Valentines of Dundee, the well-known photographic company which produced Scottish topographical views from the 1860s, and later became internationally famous as the producers of picture postcards was founded in 1851 by James Valentine (1815-1879). He added portrait photography to the activities of his established Dundee business, which had been based up to 1851 on the engraving, printing and supply of business stationery. In 1855 he erected one of the largest photographic glasshouses in Britain. About 1860 he decided to emulate the success of George Washington Wilson in Aberdeen in selling topographical view photographs. In 1866 James Valentine carried out his first Royal commission and received the Royal warrant in 1867. He used a converted barouche as a mobile darkroom. His exceptional organisational and presentational skills were essential in the rapidly expanding and thriving concern which opened a large printing works at 152 and 154 Perth Road, Dundee. William Dobson Valentine (1844-1907), son of James Valentine, took a course of chemistry at London University and trained to be a landscape specialist in the studios of Francis Frith at Reigate, Surrey, the largest English publisher of the commercial landscape. He entered the family business in about 1860.
Valentine views in the nineteenth century aimed at the national middle and upper class tourist market, with the production of both drawing room albums containing selections of photographs arranged geographically and individual landscape prints. The latter were available in a choice of sizes - cabinet, imperial and card. Stereoscopic views were also produced. Subjects concentrated on the genteel tourist sights and places in Scotland, then to England in 1882 and on to fashionable resorts abroad, including Norway, Jamaica, Tangiers, Morocco, Madeira and New Zealand before 1900.
James died in June 1879 and was succeeded by his sons William and George Dobson Valentine (1852-1890). George concentrated on the portrait studio work until 1884 when ill-health took him to New Zealand where he became one of the early landscape photographers in that country. William took control of the landscape side of the business in Dundee and did much pioneering work in large scale photographic processing and in photo-mechanical printing. The firm undertook the first unsuccessful attempts at submarine photography in connection with the investigation of the Tay rail bridge disaster early in 1880 and in 1885 published an innovative series of winter snow scenes. The work force grew from 14 in 1851 to one hundred by 1886 but this expanded tenfold consequent on William's decision in 1898 to enter the picture postcard market. The effect on the business was to increase the few hundred new negatives added to stock annually to many thousand new views being recorded. The general standard of photography declined and the now usual photo-mechanical method of reproduction for post-cards was frequently crude, although the firm returned to purely photographic processes for post-cards in the 1910s.
In 1900 under Managing Director Harben James Valentine (1872-1949) Valentines changed from a partnership into a private limited company. It grew so rapidly that in 1907 it became a public company with a share capital largely controlled by the family. In 1900 employed a staff of photographers who worked on location from spring until early autumn and then spent the rest of the year processing the results. The firm also employed a large number of artists (about 40 in 1907) one of whose tasks was the touching up of negatives. From 1900 or perhaps earlier, an increasing number of images were bought in from local and national photographers and agencies including George Washington Wilson, Donald George of Gwynedd, society photographers such as Karsh of Ottawa, Dorothy Wilding and Baron who sold publishing rights to Valentines.
Valentines called themselves 'photographic publishers' and reproduced a great variety of photographic goods as well as the postcards for which they are best known. A price war with German postcard publishers between 1910 and 1914 had serious effects on the business. They diversified into greetings cards and calendars at this time. Other ventures included cut-out children's books, guidebooks, and pens. The overseas branches were sold off to local management in 1923 and in 1929 they closed the portrait side of their operation to concentrate mainly on postcards. A new factory was built on the Kingsway on the outskirts of Dundee in 1937.
In the 1950s as the family influence in the firm began to wane so too did the commitment to postcards which were less lucrative than greetings cards. No new monochrome views were registered after July 1966. They failed to move early enough into colour photography and in 1967 closed down the monochrome post-card view publishing. In 1970 they ceased to publish postcards altogether and the colour transparencies were sold to other publishers. An association with John Waddington and Co. Ltd of Leeds began in 1960 which ended in a take over of Valentines in 1963. In 1980 Waddingtons sold off Valentines to Hallmark Cards Inc. of the USA. The association of Valentines with Dundee ceased on 28 October 1994 when the factory of the greetings card company closed.