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The Seaman Family - links to Stamp Photographs and StickyBacks

The information produced here about the Seaman dynasty has been kindly provided by photo historian Paul Godfrey.

Although the Seaman family are not thought to have operated in Cambridgeshire, they were players in the field of stamp photographs, stickybacks, and no doubt other cheap portraiture products. These notes are intended to illustrate something of the spread and popularity of these products.

The Seaman family of photographers had a number of studios in the UK. The dynasty started with Alfred Seaman, b 1844, a Norfolk brick maker who who had turned photographer by 1881. Alfred had eight sons who all played a part in expanding the business, parts of which were later taken forward by further generations of the family. Parts of the business operated at different periods in Chesterfield, Ilkeston, Alfreton, Leeds, Sheffield, Brighton, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Douglas Isle of Man, Hucknell, Blackpool, Bridlington, Hull, Doncaster, Beverley, Scarborough, Southport, Northampton, Colchester, Durham, Bristol, West Hartlepool, Cardiff, Bristol, Great Yarmouth and Lincoln. Dr John Bradley has published an excellent 169 page monograph on the family and its photographic businesses and products, which is available online here .

A Seaman business at 27 Mint Street Lincoln was operated from 1892-1901 by Alfred Seaman's younger brother, Edward Seaman b.1845 East Lexham, Norfolk. In 1895 Edward patented a printing frame which printed 12 photographs, each 1 inch x ¾ inch on a piece of photographic paper 3 inches square (UK patent 6901 of 1895). He advertised stamp photographs for sale in 1897. If this Seaman studio offered stamp photographs, then it seems likely that others may have done also.

Two other members of the Seaman dynasty filed patents relating to equipment used in producing and numbering small multiple negatives from larger plates which would have assisted in taking and printing small inexpensive portraits.

Dennis Benjamin Seaman b. 1870, Worral Yorks, patented a moveable back camera and printing frame taking multi images on a larger glass plate and simultaneously photographing a numbered ticket. This gave a permanent link between an image and a ticket given to the customer, making it straightforward in a high volume business to match the customer with his or her images after the film had been processed and prints produced. One of Benjamin's products, produced with this device, was a postcard with a main image of the subject's portrait with a smaller image of a number printed on a small strip either above or below the main image. (UK Patent no 5361 of 1903) Below is an example print from a similar camera. This appears to be an elongated carte de visite, but in fact is not a photo stuck onto a mount but is one piece of photographic paper 122 x 54mm on which is printed the main image, the photographer's name and a strip from the customers ticket showing the ticket number. This is from the F.J.Seaman studio in Blackpool. The reverse is blank, but in manuscript is written "Foster". This type of production would have been cheaper and easier to produce that cartes de visite or cabinet photographs.

Seaman, photo taken with patented camera

Below is another example of the work of F.J.Seaman c.1905, then with studios at Hull, Beverley, York, Blackpool and Nottingham. This shows how a tiny stamp-sized photographic image, less than an inch square, was made into an inexpensive product for the less well off customer. The mount measures 3.5 x 2.4 inches.

Tiny stamp sized photograph in mount by F.J.Seaman

In 1906 Herbert Oscar Seaman of Victoria Rd, Stechford, Worcs, tried unsuccessfully to patent a device which seemed to be a kind of small light box camera accessory which facilitated photographing a ticket number with the subject's image. (UK Patent no 9648 of 1906)

It would appear that Dennis Benjamin Seaman had studios in Liverpool and Douglas, Isle of Man, and he is therefore likely to have been well aware of the StickyBacks activities of his competitor, Grossi.

Below is an image from Dennis Benjamin Seaman's studio at Douglas on the isle of Man. This appears to be a tiny carte de visite, but is not a photograph on a mount. It is one piece of photographic paper 70 x 40mm on which is printed the portrait and the name "D.B.Seaman & Co, Douglas". This type of production must have been very cheap and quick to produce and would have been in direct competition with its stickyback rivals.

Tiny inexpensive carte by D.B.Seaman, Douglas

The Western Daily Press of Friday 03 November 1905, carried the following report linking the Seaman dynasty and the term "StickyBack".

"BRISTOL POLICE COURT. YESTERDAY.— Before Major Rumsey and H. W. Carter. THEFT STICKY-BACK TICKETS. Frank Chard was charged, on remand, with stealing a number receipt forms, value 5d, the property of H. 0.Seaman, photographer, of 27, Castle Street [Bristol], and with obtaining by false pretences I shilling from Mary Ann Burge, 2, Goodhind Street, and 8d from Mary Ana Johns 2, Gloucester Street, Mrs Burge stated that Chard asked her buy some tickets of which she would be able to have her photograph taken at half-price—twelve stickybacks for sixpence instead a shilling. She understood the boy obtained a commission, and bought two tickets. On going to Seaman’s she found the tickets were of no use. Mary Ann Johns said she bought three tickets from the boy for 8d. The photographs, she understood, were 3d dozen. An assistant to Mr Seaman stated that the tickets were taken from the counter when witness and Mr Seaman were absent. About twenty tickets from two stolen books were presented. No canvassers were employed. The boy pleaded guilty and said he was sorry and did not know what made him it. The Bench decided to send the lad to Kingswood Reformatory for five years."

This insight into the marketing of StickyBack photos and the use of the "Sticky-Back" name might only apply to this one Seaman studio, or it might be indicative of the way that a number of them operated in 1905.

Seamans' studios also produced good quality portraiture. The example below with a postcard back is again from the studio of D.B.Seaman, Castle Mona Studio, Douglas I.O.M.

Family photograph be D.B.Seaman

Reverse of above portrait by D.B.Seaman

At  some point, at least four of the Seaman Studios (16 High Street Birmingham, 19 Castle Street Bristol, 3 Queen Street Wolverhampton, and 65 Park Street Walsall) passed into the hands of photographer Charles Thomas Saunter b.1864. The postcard below captures the moment. From the dress of the two ladies depicted this seems to be around 1905-10. Charles Thomas Saunter first appeared as a photographer at 104A Foord Rd Folkestone in the 1899 Kellys Directory of Kent. In the 1903 Kellys Directory he was a photographer at 38 Rendezvous Street Folkestone. In the 1911 census Charles Thomas Saunter b.1864 Folkestone Kent was listed as a photographer and employer at 5 Finnemore Rd Bordesley Green, Birmingham, where he was living with his wife Sarah and 3 children. Kellys Directories list him as a photographer in his own name at 15A High St Birmingham in 1912 and in 1915 at 16 High Street Birmingham. Charles Thomas Saunter, photographer, was listed at 3 Queen Street Wolverhampton and at 16 High Street Birmingham in Kelly's 1921 Directory.

Seaman Studios Portrait c.1910

Top of page is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring smaller sized portrait photographs and those who worked in this trade.
This page was last modified: 12 July 2019, 10:58

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