Victorian Photo Albums


Photography is part of our everyday lives, but what about the lives of those who lived in the 19th and 20th centuries? Well, photography was important for Victorian era people as well! Photography provided Victorians a method of capturing the likeness of loved ones that was more simplistic and accessible than commissioning a painted portrait. This was also far easier than sitting for hours upon hours while a portrait was being painted.


The first Canadian photography studio was set up in Montreal in the 1840s, however, photography was developed in Europe well before this. Thomas Wedgwood, known as “the first photographer”, began experimenting with developing photos in 1800. These early photographs darkened over time to produce only shadows and silhouettes. The first permanent photograph is credited to French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826– Niépce used a pewter plate, Bitumen of Judea, and a mixture of oil of lavender and white petroleum to capture the view of the street outside his window (left). Niépce later partnered with Louis Daguerre to experiment with silver chloride (a compound that darkens when exposed to light), and on January 7, 1839, Daguerre announced his new invention the “daguerrotype”.

Photos could take a long time to develop– Niépce’s first photo took 8 hours of exposure! This is the reason as to why people did not or rarely smiled in their photos until the late 19th century and the early 20th century when photography was little more advanced.

Victorian Photo Album at the Rectory

The photographs pictured in this blog are portraits from an early photo album in our collection. Based on the dresses and the hair styles of many of these people pictures, these photos can be dated from 1860- 1880, however, it is difficult to obtain accurate dates due to there being no dates on the photos themselves. Most of these portraits were taken from the shoulders up, however there are quite a few that are full body photos. Some of these photos are still the negatives of the photo where some of the photos are the fully developed images.

These photos were all taken by photography companies in New England (i.e. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, etc.). Some companies are as follows:

  • R. H Dewey photography company
  • F. Kindler photography company
  • C.L. Howe Photography company
  • B.F. Childs photography company
  • D.A Henry photography company

What Makes these Photos “Victorian”?

Here’s how you can tell if you have Victorian photos in your own collection!

  1. Analyze the background and props used in the photograph. Professional photographs of the Victorian period portray subjects in studio settings with painted backdrops, drapes, furniture, and architectural forms such as columns and pedestals. Accessories within the photos were used to signify wealth, so further information can be inferred from the quailty of the children’s toys. Adults were often portrayed holding books, implying the literacy of the subject.
  2. Check out the name of the photography company on the back of the photo. Some quick research shows when these photography companies were in operation.
  3. Observe the positioning of the subjects. Daguerrotypes of the 1840s and 50s generally depicted subjects seated at cloth covered tables. Photographs from the 1860s often portray subjects full-length either standing posed with one hand resting on piece of furniture or or sitting at a cloth-covered table. The 1870s and 80s saw the camera move in toward the subject again for half or three-quarter length views, and the subject was often posed in a relaxed manner with an elbow across a chair back.
  4. Find out more on photo compositions at

Though we do not know the context of these photos nor the reasons why these photos were taken we do know that these photos were taken to commemorate people, events, and times in ones life much like they do in the 21st century

To learn more about the quirks of these photos visit: