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Victorian photographers in Ipswich: SAWYER, SMITH and WHITE

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Victorian photographers in Ipswich: SAWYER, SMITH and WHITE

Posted: 1362406010000
Classification: Query
Many of us are fortunate enough to have inherited Victorian and Edwardian photographs. If we're very lucky, they will have been endorsed with names and dates. More often, the only name on the back is the photographer's, and the closest thing to a date is a serial number for the negative. I'd like to develop the dating potential of those chronological numbers by inviting other owners to share images created by the "Brook Street gang".

A single series of negative numbers starting at 15,000 was used by three 19th-century photographers at 18 (Upper) Brook Street, Ipswich, a triple-storey building apparently once connected to 52 and 50 Butter Market, where elongated north-facing windows (typical of a Victorian studio) can still be seen on the top floor. Now designated 54 Butter Market, the corner shop is an "Italian" coffee house, evoking its appellation in 1865, when this site was chosen by J. R. SAWYER of Norwich for his "Italian Studio" (Ipswich Journal, 21 October 1865, page 3, column 1). That name continued to be used for a few months after the business was transferred in March 1867 to his manager, Walter Azemberg SMITH, who seems to have been there until John WHITE took over in 1883. (See below for more details, plus and

John Robert SAWYER had previously established photographic studios in Norwich and he was also an optician, initially visiting Suffolk every Tuesday for the benefit of his Brook Street clientele (Ipswich Journal, e.g. 28 October 1865, p. 2, col. 4). Within a month of his announcement of the new studio, he claimed to be issuing 1,000 or more cartes de visite per week from Norwich and Ipswich (Ipswich Journal, 18 November 1865, p. 4, col. 5). These would have included "Ipswich Views" and the pictures of various local worthies, many of whom were listed (as in the attached table) with negative numbers between 15,029 and 15,215 in an advertisement in the Ipswich Journal on 23 December 1865 (p. 2, col. 5). This mentioned an additional "Catalogue of 300 of the principal Nobility, Clergy, and Gentry of Norfolk and Suffolk," whose portraits could be obtained for a shilling each from either of the Italian Studios, at 18 Brook Street, Ipswich, or 46 London Street, Norwich.

In 1866, repeated adverts in the Ipswich Journal from 17 March to 18 August include this information: "The Ipswich Negatives are numbered 15,000 to 15,580; they are all carefully preserved and registered. Copies can be procured at any time quite equal to those first printed."

Curiously, the numbers remain unchanged throughout that five-month period, even after the introduction of new elements in June, such as the patronage of the Maharajah of Johore and this message for parents: "J. R. SAWYER Makes a Special Feature of CHILDREN'S PORTRAITS; having a very clear and brilliant light in his Studio, and being furnished with the best and most rapid Lenses, he has been successful with the most difficult, and obtained in many cases Children's Portraits which before had been given up as hopeless. N.B. Time for Children from 11 till 2. The Studio Open Daily from Ten till Four."

I suppose the brighter light near the middle of the day would minimize exposure times, reducing the risk of blurred images of fidgety children.

On 25 August 1866 a new style of advertisement appears in the Ipswich Journal, publicising a great improvement in photography ("J. R. SAWYER has just perfected his Ivory Type Enamels") and proclaiming an average weekly distribution of a thousand cartes de visite (costing 8 shillings for 6, 12 shillings for 12, or 21 shillings for 24, with no extra charge for vignettes or children). He was now attending personally at his Ipswich premises on both Tuesdays and Fridays. The same advert was used throughout the next two months, until 20 October. I've found no others until 26 January 1867, when J. R. SAWYER introduced several novelties: the "Richmond Portrait" (2½ guineas); the "Tinted Crayon Portrait" (one guinea); portraits coloured in enamel (from 2s. 6d. each); and the "Family Group" carte de visite. This "fine art photography" notice dated January 1867 continued to be published until 23 March, but a week later the studio had a new owner:

"J. R. SAWYER Begs to inform his valued connection in Suffolk that he has disposed of his Business, 18 Brook Street, Ipswich, to his Artist, Mr. W. A. SMITH, who has led the Management of the Artistic Department since the business was established." (Ipswich Journal, 30 March 1867 and later)

The proprietor of the Italian Studio in Ipswich is subsequently advertised as artist, draughtsman and photographer "W. A. SMITH, (Late J. R. Sawyer)". By July 1867, he was emerging from the shadow of his former employer: the Ipswich Journal advertisements highlight a medal awarded at the Needham Market Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition (for excellence in photographic portraits) and no longer refer to the Italian Studio or its originator, although the line "(late Sawyer)" probably enjoyed a more extended lifespan on the back of SMITH's early prints.

The handover from Walter A. SMITH to John WHITE is not so easy to pinpoint. The best indication I've seen is an unnumbered photograph of an unbreeched boy ("Unknown child") by John WHITE … late Walter A. SMITH, dated August 1883 (

I’ll be uploading some of my own images with future posts in this thread and I hope other contributors will help to produce a more complete picture. Even undated prints can be of interest for comparison, and the evolving designs of the mounts can be as significant as the changing styles of fashion.

David Gobbitt
SubjectAuthorDate Posted
David Gobbitt 1362406010000 
David Gobbitt 1362408075000 
David Gobbitt 1362499211000 
David Gobbitt 1382126204000 
David Gobbitt 1494591810000 
David Gobbitt 1362586801000 
David Gobbitt 1451500286000 
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