This photograph has been in the family for as long as I remember, housed in a small portrait box with a lid, and a nice gold looking metal surround. This is all falling apart now, but a small caption in biro on a piece of paper inside written by my Grandmother tells me it is my Great Grandfather “aged 4”, which seemed very early for a portrait, so I thought it was time to see if this was correct. Thomas Holtby, the gentleman in question, was born in 1852 in Wainfleet, a small village on the Lincolnshire coast.
The portrait is exposed direct onto glass. Looking at the information on the Science Museum website, this type of photographic portrait, known as a colodion positive, enjoyed a fairly short period of popularity between 1853 and the 1860s when better technology arrived, but continued to be used for street portraits as it was so quick to do. Basically the photograph was taken on a small glass plate to produce a negative, but then using chemical to bleach the negative, it turned into a pale positive. By placing this on top of a black backing sheet, a viewable positive image was produced.
Thomas certainly could be four here, so the portrait here is likely to be from 1856. At that time his father (and his uncle) had a joinery and carpentry business in the town, but whether the photograph was taken there or in the town of Hull I’m not sure. There is no fancy backdrop, just a couple of props, but he is quite smartly dressed which suggests a special visit. Thomas would later become a dentist in Hull, survived serving in World War 1, and was also an amateur naturalist.
It does amaze me that something this fragile has survived over 150 years. I did take it out of the frame to scan but haven’t put it back too firmly in case I cracked the glass. Nor have I done any restoration to the scan yet; I kind of like the flaws, developing faults, scratches and other signs of age.
I have added a few more of my interesting old family photographs, or ones which have some added social history content, to the site.