I have a new printer due to arrive today, so I spend a bit of time sorting out a suitable image to test it out with. Eventually I decided on this Victorian portrait of a young lady from the studio of a local photographer, Wilkinsons. A high resolution scan of the old Carte de Visite means that I will be able to test the quality of the printing when I stoke it up to its full A3 capacity.
The choice is a particularly good one because Mr Wilkinson (and I am assuming it was a Mr, although given the prominent role women played in the development of nineteenth century photography, this may well be a false assumption) advertises himself as the “inventor and sole proprietor of the new Photo Mechanical Process”. Given that he lists his address as the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield and lists branches in Halifax, Cleckheaton and Sheffield, it was rather exciting to discover a local photographer who seems to have pushed back the technological barriers of photographic printing the best part of one hundred and fifty years ago.
Tracking W T Wilkinson down is not difficult, he seems to have published a number of books on photographic printing from the mid 1880s onwards. Indeed you can still download copies of his worldwide hit “Photo-Engraving, Photo-Etching & Photo-Lithography in Line and Half-tone; also Collotype and Heliotype” from Project Gutenberg today. In the 1890s he published another volume entitled “Photo Mechanical Process : A Practical Guide To The Production of Letterpress Blocks in Line and Tone”, and this would certainly seem to link WT Wilkinson with our Wilkinson based at the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield. Nevertheless, all the published books by W T Wilkinson state that he is “of London” and there is even records of him being a “teacher of photography and the Photo-Mechanical Process at Goldsmith’s Institute, London”.
Meanwhile, the excellent Huddersfield Exposed website has an article on the Huddersfield photographers J and F A Wilkinson and quotes an advert from 1890 in which their photographic studio at Claremont Hall, Newhouse, Huddersfield was put up for auction. This was obviously brought about by a reversal in the fortunes of their business because in 1894 poor old J A Wilkinson is sent to Wakefield Prison for “non-payment of Poor Rate” and in the early twentieth century he appears to be living in poverty in London.
I discovered one further piece of evidence in back copies of the Wakefield Free Press from April 1898 and this seems to imply that W T Wilkinson, “Photographer and Photo-Mechanical Printer” had a business in Wakefield in 1898. His advert claims that portraits of “yourself or friends … your house, horse, dog, etc” can be printed up to 15x12inches for just five shillings. I doubt whether my new printer will be able to compete with that, but I will user the portrait of the young lady from the Steam Finishing Works in Huddersfield to test it out.
And whilst I am waiting for the new printer to arrive, I might just flick through Wilkinson’s Photo-Engraving, Etching and Lithography” in order to get a few hints on the photographic printing process, and a few clues about the various photographic Wilkinsons.