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31 Jan 2019

Everyday photographs reveal history at the Tenement House: Part 1

Written by Antonia Laurence-Allen, Curator Edinburgh & East
A black and white photo of a nervous looking girl wearing dark clothes in a golden floral frame. Her lips are coloured red.
Daguerreotype of Mrs Agnes Toward (née Reid) as a child, 1860s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)
A box of photographs in the Tenement House appears to be an ordinary pile of family images, gathered by the lady who lived in this flat for most of her life.

Miss Agnes Toward (1886–1975) lived in what is now the Tenement House on Buccleuch Street in Glasgow. Her photograph collection covers a wide variety of material, from early formal glass plate images to casual Kodak printed snapshots of friends. When Miss Toward was growing up, having your photograph taken was still a very special experience, though it was quickly becoming more common. By the 1960s, and the end of Miss Toward’s time at Buccleuch Street, cameras and photography were widespread in everyday life.

This collection will not just take you on a journey through Miss Toward’s life but also through the history of photography in Glasgow and the important role it played in people’s lives. You’ll see how photography went from stiff and formal one-off glass plate images of sitters dressed in their best clothes to casual snapshots of friends in the sunshine that wouldn’t look out of place on Instagram or Facebook today. The photographs also reveal the changing trends and fashions in the late 19th and 20th centuries, while providing evidence of the increased leisure time available to the expanding middle classes.

Early photography

Cameras first came to Glasgow in 1839, not long after the first photographic process was announced in France. It was called the daguerreotype process. Professional daguerreotype studios were set up in Edinburgh in 1841, and in 1842 Mr H W Treffry set up the first photographic studio in Glasgow. He charged 1 guinea (21 shillings) for a portrait and frame, no small sum at the time.

A black and white photo of a nervous looking girl wearing dark clothes in a golden floral frame. Her lips are coloured red.
Daguerreotype of Mrs Agnes Toward (née Reid) as a child, 1860s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This image of Miss Toward’s mother as a child is an example of this early form of photography, although it was likely taken in the 1860s. Daguerreotypes produced only a single image on a metal plate, a ghostly likeness of a person that was held in a decorative frame. They were very fragile, but incredibly detailed images. Mrs Toward took great care of her daguerreotype portrait and lovingly passed it down to her daughter.

A black and white photo of a young woman in a black dress and lace collar sitting by a table. The photo is cracked.
Ambrotype of a woman, identified as Miss Toward's paternal aunt, c1860 (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Daguerreotypes and glass plate portraits (ambrotypes) immediately became popular. But to take one of these early photographs, the subject had to sit perfectly still for almost 15 minutes and they only produced a single image. The woman in this ambrotype has been identified as Miss Toward’s paternal aunt – it would have been a unique and expensive gift to give to the Towards.

Cartes de visite

This photograph from the 1880s of Mr and Mrs Toward, along with Mrs Toward’s mother, is an example of the cheaper, more accessible carte de visite. This used the new collodion negative process to create a negative image for endless reprinting, meaning it was affordable and efficient. For the first time in history, middle class and working class individuals could have their portraits created at a low cost. The Towards weren’t exceptionally wealthy and it would have been important to have their photograph taken to commemorate their family, much like the photographs we take today at family reunions.

A black and white photo of a woman and man sitting down with a woman standing between them. They are wearing dark clothes.
Carte de visite of (from left) Mrs Agnes Reid, Mrs Agnes Toward and Mr William Toward, 1880s (T Moryson, Dumfries, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri patented the carte de visite technique in 1854. They took the form of a calling card with a photographic portrait on the front. At this time, it was common for the upper classes to introduce themselves at a household by leaving a calling card on the front table. They would usually be printed with the name and address of the photographic studio on the back, like that seen on the reverse of Mrs Reid’s portrait (see below).

Miss Toward’s collection of carte de visite portraits contains dozens of images from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, Aberdeen, Leeds and other parts of the United Kingdom. From the 1860s until the 1900s, cartes de visite became incredibly popular to trade widely with friends and family, but this means that many of the people portrayed in them are now unknown to us.

