Photographic archive of J Valentine and Co., Dundee

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This archive provides an unrivalled topographical record of the British Isles over a period of almost a century. Since much of the collection contains views associated with the leisure market, subjects such as fishing were regarded as attractive, agriculture less so, and industry was rarely portrayed. The main features are stately homes, historic ruins, great open spaces, beaches, the grandeur and curiosity of nature and great engineering feats. Relatively few overseas views remain. About 50,000 of the topographical views now existing pertain to Scotland, most dating after 1878 but include a few hundred of earlier date. Many of the early views containing people were very carefully posed.

The view registers for the British monochrome topographical series survive from 1878 to 1967, recording over half a million views. There are also several thousands of privately commissioned views, taken mainly since the 1920s. There are various series of special views such as the Empire Exhibition in 1938 and the Festival of Britain 1951. The Valentine General Album sequence is a created series of Valentine albums and publications. There is also a small series of unindexed material relating mainly to the business operations of the firm.

There is very little information about the firm's employees or commissioned artists.

Administrative / Biographical History

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.

Arrangement

The original chronological view registers form the basis of the arrangement of the collection. They have been used to provide years and reference numbers for the British topographical sequence. With a few exceptions the overseas views were assigned to other sequences whose registers are not preserved in the Library and which were probably not housed in Valentine's Dundee office. It must be remembered that the dates are of registration rather than of photography or publication. Also silent substitution of later images under the same number took place until about 1900.

The start of the cabinet registers in 1878 coincided with the reorganisation of the firm under William and George Valentine and incorporates views taken earlier than 1878. The view registers represent the contents of the entire original archive which is not all extant.

  • Cabinet views (ca.8'x6'): 1878-1934, some dating from 1866: Numerical cabinet sequence: 1-99999, 200000-224649:, indiscriminate mix of views of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland as well as a few overseas views. The view register for 1908-12 (61014-74339) was rewritten before coming to the library and the information giving the exact year division was lost;
  • Imperial sized views (ca.12'x8'): Registered between 1880 and 1888, 1-8216, often with an X following to indicated imperial.
  • 1934-1966: alphanumeric arrangement with prefixes: Scotland: A, registered 1934-47, B, registered 1947-54, D, registered 1954-66; England: G, H, K, L and M, registered 1934-66;Ireland and Isle of Man: R, registered 1934-64; Wales: W, registered 1934-66.
  • Card sized (ca 4'x3'): no view register survives.
  • Various colour series: allocated numbers with two or three letter prefixes e.g.: AT Scotland; ET England; RT Ireland and Isle of Man; WT Wales; PAT privately commissioned Scottish views. No registers survive and the various colour series were disposed of piecemeal to other firms after Valentines ceased postcard production.
  • Valentines General Albums sequence comprises a mixture of photographic albums assembled by the firm as well as published volumes.

Conditions Governing Access

The photographic collections are currently the subject of a major digitisation project. It is the intention to have the entire archive captured in electronic form, and available (with sophisticated searching facilities) on line via the web. A full version of the software can be accessed in the Library and researchers are welcome to visit the library to use it but it is important that appointments are made in advance. Access to original photographic material may be restricted.

Note

Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project Archivist.

Other Finding Aids

Indices to the different series of chronological view registers are held in the Reading Room. In order to check whether a view is extant it is also necessary to check the holdings registers.

Conditions Governing Use

Copies of images held in the photographic collection (with the exception of any photographs which are held either without copyright or under other restrictions imposed by the donor or photographer) can be ordered. Photographs thus provided for purely personal or research purposes are not subject to any fee beyond the photographic costs (for which a scale of charges is available). Prior written permission must be obtained before any further reproduction is undertaken of images supplied, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. Reproduction fees may be charged.

True photographic reprints of most images can be provided, or computer-generated prints of an increasing proportion of the collection at low, medium or high resolution. Given the fragility of the original material our preference is to provide computer prints where possible. We can also provide transparencies and a range of electronic formats.

Appraisal Information

Valentines had a policy of discarding obsolete negatives which began in 1931, and so of the estimated 1,000,000 images which might have been in the collection, only ca.120,000 survive. There are significant gaps in the collection and in particular, much of the overseas material is not held.

Custodial History

Archive of the firm's monochrome series was transferred to the Library from the firm in 1971.

Accruals

The collection is increasing through gifts and an active purchasing policy.

Related Material

Business records of Valentines of Dundee have been transferred from the University of Dundee and are now held as GB 227 ms38562.

Bibliography

C Jackson, University of St Andrews, Valentine Collection, St Andrews University Library, 1999.NH Reid, 'The Valentine Collection, St Andrews University', talk given to the Tay Valley Family History Society, reprinted in Tay Valley Family Historian, January 2000 (no. 55), pp. 23-26.RN Smart, 'Famous throughout the world: Valentine & Sons Ltd., Dundee', in Review of Scottish Culture, 1988 (4) pp. 75-87RN Smart, 'Harben James Valentine' in A Slaven and S Checkland, Dictionary of Scottish Business Biography, 1860-1960, (Aberdeen, 1986) pp. 206-8.

Geographical Names