CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 3125
TitlePapers relating to the George Washington Wilson & Co. photographic collection
Date1850 - current
Extent10 boxes: 3.3 linear metres
Creator NameGeorge Washington Wilson Ltd. (1850s - 1908), photographers
University of Aberdeen (1860 - )
Administrative HistoryGeorge Washington Wilson (1823-1893), born in the North East of Scotland, went to Edinburgh and then London in the 1840s to train as a portrait miniaturist. He became established in Aberdeen in the 1850s as an artist and photographer, and quickly made a name for himself among the middle classes and landed gentry. His patronage by the Royal Family during their visits to the Balmoral Estates began in 1854 when he was invited to take photographs of the Royal family in the grounds of Balmoral. He received the official appointment of Photographer Royal for Scotland in 1860 and his relationship with the Royal family continued throughout his career. Wilson's success allowed him to employ staff photographers to carry out the routine portraiture business whilst he travelled the country indulging in his new interest in landscape photography.

Wilson won a number of prizes for his photographic works including winning medals at the Great London International Exhibition of 1862 for his experimentation for quick exposures.

George Washington Wilson and Co., captured images from all over Britain, recording everything from the natural grandeur of Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa to the bustle of London's Oxford Street. Wilson had a staff of photographers including his son, Charles Wilson, who with senior staff photographer Fred Hardie, toured the colonial townships of South Africa. Dispatched to capture images of Australia in 1892, Hardie also travelled through Queensland, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. These tours provide a vivid picture of gold miners and early settlers at work and play, and of the native or aboriginal way of life. The company invested in sourcing independent photographer to capture the western Mediterranean, where they took images of Gibraltar and the south of Spain, Morocco and Tangiers.

Throughout, Wilson demonstrated technical and commercial acumen, and, by the early 1880s, the company he founded had become the largest and best-known photographic and printing firm in Scotland. Wilson handed the business over to his sons, Charles, Louis and John Wilson in 1888. The company, however, only survived for a short time under the management of Wilson's sons, with much of the company being sold in 1905 and the company finally ceasing trading in 1908.
SourceMaterial initially gathered in c.1987 and added to periodically. The University administration papers regarding the photographic collection were added when the University Reprographics Department was closed in 2008.
DescriptionThe collection described here contains 18 original George Washington Wilson and Co. printed sales catalogues dating from the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. This includes catalogues of views in Scotland, England, Ireland, Gibraltar, South of Spain and Morocco, Italy, Australia, South Africa, some being landscape and general views, others architectural views of particular towns, cities or localities. Photographs in album, imperial, cabinet, stereoscopic and carte-de-viste sizes are all represented. There are, additionally, two postcards of Japan.

Two items relate to the sale of the company in 1908. These are a 'Catalogue of an important sale of the whole plant and stock-in-trade of G.W. Wilson and Co., landscape printers and publishers ... to be sold by auction at 2 St Swithin Street, Aberdeen, on ... 9th, 10th, 11th July 1908', and a photocopy of the sale register (days 1 - 3) of John Milne, Auctioneer. There is also a photocopy of a notice advertising the opening of the London branch of G.W. Wilson and Co., n.d. In addition, the collection holds copies of the register of George Washington Wilson photographers held at Stationers Hall and a series of handwritten notes relating to the registers.

The remainder of the collection contains papers relating to the administration, preservation and marketing of the George Washington Wilson photographic archive, since it was acquired by the University of Aberdeen in 1954. This includes specimens of prints published in various forms from the archive, including postcards and calendars, 1980s - 1990s; 'George Washington Wilson Royal Photographer 1823 - 1893: centenary conference information pack', (1993); 'By Royal Appointment: Aberdeen's Pioneer Photographer: George Washington Wilson, 1823 - 1893', papers from a conference organised by the University of Aberdeen to celebrate the life and work of Scotland's pioneer photographer (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Library Publishing, in association with the Centre for Scottish Studies, University of Aberdeen, 1997); specimens of promotional material issued by the Library, 1990s; and articles and newspaper cuttings relating to the archive, 1980s - 1990s.

The collection also comprises a number of research materials relating to the George Washington Wilson collection. These materials include listings of George Washington Wilson and Co. material held in archives out with the University's collection, information on other collections of Victorian photographic material and biographic information related to George Washington Wilson and his family.
Access StatusOpen
Physical DescriptionNo physical conditions affecting use of collection.
Related MaterialThe George Washington Wilson and Co. photographic collection archive held at the University of Aberdeen's Special Libraries and Archives spans a number of independent collections. Information on the associated collections held within the archives are listed on the main archive record of MS 3792
Add to My Items