John William Jamson, known as William Jamson, was the son of Samuel Jamson, a machine fitter. William initially trained as a machine fitter but later started a career in photography. By 1889, William was in business with his brother as Jamson Bros in Liverpool. The business, in the end, could not support both brothers. William, therefore, moved, first to Warrington and set up as J.W. Jamson, and then to Burnley in 1895 and Nottingham in 1902. Once settled in Nottingham, he began to produce his first postcards.
At this time, a photographer's success was determined by his ability to persuade ordinary people to have photographic portraits taken. William set up in Sheffield in the early 1900s, calling himself 'The Outdoor Photo Specialist'. Considering his choice of name it is possible that he specialised in photographing people in their own homes, in their gardens or in front of their homes or businesses, rather than in his own studio.
Jamson moved to Doncaster in 1909, setting up as Jay's Photographic Publishing Company, and employed a young photographer called Walter Allan Roelich. The company produced topographical postcards of the surrounding area as well as portraits and group photographs. A few years after joining. Roelich married William's daughter Eva and later left the business to form his own company.
Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Jamson, realising the potential demand for postcard portraits of soldiers to send back to wives and sweethearts, acquired a mobile studio and took to the road. Jamson went from army camp to army camp photographing soldiers. At this time Roelich, who was prevented from joining the army on medical grounds, returned to the business and took over the running of the Doncaster studio. In the years prior to 1918, Roelich produced a selection of photographic topographical cards of the Doncaster district. These cards are usually identified by W.A.R. or W.A.R. & Co. in one corner.
With the end of the war, the tours of the army camps ended. The business now focused on the production of topographical postcards. With this in mind, a Grader rotary photographic printing machine was purchased, which was able to produce large numbers of postcards in long runs. A new limited company was then formed, named The Doncaster Rotophoto Company.
Many of the Jamson family became involved in the new company. William Jamson and Walter Roelich were the photographers, William's son Reginald was the general manager, whilst Reginald's brother Claude and his sister Ivy, also began to work for the company.
The first series of photographs produced was of Doncaster, quickly followed by other places in the immediate locality. By mid-1920, approximately 300 series had been produced, including some for towns and villages in North Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and Nottingham. For each town or village, a variety of views were produced. Each photograph was given a double number, the first to identify the place and the second the individual photograph.
Many of the series produced were of small villages and the profit made from these postcards would have been very small. Larger towns were potentially more profitable, and some were visited several times, with new cards being added to existing series. Later, the company began to produce series for places even further afield, including popular holiday resorts in various parts of the country, probably in a bid to increase profits.
William Jamson died in November 1920 and the fortunes of a struggling company declined further. Walter Roelich and Claude Jamson left in 1921 to set up their own company and Norman Jamson, who took over as photographer, was left with a business making a significant loss. The business was forced to close in 1923 when their main supplier withdrew their credit.
Norman and Reginald Jamson established a new postcard publishing company, Donlion, in 1924 which retained the manual printing machines but not the Graber rotary machine. Donlion also acquired the Doncaster Rotophoto Company's negatives.
Walter Roelich, who had married William Jamson's daughter, had a son Claude William Jamson. In 1921 Claude set up a new company based in Doncaster but by 1929 had moved to Hessle. He continued working as a photographer and postcard producer until at least the Second World War.
The Doncaster Rotophoto Company produced approximately 686 series of postcards during its short life between 1818 and 1923. The series varied in size from around five photographs for the smallest villages to over a 100 for the large towns. It has been estimated that the company produced 15,000 different views, a remarkable achievement considering the business only survived five years. The postcards provide a unique record of numerous towns and villages in the period just after the First World War.