In 1862, a Scottish accountant named James Skinner was searching for a pastime that would become a welcome respite from his mundane job. He became enamored with the relatively new field of photography because it satisfied his scientific and artistic inclinations. Mr. Skinner studied all aspects of photography under the instruction of renowned St. Andrews photographer Thomas Rodger, which included collodion and albumen processes. He received further invaluable assistance from landscape photographer George Washington Wilson, and began conducting his own albumenising (or albumenizing) experiments. Like his colleagues, Mr. Skinner experienced difficulties with streaks in the albumen, but discovered this was due to utilizing the albumen too soon. The albumen needed to be fresh to produce paper that would remain white long after sensitization.
What was once solely a recreational activity turned into a permanent vocation when Mr. Skinner started the Scottish Albumenising Company. After quitting his job at Aberdeen's National Bank in 1864, he moved to Glasgow where he opened the Albion Albumenising Company wholesale and importing sensitized paper business at 96 Bath Street. A paper works manufacturing plant would open on Maxwell Street before moving to Brackenbury Road in the Shepherd's Bush section of London during the 1870s. Mr. Skinner would later enter into a partnership with George Donaldson Finlayson and be joined by his son John Morison Skinner. Albion perfected the double albumenising technique, which is when sheets of paper treated with albumen are placed into a heating chamber where the steam softens the albumen surface. Next, the paper is prepared with salted albumen, which creates a glaze that produces superior prints.
Business was quickly booming, and the partners opened another wholesale location at 90 West Regent Street, which existed until the early 1880s. Another works plant was opened at the same time in London's Cleveland House, Drayton Green. Photographers of all skill levels could find a wide assortment of albumenised papers, chemicals, and equipment. Albion also branched out into camera making, beginning with the compact long focus camera fitted with a reversing back to produce horizontal and vertical negatives. In addition, it developed its own line of short focus cameras that were lauded for their high quality craftsmanship and ease of use.
In May of 1887, Mr. Finlayson left the business, but Albion Albumenising Company continued flourishing under the Skinners. The following year, at the Glasgow Exhibition, the company introduced its new portable camera with double-swing focus in mahogany and teak, along with an impressive selection of lenses including the Beck that featured an iris diaphragm. By the early 1890s, an Albion works plant opened in Cathcart, Glasgow, and the Bath Street location (which now included both a warehouse and showroom) was overseen by W. A. Verel, Jr. In 1896, the Bath Street location was moved to 128 Sauchiehall Street, where the focus shifted to camera making. The lightweight Albion Tourist and Serviceable mahogany field cameras came in four varieties and their slim construction reflected the quality workmanship for which Albion was now famous. Other locations appeared at 13 West Nile Street in Glasgow (c. 1898) and Frederick Street in Edinburgh. A 1904 fire at the Sauchiehall Street facility caused extensive damage, but the resilient company reopened the next year at 118 Howard Street. A change in location also marked a change in corporate focus, with the Albion operations now being marketed as “mount specialists.” It is believed the Albion Albumenising Company ceased operations in 1913 or shortly thereafter.
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2014 Albion Albumenizing Co. (URL: http://www.earlyphotography.co.uk/site/companies.html).
2013 Albion Albumenizing Co./ Tourist / Field Camera / 1896 / Half Plate (URL: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/stories/70616-albion-albumenizing-co-tourist-field).
1996 British Camera Makers: An A-Z Guide to Companies and Products by Norman Channing and Mike Dunn (Esher, UK: Parkland Designs), p. 16.
1874 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. XXI (London: Henry Greenwood & Co.), pp. 193-194.
1904 The British Journal of Photography, Vol. LI (London: Henry Greenwood & Co.), p. 736.
1891 Glasgow and Its Environs (London: Stratten & Stratten), p. 123.
1889 Industries: A Journal of Engineering, Electricity, & Chemistry for the Mechanical and Manufacturing Trades, Vol. V (London: W. C. Strand), p. 343.
1896 The Process Photogram, Vol. III (London: Dawbarn & Ward, Ltd.), p. 176.
1899 The Photographic Dealer, Vol. VI (London: Photographic Dealer Ltd.), p. 27.
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