CollectionGB 0231 University of Aberdeen, Special Collections
Ref NoMS 3792
TitleGeorge Washington Wilson & Co. photographic collection
Datec 1850 - early 20th century
Extent40,000 glass plate negatives
Creator NameGeorge Washington Wilson & Co. (1850s - 1908); photographers
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.

Some notable dates are:
• the first series of stereoscopic views were introduced in 1858/9
• the first cabinet views were introduced in 1861
• the first album views were introduced in 1863
• the first carte-de-visite views were introduced in 1868
• the first imperial views were introduced in 1875
Custodial HistoryThe company's stock was auctioned off in 1908 and a large number of negatives passed into the hands of former staff photographer Fred Hardie. Archibald Strachan (1915 - 1982) worked as Hardie's junior and became the future owner and carer of the collection, which he then donated to the university.

Please note that there are also a number of the images present in the collection which appear to have been captured after the closure of the company in 1908 and were presumably taken by Fred Hardie and his photographic company.
SourceThe main collection was donated by photographer, Archibald Strachan, and gifted to the University in 1954. In addition, A3301/A3302/A3303/A2615xa/A3304 donated by Mr Spence on behalf of his mother Mrs J Spence of Aberdeen
DescriptionThe George Washington Wilson and Co. photographic collection consists of over 40,000 glass plate negatives, produced by the Aberdeen firm between the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.

Please note that it is very difficult to date images due to the fact that:
• there are no extant company administrative papers
• each glass plate negative size (Stereoscopic, Imperial, and Cabinet) had a separate numbering system
• when the company introduced dry gelatine plates the numbering system for all of the types of plate size were given the same cataloguing number, superseding the previous system
• popular views were often re-photographed to keep the image up-to-date, but the image retained its original number, so two plates with the same number can show the view of a location from different years, often decades apart
• some early plates were cut down to create different print sizes, the plate was then given a new number, so the same exact view can exist with two different numbers.

Rough Dating system:
• Plates numbered 2000 – 6000 are usually from the early to mid-1880s
• Plates numbered 7000 – 8000 are usually from the mid-1880s
• Plates numbered in the 9000s or the 20,000s are from the late 1890s
• Plates numbered 10,000 – 13,000 are usually later than 1890s
• Plates numbered 14,000 – 15,000 are usually c.1900 – 1907
• Plates numbered in the 21,000 are usually c. 1900.
ArrangementThe plates are arranged by their negative sizes (for more information see 'Physical Description' field below).
Access StatusRestricted
Access ConditionsThe collection has been digitised and is available online. Therefore the originals may only be consulted following permission from the University Archivist.

Items are stored in special environmental conditions and require an acclimatisation period of 24 hours before they can be accessed.
Physical DescriptionGlass plate negative sizes:
'A' - 12" x 10" (approx 30.48cm x 25.4cm)
'B' - 12" x 8" (approx 30.48cm x 20.32cm)
'C' - 10" x 7" and 10" x 8" (approx 25.4cm x 17.78cm and 25.4cm x 20.32cm)
'D' - 8 1/2" x 6 1/2" (approx 21.59cm x 16.51cm)
'E' - 8" x 5" and 8 1/2" x 5 1/2" (approx 20.32cm x 12.7cm and 21.59cm x 13.97cm)
'F' - 6 1/2" x 4 3/4" and 7" x 4 3/4" (approx 16.51 x 12.065cm and 17.78cm x 12.065cm)
Related MaterialThe Reading Room holds many copies of the business catalogues.

UNIVERSITY 1225 - Feu Charters from the University to George Washington Wilson of land at the junction of St Swithin's Street and Queen's Cross, Aberdeen: 1868 - 1895

MS 3125 - Papers relating to the George Washington Wilson and Co. photographic collection including original sale catalogues and copies of business papers. There are also administrative papers relating to the university's custody of the collection and genealogical and biographical research on the Wilson family: 1850 - current

MS 3309 - George Washington Wilson's passport for travelling on the continent and in Egypt: 1878.

MS 3375 - A collection of Wilson family photographs comprising of 57 photographs, mostly studio style, of members of the Wilson family in West Calder, Lothian: 1860 - 1930

MS 3839 - The research papers of Roger Taylor into the life of George Washington Wilson compiled by Taylor for his MA thesis and following publication 'George Washington Wilson Artist and Photographer (1823 - 1893)'. The papers comprise three broad areas: research into Wilson, his family and his business; correspondence with Wilson's living relatives and papers relating to Taylor's publications: c 1820 - 1998

MS 3840 - This is an artificial collection to unite various deposits and purchases, which all contain George Washington Wilson & Co. commercial products. The collection includes: albums of prints, carte-de-visite, stereoscope cards, un- mounted prints, glass lanternslides and a medallion portrait of Robert Burns. Geographically the collection covers mainly Scottish Scenery: 1850 - 1989
Publication NoteGeorge Washington Wilson, artist and photographer (1823 – 1893) (Roger Taylor, Aberdeen University Press, 1981)
George Washington Wilson, artist and photographer (1823 – 1893) (Roger Taylor & Brian May, London Stereoscopic Company Ltd., 2018).
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