Papers relating to the George Washington Wilson photographic Collection

Scope and Content

The collection described here contains 18 original George Washington Wilson printed sales catalogues dating from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. This includes catalogues of views in Scotland, England, Ireland, Gibraltar, South of Spain and Morocco, Italy, Australia, South Africa, some being landscape and general views, others architectural views of particular towns, cities or localities. Photographs in album, imperial, cabinet, stereoscopic and carte-de-viste sizes are all represented. There are, additionally, 2 George Washington Wilson postcards of Japan.

Two items relate to the sale of the company in 1908. These are a Catalogue of an important sale of the whole plant and stock-in-trade of G.W. Wilson and Co., landscape printers and publishers ... to be sold by auction at 2 St Swithin Street, Aberdeen, on ... 9th, 10th, 11th July 1908, and a photocopy of the sale register (days 1 - 3) of John Milne, Auctioneer. There is also a photocopy of a notice advertising the opening of the London branch of G.W. Wilson and Co., n.d.

The remainder of the collection contains papers relating to the administration, preservation and marketing of the George Washington Wilson photographic archive, since it was acquired by the University of Aberdeen in 1954. This includes specimens of prints published in various forms from the archive, including postcards and calendars, 1980s - 1990s; George Washington Wilson Royal Photographer 1823 - 1893: centenary conference information pack, (1993); By Royal Appointment: Aberdeen's Pioneer Photographer: George Washington Wilson, 1823 - 1893, papers from a conference organised by the University of Aberdeen to celebrate the life and work of Scotland's pioneer photographer (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Library Publishing, in association with the Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen, 1997); specimens of promotional material issued by the Library, 1990s; and articles and newspaper cuttings relating to the archive, 1980s - 1990s.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Washington Wilson (1823-93), born in the North East of Scotland, went to Edinburgh and then London in the 1840s to train as a portrait miniaturist. He became established in Aberdeen in the 1850s as an artist and photographer, and quickly made a name for himself among the middle classes and landed gentry. He soon moved into landscape photography, and, thanks to the proximity of Balmoral, developed a royal connection which remained throughout his career.

Wilson's camera ranged all over Britain, recording everything from the simple grandeur of Fingal's cave on the Isle of Staffa to the bustle of London's Oxford Street with its street criers and horse-drawn cabs. His son, Charles Wilson, and staff photographer, Fred Hardie, toured the colonial townships of South Africa and Australia, providing a vivid picture of gold miners and early settlers at work and play, and of the native or aboriginal way of life. They also travelled in the western Mediterranean, where they took images of Gibraltar and the south of Spain, Morocco and Tangiers.

Throughout, Wilson demonstrated technical and commercial acumen, and, by the early 1880s the company he founded had become the largest and best known photographic and printing firm in the world.


None observed

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Date and source not recorded - created in the University c 1987

Other Finding Aids

Descriptive list available in the Reading Room, Special Libraries and Archives

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures


Accruals may be expected

Related Material

The George Washington Wilson Photographic Collection, now in the care of Historic Collections, University of Aberdeen, consists of over 40,000 glass plate negatives produced by the Aberdeen firm of George Washington Wilson&Co. during the second half of the nineteenth century. The images are being made available on the internet. Further details are available from the Historic Collections web site


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original