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Here is a short intro to this blog,

It has been running now for several years and in that time we have explored the lives of Victorian photographers and the people who sat for their portraits to be taken.

The images on this site represent a wide range of 19th century Victorians from the lower working classes up to Royalty, from both Great Britain and the wider world. Whatever your interest in the world of Victorian photography, be it fashion, social history or even advertising, there is plenty here to interest and possibly entertain you.

You can leave comments, hopefully positive, on what you have seen or contact me for further information about the contents of the blog.

I’m Christine Hibbert and I can be reached at

So welcome to the blog and enjoy!

A Bevy of Beasts

The Lion and the Unicorn, symbols of Britain, often appear as motifs on photographers’ trade cards. The images above show a few of the other members of the animal kingdom to make it onto these little adverts. A stag, a lion, an elephant, a leopard (?), a tortoise and a hive of bees, although the significance of these particular examples is not immediately apparent. The bees as shown on the card of J. Perriman may indicate the hope for a busy, thriving business. Quite what the tortoise shows is uncertain, perhaps his aim was to be slow but steady.

slow bu steady

In search of Mrs Arthy

The image above is one that I recently rediscovered among my collection of 19th century photographs. It was taken by Mr J. Hawke at his studio in George Street, Plymouth, England, around the middle of the 1870s. Someone at the studio had painted in details of the lady’s clothing; her jacket with perhaps a velvet collar and the black ribbon around her neck, from which was hung a golden ornament. The large blue bow may have been part of her apparel or may have been added to enhance the sitter’s appearance.

Unusually, the image had a name and address written on the back. This then was a portrait of Mrs Arthy, The Holt, Alverstoke, Gosport, in Hampshire. It took some time to decipher her surname as it been partly written over and could be read as Artney, Artny or Arthy. However, the census for 1881 confirmed that this was Jane Arthy, aged 39, of the above address but born in Ireland. The same census revealed that her husband, Walter Bridge Arthy, was a chaplain in the Royal Navy and some twenty years her senior. Further research revealed that Jane & Walter were married in Dublin in 1867. With these details as a starting point the search for Jane’s life and times could really begin.

As no children were of the couple were mentioned in 1881, it would be easy to assume that that the marriage of Jane & Walter had been childless. The 1871 census supplied a few more clues to follow up. At this time, Jane had been lodging in Mylor, Cornwall, with a three year old child called Walter Arthy, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia. From this information, it could be assumed that the family were well-travelled and often separated, presumably due to Walter Bridge Arthy’s naval career. By 1881, Walter, the younger, was no longer living permanently with his parents, attending, and boarding, at St Andrew’s College in Berkshire. Young Walter would go on to have an even more illustrious military career than his father.

Meanwhile, Jane’s husband Walter, senior, was still following his naval career, eventually retiring around 1880. He and Jane shared a further 22 years of married life at The Holt in Alverstoke prior to his death 8th August, 1902. Probate was granted to his widow, Jane, to the effect of £697:18s:3d. Jane died in 1926, by which time she was resident in Seaford in Sussex and probate of her estate was granted to her only son, Walter, to the tune of £89:9s:8d

Walter Arthy, junior, had found time to marry Dorothy Mary Blake in 1898, during his distinguished military career. He also travelled widely on service, visiting America, Australia and Gibraltar, amongst others. By 1907 he was a captain in the R.G.A., rising to Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Field Artillery by 1914 and survived the horrors of The Great War. By 1939 Walter, junior, and his wife Dorothy were living the retired life in Seaford but Walter was ready to take on one more challenge in the service of his country. With the advent of World War II Walter signed on as an Air Raid warden, survived yet another six years of war and died in 1955. Probate was granted to his wife Dorothy, to the effect of £2273:13s:3d. And so ended the story of the two Walter Arthys, who had jointly served their country for almost a century. And the story would have remained unknown but for the rediscovered photograph taken all those years ago.

National costume

The idea of this blog was to show a variety of national costumes from photographs in my collection. However, although the collection amounts to several thousand images, these set out below are the only ones that have sitters in national dress. Since most of my collection dates from the 19th century I would have hoped for a more diverse range of costumes but most sitters remain firmly attached to the fashions of the day.

