DAGUERREOTYPE SHOPPING IN LONDON IN FEBRUARY 1845

by R. Derek Wood

The British Journal of Photography, 9 November 1979, Vol. 126, No. 6224, pp. 1094–5:

[BJP editorial comment:] In the current October issue of the quarterly journal History of Photography (Vol 3, No 4, pp.305–309) appears an article ‘The daguerreotype in England: some material relating to Beard’s lawsuits’. The author, R. D. Wood, draws attention to legal documents in the Public Record Office in London for their value as a source of information on the earliest few years of professional photographic studios in England. An example of such information quoted is the financial accounts for a fifty–five week period from June 1841 to July 1842 of the important daguerreotype studio of Antoine Claudet then in a prime position at the Adelaide Gallery close to the Strand, London. The studio took £1,913 and 15 shillings for 1812 portraits during this period when their regular charge for a portrait was £1 3s.16d and they had an average of five or six customers each day. Advertising cost £195 4s. 16d, and total wages were £330 12s. 10d. The author suggests that it was unrealistic for any photographer to then pay the £1000 being asked for a professional licence to use the daguerreotype in England (Claudet had been exceptionally lucky to have purchased the first licence in March 1840 for £200) and. briefly discusses the financial situation of the earliest studios in the 1840s.

Obviously beneath the surface dust of the records of the Court of Chancery is preserved information of considerable interest for the history of photography. In illustration of this the author has transcribed here an affidavit sworn by a William Butler in the case of Richard Beard v John and Jeremiah Egerton and Charles Bates which gives a glimpse of life and work in February 1845 at the daguerreotype shop and studio of Egerton in Temple Street, London. The affidavit (preserved in the Public Record Office, reference number C31 /685 box 2, filed 10th March 1845, and here published in a slightly amended version by permission of the Controller of HM Stationery Office) has been transcribed to read in the first person. As the original affidavit lacks punctuation this has been added, some legal phraseology such as ‘the said defendants’ has been amended or silently deleted, and the opening two paragraphs abridged.[end of editorial introduction]

William Butler, an ‘anatomical modeller’ living in 1845 at 5 Elstree Street, St Pancras, visited the premises of John Egerton at 1 Temple Street, south of Fleet Street, London, many times during February 1845. He was seeking to establish evidence that daguerreotype apparatus was sold there, and, in particular, that instruction in the daguerreotype process was given and portraits taken without a licence having been purchased from Richard Beard, the owner of the patent.

The firm of Egerton had significance with regard to the troubled existence of the daguerreotype patent in England because they were agents for cameras and apparatus imported from France. Even so, daguerreotype portraiture ultimately proved to be a passing venture of the Egerton family; predominantly a speculation of the 1840s. They were really house decorators and plumbers. The area of Temple and Tudor Streets between Fleet Street and the Thames was partly redeveloped in the early 1880s and the plumbing firm then long survived as Egerton, Son and Rogers’ at 18 Tudor Street right up to 1931 or 32. In the late 1830s and 1840s they also had secondary business premises at 8 Red Lion Court, off Fleet Street, but 1 Temple Street was not just the main shop, for the family also lived there. John Wharry Egerton was thirty–three years old when the following events took place in February 1845. He then had a son (John Charles) of seven years and an unmarried twenty–five year old brother Charles also living at Temple Street. Neither Charles nor an Albert Egerton of the same age who had lived there in 1841 are ever mentioned by William Butler. The member of the family most active in the daguerreotype business, certainly after 1845, was Jeremiah Egerton. His address in legal documents of 1845 and 6 was always given as 1 Temple Street, but, unless either Albert or Charles was an alias of Jeremiah, he was not living there (or at any of the addresses mentioned in this article) at the time of the census of 1841 or 1851. Maybe he lived for a short time in the mid–1840s at 148 Fleet Street, for as can be seen from the advertisement reproduced from The Times of 4 August 1846, he did use premises there for a while to take daguerreotypes.

Although the courts did finally rule that the Egertons were infringing the patent by taking daguerreotype portraits there is no reason to think that Jeremiah did not continue to sell daguerreotype apparatus at Temple Street until 1852 or 1853 when he opened a daguerreotype business at 443 Strand. As before, this was probably a daguerreotype supplies and equipment shop with studio facilities as a side line. The era of the daguerreotype was almost at an end: Jeremiah’s business in the Strand survived three or four years until 1856. There is no evidence that he ever ventured into photography on paper nor as to whether he became employed in another person’s photographic business or rejoined his brother and nephew in the painting and plumbing business. Information on the whereabouts of daguerreotypes named as Egerton would be welcome. The Egerton family deserve more research, for it is interesting that they thought the daguerreotype worthy of speculation in the financially unstable 1840s but did not extend the business into general photography in the late 1 850s and 18608 when a healthy market gave ever increasing work for photographers. Plumbing is less frivolous than photography, and no doubt many photographers today would understand the Egertons if they dropped their photographic venture with free choice.

