Thursday, November 22, 2012

Topographical Albumen

If you spend any time buying old photographs then you will almost certainly amass a pile of topographical albumen print photographs from the 1880s onwards. Almost every corner of the globe, it seems, was photographed and then printed for the edification of the tourist. There are probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of scenes of the UK available and, with a few exceptions, where the photographer is important or the subject matter particularly interesting, these photographs make for a very affordable (or, ahem, cheap) collection. If you want to collect other places in the world, your pocket may determine where you can vicariously time-travel to: most of Europe is easy and cheap enough to buy and if you have a particular penchant for Alpine scenery you could certainly put together a very large and extremely inexpensive collection, Alpine and Swiss lake scenes are almost impossible to sell today. India, Sri Lanka, Burma, and Japan were popular but are still very affordable. The real money starts to change hands for Victorian albumen photographs of Hong Kong, China generally and certain early photographers of the American West.

On Tuesday I was at John Nicholson's auction house for their book auction, not actually bidding on books as it happens but on the prowl for any of a number of lots made up of piles of nineteenth century prints, drawings, photographs and ephemera and I was being consistently outbid by the only person in the room younger than me and was about to leave when he got up and walked towards the accounts office, sensing I might actually have a chance at the one or two lots still marked on my catalogue I moved in for the kill and snaffled up a few mixed lots and among them were these photographs. The photographer's ink stamp on the verso tells me they are by J. Daziaro of Moscow and St Petersburg: of all the countries in the world I think this might be the first time I have ever had topographical albumen photos of Russia - and nice that they have been coloured by hand.

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