Austria, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

In Austria a group is just visible taking refreshments in the cool shade of a leafy arbour in the village square, although the camera catches a woman washing laundry in the cherub-adorned fountain, while two oxen harnessed to a four-wheeled cart wait patiently nearby.


Possible itinerary for Grand European Tour, 1904

A possible itinerary drawn up for the unknown photographer's 1904 Grand Tour through Europe is somewhat fanciful, given that we don't have a clear picture of the order in which the photos were taken, but it does give an impression of the large amount of ground covered. One of the most intriguing aspects to this story is that a contact print of one of the negatives has been discovered in an archive in Bayreuth, Germany, suggesting that the films were being developed and printed along the way. How would this have been feasible for an amateur in 1904? For an answer to that we must start by looking at the camera which produced these fine photographs.

Image © and courtesy of David Purcell
No 3 Folding Pocket Kodak DeLuxe Camera, modified Model AB, c.1902
Image © and courtesy of David Purcell

118-format roll film, with individual frames measuring 3¼" x 4¼" was introduced by Eastman Kodak specifically for the No 3 Folding Pocket Kodak camera first offered for sale in April 1900. By 1904 this camera was available in its fifth version, the Model C-2, with an array of shutter and lens options. Given the high quality of the images, it seems likely that our photographer was using a recent version with high quality lens and shutter, perhaps similar to the modified AB Deluxe model with Persian morocco leather case, brown silk-covered bellows and an engraved silver nameplate, advertised in the 1903 Kodak catalogue for a pricey $75 (compared with $17.50 for a standard model).

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Negative album and index card for 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format rollfilm
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

The negatives in this collection, some with slightly uneven edges suggesting they were cut using a pair of scissors, are housed in a negative album containing 100 thick paper pockets in a thick green cloth-covered card folder, advertised in Kodak's 1903 catalogue for $1.00 (below).

Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project by Rob Niederman and Milan Zahorcak
Eastman's Negative Film Albums, extract from 1903 Kodak catalogue
Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project

Each 118-format transparent film cartridge with 12 exposures cost 70 cents, and supplies were available from Kodak outlets in, amongst several other cities, London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Vienna. Several dozen rolls must have been used during the trip, since there are multiple negatives in each sleeve.

Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson
Kodak 118-format roll film
Image © and courtesy of Geoff Harrisson

The opening pages of Kodak's 1902 catalogue focused on their daylight-loading film cartridge, which utilised a strip of black paper along the back of the film strip to exclude light, making "pocket photography practical and ... it possible to do away with the dark room in loading and unloading the camera." This technology was already a decade old, invented by S.N. Turner of the Boston Camera Manufacturing Company for his Bull's Eye camera, then licensed and later purchased by George Eastman for the Pocket Kodak range.

Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project by Rob Niederman and Milan Zahorcak
Eastman's Kodak Developing Machine, extract from 1903 Kodak catalogue
Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project

By the time their 1903 catalog was released, however, the emphasis had taken a leap forward as Kodak announced, "The Dark Room is abolished" with the introduction in August 1902 of the Kodak Developing Machine, an idea brought to Eastman a few months earlier by its inventor A.W. McCurdy. The Kodak slogan had made a radical change, from "You press the button, we do the rest" to "You press the button, then do the rest."

Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project by Rob Niederman and Milan Zahorcak
Eastman's Kodak Developing Machine, extract from 1903 Kodak catalogue
Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project

With this tank (the Style E sold for $7.50, which included a wooden carrying case with leather handle) and a Kodak Developing Outfit (containing chemical powders and various other equipment needed, for another $1.60) our photographer would have been set for his expedition. According to The Kodak Story, a press photographer took one of these portable developing tanks with him to the front of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and was able to send developed negatives back to Collier's magazine for quick printing and publication.

Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project by Rob Niederman and Milan Zahorcak
Cover of 1903 Kodak catalogue
Image courtesy of the Digitized Kodak Catalog Project

Even with some presumed failures, our photographer must have been extremely competent, and I think we must examine the motives for this tour. Was he or she merely recording the adventure for posterity, as some snapshots of people in gardens and on board ship attest to, or were some of the photographs intended for some other purpose? Eastman Kodak Ltd sponsored a huge international contest open to amateur photographers, and many of the winners were featured in The Grand Kodak Exhibition, a spectacular travelling photographic show which toured Britain in 1904 and America in 1905.

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
Men and Girl on the Docks, Marken, Netherlands, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

It is possible that our photographer was inspired by seeing this exhibition in England. Compare the images taken in Marken and Volendam in the Netherlands with those graphics used to illustrate Kodak marketing material and it's hard to deny their similarity. With such a serious commitment to photography, some considerable previous experience and, in the light of both contest and exhibition, was our photographer hoping to enter his own photographs in a subsequent competition? Or perhaps there was a hope of selling scenes to a postcard publisher?

Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson
The Streets of Volendam, Netherlands, 1904
Nitrocellulose negative film, 3¼" x 4¼", 118-format
Image © and courtesy of Bill Nelson

Marken, Volendam and Alkmaar have long been tourist destinations, just as they were when I visited my Dutch grandparents in Holland in my youth, and likewise other European destinations like Oxford, coastal Devon, Bayreuth, Potsdam, Prague and Vienna. The itinerary was one already well worn by generations of travellers as attested to by any number of Baedeker guides from that era. A new century in which transatlantic travel was much easier and quicker presented huge marketing opportunities for the firm of Eastman Kodak, and they had already made it clear they welcomed contributions from skilled amateurs.

