Free photographer lists, 1840 – 1940, completed A through to S

During recent weeks additional content has been added to the Photographer lists, 1840 – 1940, published at Photographers 1840 – 1940. These free listings now include content listed  A through to S, with the corresponding data available for immediate download through our e-commerce site.  Work continues apace on data T through to Z, likely to be completed this summer 2009.

Using Trade Directories to Date Photographs

Using Trade Directories

Trade directories are extremely helpful for dating old photographs. They are ONE of the main tools available and will often provide an answer that is accurate enough.

However, like most historical records, it helps to understand a little bit about them, including their strengths and their limitations.

Trade directories were, and still are today (Yellow Pages etc.), designed to allow businesses to advertise their goods and services. They are almost always DATED to reflect the year of publication and can cover a very small area such as a village or a wider area such as a town, city or county.

Good things about trade directories. They

  • are dated
  • include the business name
  • include one or more business addresses
  • sometimes include other marketing information such as products and prices.

Limitations of trade directories.

  • not every business advertised in trade directories
  • those that did advertise did not necessarily advertise every year; some advertised only periodically when they felt the need to or when funds were available
  • dating a photograph using trade directory data is less precise when businesses stayed at the same address for a long time
  • compilation  of a directory was usually six to 12 months in advance and business details sometimes altered between compilation and publication
  • historically, compilation errors did inevitably occur.

From this, we can deduce that

  • a trade directory entry indicates that a firm WAS IN BUSINESS at a particular address in at least part of  the year that the directory was published (unless details changed between compilation and publication ) – the actual dates are not definable – only the year
  • the ABSENCE of a trade directory entry does not mean that a firm was NOT in business at that time (maybe it did not advertise)
  • trade directory data helps most when firms moved about – the longer a firm was at a particular address, the less useful the trade directory information is for dating purposes.

Other ways of dating a photograph

For a general introduction, go to Dating Old Photographs.

If your photograph is a carte de visite or a cabinet card, and the trade directory information alone is not precise enough for you, use our unique dating wizard – coming SOON only on this website.

OR – if you prefer – go to our Custom Dating page and ask for our personal estimate of the date of your photograph which we will assess using all of the many sources of information available to us.

Ron Cosens 2009

Can I find any more photographs of my family by the same photographer?

Many people have photographs of their ancestors and ask the question ‘Can I find any more photographs of my family by the same photographer?’ or ‘Can I find out the names of the people in my photograph?’.

To do this would mean that the photographer’s records need to be available somewhere, especially their day books listing customer details and their heavy, old glass negatives.

This is very rarely the case as the books and negatives have nearly always been destroyed many years ago as the need for providing reprints died out.

For an interesting story of glass negatives that were saved – see

Very occasionally, records have been saved and are held in a museum, library or County Records Office local to where the photographer had his studio. It is always worth enquiring and, if you do get lucky, don’t forget to let us know about it as we are trying to build up a list of archives that hold this type of material.

At present only some of the work and records of the more famous photographers such as Camille Silvy and Alexander Bassano are held at places like the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Don’t forget, we have over 5,000 photographs of NAMED sitters listed on this site – see – and we have details of one other source which may also be able to help.

Ron Cosens  August 2009