So below are a German lady, a Welsh lady in her distinctive hat, and a Japanese lady in a traditional kimono. The next image shows ten Welsh women, all sporting their tall silk hats, as well as cloaks that may well have been made from Welsh flannel (usually red).

The next photo illustrates what may have been a German peasant costume, while the final image is a postcard from Russia, showing the vibrancy of the embroidered costumes that the couple are wearing. Though few in number, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the past, to see the clothes that our ancestors may have been wearing for centuries before photography was even invented.

Bonnets and Bowlers

In the Victorian era wearing a hat was almost obligatory whenever you stepped outside your own front door. Ladies of the period took most advantage of this unwritten rule. The type of hat would often vary with the age of the wearer. Elderly ladies tended to wear a close-fitting bonnet, tied under the chin with a bow. Younger and more stylish women were free to indulge in a much wider range of headwear, with styles that reflected changes in the fashion of the day.

This lady wears a type of bonnet that would remain in fashion for several decades among older women
Another bonnet, rather more ornately decorated
A later style of bonnet
This example is more of a cap than a bonnet, note the long ribbons hanging down
Probably from the 1880s, this hat is decorated with artificial flowers
This example, 1890s, looks more like a cake than a hat

The bowler hat, as seen in the two examples above, was perhaps one of the most popular styles to ever emerge in Victorian Britain. As is shown, they came in a variety of sizes, if not shapes.The two other men clearly worked in jobs that required some level of uniform, the cap being the usual style adopted for this purpose. The last photograph of the shy little boy illustrates that even children were expected to wear hats. Perhaps this child’s hat was taken off to show off his glossy curls as he poses for the camera. The older boy displays another style of headwear that was popular with Victorians, a form of the Tam o’ Shanter.

All the above photos come from English studios

From the Mediterranean

After a recent holiday on a Mediterranean island, I have chosen several 19th century photographers from the general area as images for this post.

The first two images are cartes from Seville, Spain, and Florence, Italy. The Spanish image is relatively restrained both in subject and presentation, while Italian exuberance is clearly to the fore in Signor Brogi carte. Not only did Brogi take studio photographs, in a variety of formats (diversi formati) but also examples of a religious nature, such as this one, showing the presentation of the Christ Child to the temple.

The second row again illustrates a contrast of styles between Italy and Spain, with the carte from Seville seeming almost minimalist in design. The two final images are the Portuguese cartes of Fonseca & Co, Porto, and Vidal y Fonseca of Lisbon. Vidal & Fonseca also crop up in south America

Spring Flowers

Our garden is full of spring flowers and that provided the inspiration for this month’s blog. Flowers, along with other plants, and birds, were a favourite theme for the ‘carte de visite’ designs of Victorian photographers. As can be seen below, flowery garlands, sprays and bouquets were often entwined around details of the photographer’s studio. Roses, lily of the valley and convolvulus can be identified, which is more than can be said for some of the flowery motifs. Many flowers had a special significance and the ‘language of flowers’ was familiar to many Victorians.

Glimpses of Evidence

As anyone who collects old photographs will know, there is often nothing to tell us either the name of the sitter or the date on which the image was captured. However, the examples below all have inscriptions that tell us something of when, or why, they were taken or who the subject was.

The first row contains three images typical of the 1860s, with ornate backdrops or sturdy Victorian furniture much in evidence. The sitters in the full-length portraits remain anonymous, however.

By the 1870s, the photographer had more varied techniques to hand. Mrs Hunter and small child are photographed in an outdoor setting, with a view of the garden. The photographer who captured Mrs Minchin’s image had forsaken the full length pose and gone closer in on his subject. This three quarter length pose remained in favour into at least the 1880s, as can be seen in the portrait of Frances, who sends photo and love to Sissie.

Eleanor Frean’s portrait illustrates another variation, that of the vignette. She was a member of a famous biscuit making family and more of her story can be seen in the ‘Lives from the Family Album’ section of the blog.

The two remaining images were evidently taken only a month apart in 1884, both in Taunton (in Somerset) but by different photographers. The dates on the backs of each photo are both in the same hand, suggesting some connection between the two sitters. Were they sweethearts, brother and sister, or even husband and wife? As always, with no names to go on, I guess we’ll never know.

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