The firm of James Valentine & Sons was founded in Dundee, Scotland in1825 by John Valentine, a former weaver and construction laborer. Originally a printing company and that specialized in bill heading design, engraved notices, and propagandist literature on behalf of American social activist Elihu Burritt, under James Valentine’s leadership, the focus shifted to photography after John Valentine’s departure in 1840. Traveling to Paris to study photography under Andre-Francois Bulot, James Valentine became an accomplished photographer and clinician. During the 1850s, advertising for the renamed “Valentines of Dundee” included a reference to photographic services such as landscapes, portraits, and customized frames. It initial sold only other photographers’ stereographs and carte-des-visite before offering its own original prints and geographical lithographs that were tailored to the burgeoning tourist industry.
By the early 1860s, James’s son William Dobson Valentine joined the family business. After earning his chemistry degree, the junior Valentine trained with acclaimed landscape photographer Francis Frith at his Reigate, Surrey studio. He encouraged his father to compete with fellow Scotsman, photographer George Washington Wilson, who had achieved considerable commercial success with his portraits of the British royal family. In 1867, Queen Victoria commissioned James Valentine to produce a Scottish Highlands series of stereographs. So impressed was the monarch that Mr. Valentine was honored with the prestigious title of “Photographer to the Queen.”
After the senior Valentine’s death in 1880, William Dobson Valentine and his brother George became sole partners of what was to become known as “James Valentine & Sons.” During its late 19th century heyday, the firm produced 3,000 prints a day, and became a marvel of Victorian industrialization, with their factory being one of the first to operate on steam power. George Valentine left the business in 1884, relocating for health reasons to New Zealand, where he established himself as one of the country’s leading landscape photographers. Meanwhile, W. D. Valentine enhanced his professional reputation as a frequent contribute to several industry publications such as Art Journal and The Photographic News. He became one of the foremost experts on seasonal landscapes and underwater photography, and by 1888, the firm’s catalogue boasted more than 20,000 regional views of Great Britain and Scandinavia.
When William Valentine’s son Harben entered the business, he was determined to propel the company into the twentieth century by concentrating on technological improvements, which included a changeover to the collotype process, eventually coupled with the bitumen technique to produce colorized images. James Valentine & Sons truly became a global enterprise, with branches in Australia, South Africa, the United States, and Canada. In the 1900s, the ever-growing conglomerate employed nearly 600 employees in Great Britain alone (many of whom were female workers), and in addition to retouching and three-color printing, were also producing lantern slides, calendars, children’s books, greeting cards and postcards. Though Harben Valentine had succeeded his father in managing daily operations, W. D. Valentine remained an active corporate force until he died in 1907. The following year, the company introduced its logo of a twin globe captioned, “Famous throughout the world.” Harben Valentine’s death in 1949 marked the end of active family participation in the business. After several years of slumping sales, the bulk of James Valentine & Sons was sold to John Waddington and Co. Ltd. in 1963. The family donated an archive of 150,000 topographical photographs to the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland. Its greeting card division was sold to Hallmark Cards in 1980.
1904 British Journal of Photography, Vol. LI (London: Henry Greenwood & Co. Ltd.), pp. 808-809.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1433-1434.
2013 Hemera Collective Photo Blog: Famous Throughout the World: An Introduction to the History of Valentine & Sons Ltd., Dundee and London and the Photographic Postcard (URL: http://hemera-collective.blogspot.com/2013/11/famous-throughout-world-introduction-to.html).
2017 James Valentine (URL: http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/PP_V/pp_valentine_james.htm).
2017 James Valentine (1815-1880) (URL: https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/james-valentine).
1882 The Photographic News, Vol. XXVI (London: Piper and Carter), pp. 115-117.
2012 Photography of Victorian Scotland by Roddy Simpson (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.), p. 124.
2015 Thomas Annan of Glasgow by Lionel Gossman (Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers), p. 17.
2017 Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. (URL: https://torontopostcardclub.com/canadian-postcard-publishers/valentine-sons).
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