Daguerreotype Case Backs:
Wharton's Design of 1841

Correspondence from R. Derek Wood

 [History of Photography, Vol. 4: 3 (July 1980), pp. 251–2]

Arthur Gill has drawn attention in the July 1977 issue of History of Photography [1] to the daguerreotype cases used in Richard Beard's studios in London in the mid–1840s. The emblem ‘T. Wharton, No. 791  24 August 1841’ embossed on the back of these cases does not refer to a patent number and Mr Gill's idea that it ‘may refer to a registration of the design a Stationers' Hall or some other such body’ proves (except for the suggestion about Stationers' Hall) to be aimed very much in the right direction.


Due to an Act [2] just passed by the British Parliament, an Office of the Registrar of Designs was opened in July 1839 by the Board of Trade at Wellington Street North, Strand, in London.  The office moved for a few years from Wellington Street, to Lincolns Inn Fields, to Somerset House, before settling in 1853 at 1 Whitehall, London. In January 1876 the Design Office became housed in the premises of the Patent Office, Holborn, London, and its administration became the responsibility of the Patent Commissioners along with a newly established Trade Marks Registry.  There are no printed or published records of registered designs of the 19th century, but the original manuscript records of the Board of Trade Design Office from 1839 are now preserved in the Public Record Office at Kew, London [3]

The illustration [below] shows Thomas Wharton's ‘Design for a Miniature picture frame back’ with the certificate of registration [4] signed on 23rd August 1841 by the first Registrar, F. B. Long, who with a staff of five was then still at the original office at Wellington Street.The certificate No. 791 was effective for three years.  It is particularly worth noting that it was ‘ registered this twenty third day of August at the hour of twelve at noon’, not the 24th August as appears on the embossed mark at the back of the Beard studio daguerreotype cases.


Researching Thomas Wharton’s background from a 50–year range of Directories of Birmingham shows him to have been a brass founder at 4 Great Charles Street, Birmingham. His business existed in Birmingham certainly as early as 1822 when he was described as a ‘manufacturer of medallions miniature frames and pocket compasses’. An expansion of the business begun by his sons in the 1840s at the adjacent No. 5 Great Charles Street was still there at least as late as 1872.  The Directory of Birmingham for 1843  gives Thomas Wharton as ‘bronzist and manufacturer of ornaments in bronze and ormulu, jappanned miniature frames, morocco cases &c.’. During the 1840s he registered at least another four designs: a ‘Stand for Time Pieces and ornaments’, a handle, match box, and a candlestick. From the mid–1849s his sons are listed in the Birmingham Directories mainly as ‘silver and electroplagted ware manufacturers’. When Johnson and Beard's studio at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street, London, opened in March 1841, J. F. Goddard who was employed there, said the daguerreotype plates used weree ‘made under Mr Johnsons's superintendance at Birmingham’ [5]. This might be considered as evidence that the Whartons made the silvered plates for Beard's studios. However, a week before Goddard said this, a colleague, J. T. Cooper, lectured on ‘the Messrs Elkington's mode of Gilding and Silvering Metals’ [6], and he may have acted as a general consultant chemist to them.  On present evidence, therefore, it is more likely G. R. & H. Elkington of Birmingham — the patentees of electroplating — who supplied plates to the daguerreotype studio at the Polytechnic in 1841. Even so, Elkington's might have preferred in the early 1840s to ‘rely on the activities of licencess than on their own manufacture’[7].  So the chances are still considerable that the Whartons did supply to the Beard studios all the daguerreotype requirements: not only the back but the complete morocco case, and (with increasing likelihood in the later 1840s) the silvered plates.

Brief descriptions Beard's studios in the earliest period of 1840 and 1841 were published many years later by people involved:   J. F. Goddard [8], J. Johnson [9], A. S. Wolcott [10], and (of less interest)  F. S. Beatty [11]. No account by J. T. Cooper (neither senior nor junior) or Beard is known, but an examination of ‘Richard Beard: an Ingenious and Enterprising Patentee’ by B. V. and P. F. Heathcote has recently appeared in this journal. [12]


[1]. ‘Arthur T. Gill, Wolcott's camera in England and the bromine–iodine process’, History of Photography, Vol. 1 (July 1977), pp. 215–220. Figure 7 shows the Wharton embossed mark.

[2]. Design Act of 1839, Statute 2 & 3 Victoria, c.17 (1839).  The responsibilities and administration of the Design Acts were transferred from the Board of Trade to the Commissioners of Patents with effect on 1st January 1876 by Statute 38 & 39 Vict, c.93 of 1875.

[3]. Board of Trade records at the Public Record Office at Kew, London, document classes BT42 to BT48. See Guide to the Contents of the Public Record Office, HMSO: London (1963), Vol. 2, pp. 272–274.

[4]. Public Record Office, BT42/4, Design No. 791. This Crown Copyright record is here reproduced by permission of the Controller of HMSO.

[5]. Lecture on the ‘Application of the Daguerreotype to the taking of likenesses from the life’ delivered by J. F. Goddard at the Royal Institution, London (N.B. the lecture was not at the Royal Polytechnic Institution) on 26th March 1841, reported in The Polytechnic Journal, Vol. 4 (April 1841), pp. 248–250, and The Chemist, Vol. 2 (May 1841), pp. 142–143.

[6]. Lecture by J. T. Cooper at the Royal Institution on 19th March 1841 reported in The Polytechnic Journal, Vol. 4 (April 1841), pp. 251–253.

[7]. R. E. Leader, ‘The early history of electro–silver plating’, Journal of the Institute of Metals, Vol. 22/No. 2 [series] (1919), pp. 305–326.

[8]. Jabez Hughes (information and documents from J. F. Goddard), Photographic News, Vol. 7 (11 December 1863), p. 593, and Vol. 8 (13 May 1868), pp. 232–233.

[9]. Comments by J. Johnson reported in Photographic News, Vol. 12 (21 August 1868), pp. 404–405, from Philadelphia Photographer, Vol. 5 (May 1868), pp. 174–177.

[10]. A. S. Wolcott's letters to J. Johnson of 1840–1843 and information supplied by Johnson, American Journal of Photography, Vol. 3 (1860–1861), pp. 119–123, 142–143.

[11]. F. S. Beatty, Photographic News, Vol. 23 (8 August 1879), pp. 382–383.

[12]. Bernard V. and Pauline F. Heathcote, History of Photography, Vol. 3 (October 1979), pp. 313–329.

PRO, BT42/4, Design No. 791. This Crown Copyright record is reproduced by permission of the Controller of HMSO
   Figure 1.   Certificate No. 791 of design registration [4]
   for Thomas Wharton's ‘Miniature picture frame back’,
   signed on 23rd August 1841.
    (Crown Copyright record in the Public Record Office, London,
    reproduced by courtesy of the Controller of HMSO.

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