A black and white photo of a woman sitting on a fleece-covered chair. She wears a dark dress with beaded decoration.
Carte de visite of Mrs Agnes Reid, c1881–88 (H. Paterson & Co, Glasgow, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)
The back of a photo printed with 'H. Paterson & Co.' and their logo of a hand rising from a crown holding a paintbrush.
Reverse of Mrs Agnes Reid’s carte de visite, c1881–88 (H. Paterson & Co, Glasgow, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Nearly a dozen cartes de visite could be produced for only 5 shillings, compared to the 21 shillings Treffry was charging for a single daguerreotype. This image of Mrs Reid (Miss Toward’s maternal grandmother) was taken some time in the 1880s. Perhaps Mrs Reid got a discount on her portrait since it appears that the portrait of her daughter (below) was taken at the same studio around the same time!

A black and white photo of a young woman standing in front of a sofa and a curtain with her arms behind her back.
Carte de visite of Mrs Agnes Toward, c1881–88 (H. Paterson & Co, Glasgow, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

The two women were photographed at H. Paterson & Co in Glasgow. The Paterson name was well known in Glasgow’s photographic industry, running studios until well into the 20th century. In the 1880s, when these images were produced, the carte de visite craze in Glasgow was in full force and it is likely there were more photographic studios in Glasgow than in London.

A black and white photo of the head and shoulders of a bearded man wearing a suit and tie, looking to his left.
Mr William Toward’s carte de visite, c1885 (J. Bowman, Glasgow, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Miss Toward’s parents, William and Agnes, had multiple carte de visite portraits taken. This photograph of William was probably taken in 1885, shortly before his death in 1888. Miss Toward was only 5 years old when her father died, and a photograph like this would have been the only way she could see his face as she grew up.

Tintypes and cabinet cards

The tintype was another type of photograph popular in the 1860s and 1870s, but it never quite achieved the same popularity as the carte de visite, since it only produced a single image.

A black and white photo of the bust of a young woman wearing a pendant mounted on a card with gilt floral decoration.
Tintype of Mrs Agnes Toward (née Reid) as a young woman, c1878 (J. Lowrie, Glasgow, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This tintype portrait with a decorative pink frame shows Mrs Toward as a young woman, before she married Mr Toward. It’s an example of a slightly altered version of a tintype portrait. A solution to the tintype’s lack of a negative image was created by altering the technology so that multiple portraits were taken on a single plate. Nicknamed ‘gems’ because of their shiny surface and small size, these portraits could be posted on a piece of card similar to the carte de visite. James Lowrie’s Jamaica Street studio created this portrait and proudly proclaims itself as a ‘gem’ portrait studio on the reverse of the image.

A damaged black and white photo of two people mounted on a card printed with a countryside scene of a village and a road.
Tintype of unidentified subjects, 1860s–70s (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Although badly deteriorated, this tintype portrait is a great example of the card stock used to hold images. We don’t know who the subjects are but the card is of great interest. Tintypes became very popular for seaside vacations or days out from the city because they were easily and cheaply produced. The card frame gives us a hint that this portrait was likely taken on a big day out to the countryside.

A black and white photo of a woman wearing a large hat, an animal fur around her neck and holding a fur muff.
Cabinet card of Miss Ellen Toward, early 20th century (unknown photographer, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

This portrait is likely to be of Miss Toward’s aunt, Miss Ellen Toward, taken in the early 20th century. It looks like a carte de visite but is more than double the size, and is known as a cabinet card. The cabinet card style used the same printing techniques as for cartes de visite and also featured the name and address of the photographic studio. Cabinet cards like these were ideal for display in the household, proudly arranged on a table or in a family album.

Cabinet cards could also be used to collect portraits of celebrities, something that became very popular at this time. Queen Victoria was an early patron of photography and many collected her portraits. Images of stage actors and political figures were also widespread.

A black and white photo of a woman wearing a flowery hat and dress with her hands behind her back, looking over her shoulder.
Cabinet card of dancer and actress Cora Caselli, c1898 (M. Pearlmann & Co, Glasgow and Paisley, © National Trust for Scotland, Tenement House)

Miss Toward’s collection contains several carte de visite prints and this cabinet card is of a well-known vaudeville actress named Cora Caselli – she or her mother must have been a fan. This image was probably printed around 1898, though celebrity pictures were reprinted often and the portrait could have been taken years before.

The Morton Charitable Trust has been funding fieldwork on the National Trust for Scotland’s photographic collections since 2014. In 2018–19, this work will further raise the profile of the collections through research, articles, talks and dedicated projects. The project will also involve the digitisation of the Margaret Fay Shaw photographic archive of mid-20th-century Hebridean life, leading to an updated database with high-quality images.

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