Acknowlegements

Many thanks to Bill Nelson for the opportunity to study his collection of nitrocellulose negatives and reproduce scans of them, and for an ongoing conversation from which much more may eventually emerge.

I'm indebted to Rob Niederman and Milan Zahorcak for their extremely useful Digitized Kodak Catalog Project, which has cast such light on the background to Bill's collection, not to mention Rob's kind responses to my questions and sharing of his extensive knowledge of the history of old cameras.

Thank you also to David Purcell and Geoff Harrisson for permission to use the photographs of items in their private collections, which help to round out the photohistorical story.

References

Coe, Brian (1978) Cameras: From Daguerreotypes to Instant Pictures, United States: Crown Publishers, 240p.

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

Collins, Douglas (1990) The Story of Kodak, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 392p.

Hannavy, John (Ed.) (2013) Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Routledge.

Niederman, Rob & Zahorcak, Milan (nd )Digitized Kodak Catalog Project

24 comments:

  1. Fabulous. The portable film developing system was very interesting as was the catalog photo of a woman developing the film. Wasn't that a bit "out there" for the times? My favorite photo is your opener showing the crowded vehicles loaded with advertising. The horse poop in the middle of the road adds a touch of reality lest one turns nostalgic.

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    1. Helen - Kodak made a definite push to market their folding cameras to women from as early as the mid-1890s, and to children from 1900, when the Brownie's were introduced. The image of omnibuses in London definitely conveys a good sense of how it must have felt at the time, horse droppings and all.

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    2. Even to children? We weren't allowed to touch ours, so I guess our parents didn't see the ads.

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  2. Wonderful detail in Mr Nelson's photographs, and a great explanation of the photographic process back then. Coincidentally I have a little green negative album that looks just like the one you've pictured. It belonged to my late father-in-law and contains photos from the UK and Australia which he took in the 1940s. Unfortunately my very basic negative scanner doesn't have the right size neg holder for this type of film, so I have to scan each image at least twice to get the full picture. I probably should invest in something better, but will see how it goes at this stage.

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    1. Thanks Jo. I wouldn't mind a photograph of your negative album, please, and details of the dimensions. It would be interesting to know how long they sold such products. If I can see the finer details of yours, I might be able compare it, but I'll have to refer to the catalogues.

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  3. That third photograph is very interesting. How can the flower boxes behind the blur of the moving horse's head be seen so clearly? Shouldn't that all have been a blur? However, what might have been labeled an 'out-take' is actually more intriguing with the horse's ghosty head than it would have been, had it been perfect. And what size is that pocket camera, anyway? I don't think it would fit inside any of my pockets? :)

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    1. Intriguing isn't it - that's how they used to make so-called ghost or spirit photos. The window box is still for the entire duration that the shutter's open, so it appears much sharper than the horse's head, which was moving throughout.
      Yes, "pocket" was stretching it a bit. In the adverts, they show ladies and gents slipping then into enormous coat pockets, as if to prove just this point.

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    2. Gail - the camera is a slightly smaller version of the No 3A Autographic Kodak Special which one of your Pringle sisters was carrying around her neck in that photo of yours I used in March last year, here.

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  4. Thanks for showing us these wonderfully detailed photos. They're the next best thing to time-travel.

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    1. Exactly Wendy, just why they fascinate me.

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  5. I spent a semester interpreting at Rochester Institute of Technology; toured the Kodak Museum many times -- your post took me back there, Brett. LOVE the London street scene, private house shot: Upstairs/Downstairs!

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    1. That would be my dream, Deb, visiting and studying at George Eastman House.
      My sentiments exactly with the upstairs-downstairs shot.

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  6. Interesting post and images. I wish I had had one of those developing tanks back when I was trying to do black and white film photography.

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    1. Thanks Postcardy. Somehow they seem a bit more logical than the developing tanks that I used in the Photography Club at school.

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  7. Another fascinating detective story, Brett, and I had the same thought as Wendy - time travel photos. By a strange coincidence just this afternoon I unpacked boxes of my father's darkroom equipment including several film developing tanks. He even had a couple of folding Kodaks.

    My dad was as entranced with this magical chemistry that captured images as your mystery tourist photographer. Unfortunately his darkroom stuff has limited value today, but his camera and lens collection (300/350+) might bring better. Of course his real treasure are his photos.

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    1. I presume your father's developing tanks were much more recent than this one, Mike. Perhaps limited monetary value, but still important from a historical perspective. I hope you'll be sharing some photos of these items in due course.

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  8. I was just thinking that little developing kit would be handy when I realized that I don't develop film. Very interesting. I especially like those street scenes with horses (and a monkey) at the beginning.

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    1. I hope to be developing some film in the not too distant future, but I think I might just use a more modern kit.

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  9. Just wonderful Brett. I do like the organ grinder one. We had that as a prompt back in the Autumn and it proved very interesting.

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    1. Thanks Marilyn. I missed quite a few, didn't I?

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  10. Thanks for the great collection, Bill. Here is another fun collection from 1906 throughout Europe. Link is to a map of the photos: https://goo.gl/CKFHPy

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    1. Thanks for the link. I presume these are all Photochrom images? A lot of work to geolocate them all!

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  11. Fabulous collection!!!
    On the photograph "Smock mill Sanssouci Park, Potsdam, Germany" the horse cart is from a dairy (Ernst Wirt(?)) in Potsdam, delivering milk to their customers.
    Regards
    Bernd

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