British photographic history

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Auction: Alfred Swaine Taylor - new discoveries

Just after last week’s weekly BPH blog reminder email had been sent out Lacy Scott and Knight (LSK), an auction house based in Bury St Edmunds, made contact to let me know that there were four lots of photographic interest coming up for auction on Saturday, 9 December. A quick look suggested they were important early material relating to Alfred Swaine Taylor (AST) (right). Their provenance of Thorne Court, an estate in Bury St Edmonds, confirmed this. Alfred Swaine Taylor's only daughter Edith, married Fred Methold, of Thorne Court, near Bury St Edmunds, and moved there in 1865. The information was duly posted on Wednesday.

One lot included some particularly valuable images, two Mayall stereo daguerreotypes, which I advised LSK that should be described in more detail, although they did appear in the catalogue pictures. More images were supplied to me.  The outcome of the auction was that the four lots sold considerably in excess of their estimates and totalled some £13,950 (£17,298, including 20% buyer’s premium and VAT). My own bids which had been left online, as I was attending the French early paper negatives conference in Paris, were exceeded very easily.  The buyer at this stage is unknown but had an agent bidding in the room on the day.

There is more to the story. A lot sold the previous week in a general sale at LSK also came from Thorne Court. In some ways it was even more interesting than the four on Saturday. It was listed as ‘A large quantity of unframed pictures and prints, to include; etchings, engravings, photographs, monochrome copies etc’. It contained a series of some thirty photographic images, both negatives and positives, camera views and copies of engravings. Many of these were initialled ‘C.T.’, which is very likely to be Caroline Taylor, AST’s wife (left). One other item in the lot was initialled ‘A.S.T.’ suggesting the respective initials indicated ownership or authorship. The earliest photographic image was captioned ‘King's College Chapel, Cambridge, 26 July, 1839’ another was a photogenic drawing of a plant, dated August 1839 (below, left).  One image (below, right) shows a photograph of an engraving cut in to three, with two annotated as ‘restored’ which is discussed in John Werge’s The Evolution of Photography (1890). Werge clearly knew AST and described him (p.106) as ‘a man of remarkable energy and versatility’. Other images included Calotype views of Paris dated 1850 and, again, initialled ‘C.T.’and an image also reproduced as figure 2 in Alt’s paper.

So, the lot included a series of very early images made within eight months from Talbot’s announcement of his photogenic drawing process in January 1839. It may also include work by one of the first women photographers, certainly the first outside of Talbot’s immediate circle, if the initials indicated authorship. Although the condition of many of the images was poor the lot sold for £4700 (£5828, including 20% buyer’s premium and VAT).

Taylor was discussed in two articles in History of Photography by Stephen White (July-Sept, 1987) and Laurence Alt (Winter, 1992) and AST has an entry in Taylor, Impressed by Light (Yale, 2007).

 

Lot descriptions from LSK

3457 (9 December 2017). *A pair of Victorian daguerreotype portraits of ladies, in gilt surrounds, housed in later velvet lined bakelite case in the form of a book, 5.5 x 5cm; together with various other Victorian daguerreotypes, mostly in fitted leather cases with hand-written annotations (12) Condition Report / Extra Information Two stereoscopic daguerreotypes - both labelled verso for Mayall's and of Edith C Taylor, both grubby otherwise good. Pair of small bakelite cased portraits - good. Daguerreotype of Edith Taylor with Emily, with numerous white spots on plate, otherwise good, annotated verso. two matching portraits of women, both corroding around all sides, one worse than the other. The last three framed portraits all good.

3456 (9 December 2017). *A Victorian hand-coloured daguerreotype three-quarter length portrait of a seated gentleman, in fitted J.C. Barrable Photographer red leather case, with hand-written label verso 'Alfred Swayne Taylor' and dated 1859, 12 x 9.5cm; together with four other Victorian portrait daguerreotypes, each in fitted leather cases with hand-written annotations (5)Note: Dr Alfred Swaine Taylor has been considered as the 'father of British forensic medicine' and was an important early pioneer of photography. Condition Report / Extra Information Daguerreotype of Swaine Taylor - numerous spots to glass plate, fine scratch lower left, otherwise good. Daguerreotype of Edith Taylor and her mother, 1847, some dust under glass case, otherwise appears excellent. Three remaining portraits - each with some losses.All annotated verso.

3455 (9 December 2017). *A Victorian hand-coloured daguerreotype three-quarter length portrait of a lady, in fitted leather case, with hand-written annotation 'Mrs Harris, aunt of D.A.S. Taylor, died 1863', together with a lock of her hair, the case with J.C. Barrable Photography, 24 Regent Street label, 12 x 9.5cm; together with four other Victorian hand-coloured daguerreotypes, each in fitted leather cases with hand-written annotations (5) Condition Report / Extra Information All slightly grubby. Hand-coloured. With some fading. Otherwise good.

3454 (9 December 2017). *A Victorian daguerreotype three-quarter portrait of a young girl, in fitted leather case, with hand-written annotation 'Edith C Taylor, aged 3 years, taken by Mayall, 1847', 7.5 x 6cm; together with various other Victorian daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and over-painted photographic portraits, each in fitted leather cases, many with hand-written and dated annotations (7)Note: Edith Taylor was the daughter of Dr Alfred Swaine Taylor, who has been considered as the 'father of British forensic medicine' and was an important early pioneer of photography. Condition Report / Extra Information The largest with significant mould residue all over.Both 'cabinet portraits' are overpainted, with some fading, otherwise good.Miss Larisa (elderly woman) in very good condition.Family group with losses to edges and some crazing in several areas.Edith Taylor aged 3 - daguerreotype, some minor spots to spots, otherwise good.Small oval female portrait on glass - very good.Small oval male portrait on glass - very good.

1061 (2 December 2017). *A large quantity of unframed pictures and prints, to include; etchings, engravings, photographs, monochrome copies etc

 

Acknowledgments

With thanks to Darran Green for detailed lot information.

Photographs: Lacy Scott and Knight and Darran Green.

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