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Olive Edis collection of autochromes at auction

A remarkable collection of autochromes, photographs and diascopes by Mary Olive Edis Balsworth (1876-1955), whose self-portrait is shown right, is being offered at auction on 5 March 2009. All of the items have been at Edis's studio and house in Sheringham since her death under the ownership of Cyril Nunn and, until now, rarely seen. The autochomes include a number of rare Canadian scenes.

Nunn died last year and recently Olive's collection of Sheringham and Norfolk photographs and autochromes was acquired by Cromer Museum where they are due to be put on public display later this year. Many of these images were reproduced in Face to Face – Sheringham, Norfolk: The Remarkable Story of Photographers Olive Edis & Cyril Nunn, by Alan Childs, Cyril Nunn and Ashley Sampson (Halsgrove, 2005). A few of the Canadian images are reproduced in black and white and some were reproduced in colour in the e-newsletter for The Photographic Historical Society of Canada (March 2006).

The same auction features material from the estate of Robert 'Bob' Lassam, the former curator of the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock. The material from Lassam's estate includes photographs from the Kodak exhibitions he helped arrange as well as cameras.

The catalogue is available on line at The sale takes place at 5 March at 11am.

Edis was born in 1876, her father was Dr. Arthur Wellesley Edis, professor of gynaecology at UCH and her mother was Mary Edis (neé Murray, the sister of John Murray.) They lived at 22 Wimpole Street, London, where Arthur had a medical practice. Olive had twin sisters, four years younger than her, Katherine and Emmeline. Olive's great uncle was Dr. John Murray (1809-1898), a surgeon with the Bengal Medical Service. He photographed Mughal architecture in India, making some 600 images, often 18 x 14 inches (salted paper prints from paper & collodion negs.), many of which are now in the BL collection. He retired to Sheringham in 1871. His descendents sold their collection at Sotheby's in 1999.

Olive photographed John Murray's daughter Caroline (said to have been her first photograph) in 1900. In 1893, when Olive was 17, her father died and in 1905, Olive & Katherine, as partners, opened a studio at 39 Church Street, Sheringham. Olive used only natural light when making photographs. Her printing, first done by her sister Katherine and later by Lilian Page, included platinotype, sepia platinotype or autochrome. In 1910, Olive's photographs were regularly appearing in the Illustrated London News and in 1912 she started making autochrome images. She became an RPS member in 1913 and in that year won a medal for her autochrome portraits in the RPS exhibition. In 1914 she was elected FRPS and designed an autochrome viewer, known as a diascope, which she patented (GB17132).

Although her income came from her work as a studio portraitist in March 1919 she was commissioned by the National (later Imperial) War Museum to photograph the work of British women in France & Flanders and, at the same time, made deeply moving images of the desolation of war. In 1920 she was asked to undertake a commission to make advertising photographs for the Canadian Pacific Railway and did the work during July to November. The plates were exhibited at the 1921 Toronto Fair, and at the Canadian Pacific Offices in London in 1922, but apart from a few 'seconds' offered here there is no trace of the main body of work. These are probably the earliest known colour images of Western Canada.

In 1928, when she was 52, Olive married Edwin Galsworthy a solicitor and director of Barclays bank. This family connection opened doors into society and she photographed many people of national importance. Olive and Edwin had a residence in 32 Ladbroke Square, London and in Sheringham they moved to a new house in South Street. Olive extended her business to include the printing and sale of real photographic postcards. In 1951 Olive exhibited photographs of fisherman at Sheringham. She died in 1955.

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