A few months ago I discovered three photograph albums at the bottom of a box.
I am not sure why treasures are hidden at the bottom of boxes, but it is nearly always the case.
Anyway, these needed some researching – they were clearly old and of the aristocracy and were in what would have been very nice albums in the 1860s.
As is the way, I put them on a high up shelf (out of the way and not likely to get thrown away by mistake) ready to ‘have a go at’ when I had time.
I got them down once to show our antiquarian book expert who said, yes, they were interesting but neither of us had much time, so they went back up there and I forgot about them.
This week, he came into the shop for a few hours and rootling among the books I couldn’t value or didn’t know how to describe in the internet and needed him to look at, I found the photo albums.
There is something about old photos because of the effort needed to produce them – the subject sitting still for a long time, for a start.
I thought of the thousands of photos I have on my laptop – taken instantly, in colour, many taken on my phone and most of which don’t have much in the way of artistic merit – then again these albums are full of rather unattractive, stern looking, rich Victorians….
Neither of us are photographic experts so we did what anyone would do, and set about Google.
We worked out that at least one of the albums had been put together by Lord Raglan and we think he was the son of the more famous father. ( Papa had sent off the Charge of the Light Brigade.)
We also discovered there had been a relatively recent battle over the inheritance of the title, and all it entailed, between two nephews of the childless 5th Lord Raglan – you can read about this in an entertaining sidetrack https://www.ft.com/content/5b3fa2e2-6194-11e3-916e-00144feabdc0.
Anyway, whilst reading around this court battle we found the name Jonathan Spencer and he was the lawyer for the British nephew ( the one who thought he was going to inherit, only to find the 5th Lord had decided his American nephew would get it all.)
Rootling around, we came up with contact details for Jonathan Spencer and decided to give him a call to see if the family would be interested in having the photos back – for a small consideration of course.
I was rather surprised that such an eminent lawyer would answer his own phone but not half as surprised as Dorset solicitor Jonathan Spencer was – he had never heard of the Raglan Row ( as we are now calling it,) leave alone been the lawyer involved.
So, back to Google to find another route.
By this time, I had taken the albums home to spend an evening seeing what I could find out.
I discovered that some of the photos were taken by notable photographers and the ones of Queen Vic and Albert were taken by someone who was appointed to do that for her.
Others were prominent photographers of the well-to-do.
In case you are interested: Camille Silvy, and the National Portrait Gallery has stuff of his – that made my heart beat a little faster but for all I know, they have millions of his old photos, worth not very much.
(He went back to France thinking he had been poisoned by the chemicals used for developing but, according to Wikipedia, he probably had manic depression and indeed his self-portrait does not show a jolly chap.)
Then there are John Mayall, Negretti & Zambra and W & D Downey – the Downeys were brothers from Newcastle who made good in London.
But I still don’t know if we are sitting on a small goldmine of early photography or whether they are not interesting to anyone at all.
Through a friend, I have made contact with the book department at Bonhams and have sent off an email, with attached images.
Through Facebook, I have made contact with a friend of a friend and likewise sent off images.
All I can do now is wait, and in the meantime it is back to sorting paperback fiction.