Negretti & Zambra

Carte~de-Visites taken at the Crystal Palace.


Fred Peskett

 A recent find of a Negretti & Zambra Carte-de-Visite shows an event at the Crystal Palace whereby a man standing on a ball of about two feet in diameter which he had rolled up a spiral construction at least 75 feet high. I estimate the height based on the man at 5 ft. 10 inches to be at least 75 ft. high. It must have been a super-human feat to walk the ball up that spiral and presumably back down again. The view is looking towards the fountain basin to the left of the Central Transept, the flag mast of the Maze can be seen in the background. I have looked through all my books on events at the Palace and can find no record of this event.

 In common with cartes featuring Crystal Palace views and events this one was not dated nor was it serial numbered. I have been collecting Negretti & Zambra cartes for some time, mainly for the back styles, it became obvious that all of their studio portraits were serial numbered and that groups of numbers could be associated with certain back styles. The serial numbers were given so that further copies could be obtained at a later date if required. Of the couple of published views I have none feature serial numbers, so I conclude that copies sold in their shop were done in batches?

 In looking through all the cartes I have there is one which is dated in ink and a couple that were dated to a place and time. By the large serial numbers used on some it became clear that Negretti had probably used a continuous sequence since they became ‘Official’ photographers in March 1855 until the time they left during 1898. From this information I thought it may be possible to work out a means of dating using serial numbers in combination with the back styles.      Unfortunately, at the moment this is not possible to achieve with any sort of accuracy until further dates to serial numbered cartes are found, however, there does seem to be a distinct sequence of back styles for which the serial numbers can be grouped. But, first, some known information about the Negretti & Zambra Company.

 The company was a leading manufacturer of optical, metrological and scientific instruments in the 1800’s. Their head office and factory was at 38, Holborn Viaduct. London, E.C. with branches at 45, Cornhill and 122, Regent Street. After taking over as the Official Photographers to the Crystal Palace Company in March 1855, they quickly established their portrait studio in the Ceramic Court, they also had a stall selling Cartes and Steroscopic photographs. On the 9th June 1855, Negretti took a photograph of Prince Albert at the Crystal Palace Floricultural Show, and in May 1856 he presented Queen Victoria with a Stereoscope of her visit just a few minutes after the photograph was taken, which suggests that processing facilities were also established by this time. The company was also credited with the views in the revised Crystal Palace Guide by Phillips in 1856.

 So far there are eleven different back styles known:-

Figure 1 (Type 1) is the earliest I have recorded serial numbered 7690. Black printing on thin grey card.

Figure 2 (Type 2) has the design printed in red with a serial number to at least 80002. This design is also known in black printing, (Type 3) all of this type found so far have no serial numbers and are either views or of general interest. These also have square corners, whereas all others are rounded.

Figure 3 (Type 4) is serial numbered from 86423 to 88689, however, there are other features such as the colour of card. 86423 dated to 22/2/72 and is brown printing on buff card, 86492 is lilac printing on cream card (Type 5) and 88689 is purple printing on brown card. (Type 6).

Figure 4. Shows cartes on a light cream card with the printing in lilac. In small letters at the bottom is ‘Marion, Imp Paris’ the printers of the basic card. These are serial numbered 91987 to 96974, (Type 7) Similar cartes but without the printer details these are serial numbered 105285 to 105452. (Type 8)

Figure 5. is a similar design to Figure 3, now with a coat of arms and ‘Sydenham’ in fancy letters. The printing is in gold on a buff card, one of these is serial numbered 111111 and has the printer details as W.W. Hughes & Co London E.C. (Type 9) There are others in this design but on yellow card without the printer details and serial numbered up to 118008. (Type 10)


Fig. 1                                                              Fig. 2


Fig. 3                                                               Fig. 4

Figure 6. is the last known back style, printed in brown on buff card, the re-ordering information now quotes ‘number and letter’ Serial numbers run from 118037 to 121323, although on the examples known only a number is given. (Type 11)

Figure 7. shows the carte of the man on the ball and has the back style Type 3.


Fig. 5                                                               Fig. 6

Fig. 7

Figures 8. & 9. are drawings not photographs and feature women criminals convicted at the Old Bailey. These were probably sold to satisfy the Victorian obsession with morbidity and they may be women who had been convicted of murder, it is doubtful if cameras were allowed in the Court, even if they were, the long exposures required would not have been possible in the circumstances, both of these are dated to August 1868, which is probably the same date as the man on the ball? (back style Type 3)


Fig. 8                                                               Fig. 9


Fig. 10                                                             Fig. 11

Figures 10 & 11. There is one other area that may be useful to date Negretti & Zambra cartes, the background in the studio against which the portraits were taken, some feature a rustic fence and stile on which the subject leans or sits, sometimes this has ferns sprouting from the base, others have bunches of daisies. Some only show part of this set slightly modified. Others are taken sitting on a chair with a floral curtain drape, the same chair and drape is used from at least serial number 80002 to 104541, this however, needs further investigation as more cartes are found.

Other studio photographers in the area are Fred Harrison of Norwood, who also used the cards printed by Marion, Paris. E.T.F. (Edward) Goodwin. 63 Anerley Road, Crystal Palace. S.E. this was near to the Low Level Railway Station. His cards were printed by Trapp & Munch, Berlin. Masonic symbols are a feature on the backs of his work. David Rees of Clapham Road, who, although not in the area, does state on the backs of his portraits that he was awarded a Prize Medal for his photographs at the South London Exhibition, Crystal Palace. There is also a Peter Greenhalgh whose photographs were taken in the ‘Crystal Palace Photo Rooms’, but his address is given as 45 Bridge Street, Bolton, so I think the Crystal Palace reference was just using it as a trade name?

 So far I have not found any cartes by J. Russell, it is likely that by the time Russell took over from Negretti the fashion for them had diminished and Russell probably concentrated on the new craze for picture postcards.

© Exhibition Study Group 2008