In the mid 1840s the Egertons employed assistants for the daguerreotype business. Charles Bates was with them at least for 1845 and 1846, and a William Sharpe Cross certainly in August and September 1846. Bates was probably the chief photographer at Temple Street in 1845 rather than Jeremiah Egerton.

Egerton's advertisment: The Times (London) 4 August 1846

Advertisement for Egerton’s two Daguerreotype
establishments  in  The Times,  4  August  1846.

 Adjacent to the above were five more advertisements for Daguerreotype
studios in London.   To see all those advertisments click [here]

 

          William Butler’s Affidavit

I, William Butler, of No 5 Elstree Street, Somers Town, St Pancras, Middlesex, Modeller, say that I am well acquainted with and understand the nature of the invention protected by the Letters Patent dated 14th August 1839 described in a Specification dated 14th February 1840 commonly called ‘The Daguerreotype’. I have seen the process in all its details practised at the plaintiff’s (Richard Beard’s) house of business situate No 85 King William Street, City of London. The process of producing the polished surface of silver and of exposing the plate to the action of the vapours of iodine and mercury and of washing the plates are not in general carried on in the presence of the person whose likeness is being taken.

I have several times had my likeness taken at the house 1 Temple Street occupied or used by the defendents (John and Jeremiah Egerton and Charles Bates) for the purposes of taking likenesses according to the Daguerreotype process and of selling the apparatus and teaching the art of using the Daguerreotype process. In particular I had my likeness taken by Charles Bates with the knowledge of John Egerton and Jeremiah Egerton on the 26th February 1845 and I paid to Charles Bates one shilling and sixpence for the metallic plate. On the various occasions on which my likeness was taken, and more particularly on the 26th February 1845, I had an opportunity of seeing and fully understanding each step in the operation of the process used by the defendants at No 1 Temple Street... The metallic plate there used for the purpose of taking my likeness was a piece of copper faced or plated with silver that was cleaned and prepared and polished by Charles Bates in my presence. The polished silver surface was afterwards exposed in a dark place to the action of the vapour of iodine and also the vapour of bromine until the plate had taken on a golden colour. The plate so prepared was placed by Charles Bates in my presence in a Camera Obscure which was the same in construction and principle as the camera mentioned in the Daguerreotype patent specification. I sat in front of the camera and by the action of the light of the sun my likeness was produced upon the metallic plate being in the camera. The plate was then removed by Charles Bates from the camera ... and taken into another room where it was in a darkened part of the room in my presence exposed to the action of the vapour of mercury. After being removed from the mercury the likeness on the plate was visible and afterwards the plate was put into a solution of the hyposulphite of soda to get rid of the superfluous coating of particles of iodine. I verily believe that when the plate was first taken out of the camera the likeness was invisible. I saw in No 1 Temple Street a gentleman have his likeness taken ... I also saw several portraits or likenesses of persons unknown to me which Charles Bates told me had been taken by means of the Daguerreotype process used by the defendants ... I have no doubt that the apparatus and process used by the defendants ... are in all respects the same as described in the daguerreotype patent specification.

...I believe all three defendants are either Copartners or cooperate together under some kind of Agreement in the speculation or business carried on by them ... I believe they share amongst them all the gains and profits made...

On the 21st day of February 1845 I went to No 1 Temple Street and saw Charles Bates who offered to instruct me in working the daguerreotype process for Three Pounds the money to be paid in advance. Charles Bates did also offer to sell me a camera and to supply every requisite to work the daguerreotype for five pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence, deducting five pounds per cent for ready money. I did then inquire of Charles Bates whether there was any danger of the Patentee proceeding against me because if so I ought to be informed thereof before I received instructions: to which he replied ‘No – I often take three pounds after dinner on a Sunday in London so there can be no fear of your working it in the country as it is a matter of doubt whether Mr Beard has a right to the patent or not.’ I did then see several of the apparatus for working the daguerreotype process complete and ready for use which were on sale for various prices from five pounds twelve shillings and six pence to twenty five pounds: such apparatus were in all respects the same as used by the plaintiff [Richard Beard].

On the 22nd February 1845 I again went to No 1 Temple Street and there saw Charles Bates and John Egerton. Shortly after my arrival Charles Bates left the room, after which I entered into conversation with John Egerton. He said that Mr Bates was employed there. I asked whether Mr Bates lived in that house to which John Egerton replied ‘No, at Kennington Common’. He then stated that Charles Bates taught pupils and sold the apparatus so that they (meaning, as I understood, himself and Jeremiah Egerton) were not responsible for any thing he thought proper to do. I then and there saw a book in which were written the names of various persons appearing to be purchasers of daguerreotype apparatus and amongst such names I saw the name of Mr McGee as the purchaser of a daguerreotype apparatus in January 1845 at the price of seven pounds nineteen shillings, in respect of which John Egerton observed to me that Mr Fitzgerald was answerable for it. Mr Fitzgerald being, as I believe, a manufacturer of metallic plates. John Egerton also informed me that he (John Egerton) had instructed in the use of the daguerreotype one Mr Robson or Robertson who was then residing in the same house in High Street, Newcastle, which Mr McGee had left and that Mr Robson or Robertson was practising it in spite of Mr Beard. And that if I thought proper to pay to him (John Egerton) the money in advance they would instruct me how to use the daguerreotype and give me every receipt for working it in three days. I did then agree with him to receive instructions to use the daguerreotype and to pay three pounds.

On the 24th February 1845 I went again and paid to Charles Bates one pound, seventeen shillings and slxpence on account for such instructions. Charles Bates then and there looked out the chemicals, camera and other articles requisite for the said [daguerreotype] process. He then said ‘I am afraid we have not a glass that we can let you have at the price I told you on Friday’, but John Egerton who had come in the room said ‘Oh yes we can, I have been and purchased one’, and he took a glass or lens out of his pocket. I did then put down the sum of one pound, seventeen shillings and sixpence upon a table and John Egerton took up, counted and put in his pocket that sum. And I further say that on the 24th February 1845 Charles Bates wrote and gave to me the following memorandum:

“Mr Butler.   To J:_ Egerton. 1845,  Febry 24.
The Daguerreotype apparatus complete with chemicals &c  £5. 12s. 6d.
less discount @ 5 per cent  5s. 6d. 
[Net cost] £5. 7s.0d.”

manuscript of William Butler's Affidavit: in a clerk's hand, copying the text of Egerton's receipt

On the 25th February 1845 I again went to No 1 Temple Street and did pay to Charles Bates in the presence of Jeremiah Egerton the further sum of nineteen shillings and sixpence on account of the aforesaid instructions. And did ask Charles Bates if he could not take off the five per cent, to which he replied ‘No as Mr Egerton always will have his price’. I was then and there shewn or instructed by Charles Bates and Jeremiah Egerton how to work the daguerreotype process. I saw in the hand of Charles Bates a plate of copper faced with silver which he was cleaning, he told me to look at what he was doing. After he had cleaned the plate he placed it over a box containing iodine. After the plate had been exposed to the action of the vapour of Iodine for a few minutes Bates held in his hand a piece of white paper. I asked him the use of the white paper when he said it was to distinguish the colour of the plate as the colour ought to be a bright yellow. Charles Bates next placed the metallic plate over a vessel which contained bromine /and/ water in a state of vapour, and said the plate was to remain over that vessel until it took a rose colored tint. He next again placed the metallic plate over the iodine box and after a few seconds placed it in a frame. I then placed myself opposite to a camera and Bates put the metallic plate in the frame into the camera and after a few seconds removed it from the camera, took it to a darkened place and put it over a box containing mercury which by means of a lamp was brought into a state of vapour, and afterwards Charles Bates dipped the metallic plate in a solution of hyposulphate [sic] of soda. On the same day the process was again gone through, Charles Bates and Jeremiah Egerton taking different parts in the process and instructing me how to take each step. On the same day I having paid to Bates and John Egerton in the manner aforesaid the two sums of one pound, seventeen shillings and six pence, and nineteen shillings and six pence, making together the sum of Two pounds Seventeen shillings on account of the sum of Three pounds for instructions given by them, Charles Bates did write, sign and give me a Receipt signed ‘J. Egerton’. which Receipt was   ‘February 25th 1845, Received of Mr Butler the sum of Three pounds for Instructions in the Daguerreotype process. J. Egerton’.  Charles Bates then told me that if I would come early on the following day he (Bates) would take me to the top of the house to a place they had built on purpose to teach and try experiments. On the 26th February I again went to the house No 1 Temple Street and paid to John Egerton three shillings being the balance due for giving instructions to me. On the same day Charles Bates again taught me how to go through the various steps before mentioned. And further, on the 27th February 1845 I again went and saw Charles Bates and was again instructed.

During the course of instruction my likeness was several times taken by Charles Bates in the presence of the other defendants, John Egerton and Jeremiah Egerton. I further say that on the 28th February 1845 I again went to No 1 Temple Street and paid John Egerton one shilling and six pence for the metallic plate on which my likeness had been taken on the 26th February 1845.

[Signed] William Butler. Sworn at the Chancery Affidavit Office, Symonds Inn, this 10th day of March 1845.

William Butler's signature

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