Graystone Bird’s magic lantern slides of Whitby

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Some of the finest photographic lantern slides from the late Victorian and early Edwardian period were, in my opinion, produced by Graystone Bird who, unlike other professional photographers of the time, sold his images on glass, magic lantern, projection slides. It is probably for this reason that he is virtually unknown today.

He was born in 1862 in Frome, Somerset, where his father owned a portrait photography studio which was so successful that by 1880, the family had moved to prestigious premises in Milson Street, Bath. Although the core business was initially portrait photography, advertisements from the time indicate that by 1893 the Birds were producing magic lantern slides.

By 1896 Graystone had succeeded his father as the proprietor and was selling his photographic lantern slides to the public from the shop and by mail order and was also wholesaling to the retail trade. He promoted his business by exhibiting his photographs in exhibitions and competitions at home and internationally and his advertisements claim that he won over two hundred gold, silver and bronze prizes.

Graystone Bird’s slides are instantly recognisable by their unique style and content. The ‘rural genre’ series (taken in Castle Combe in 1906 and to be the subject of a future post), portraits of children and illustrated hymn slides are very familiar to lantern slide collectors. His studies of Whitby, the Isle of Man, Penzance and St. Ives ‘though much rarer, are particularly striking, with their sharp detail, fine tone and artistic composition. Over one hundred years later, they are an important historical record of life in those communities.

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Today’s three photographs are of Whitby in North Yorkshire. The first shows the annual Regatta, the second a fishwife on the quayside and the third, a remarkably detailed photograph of a Whitby jet jewellery stall. I’ve not been able to determine when they were taken or whether Graystone knew Whitby’s own famous photograph, Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Graystone was nine years younger than Frank but they were probably equally well-known at the time and produced similar ‘nostalgic’ photographs ‘though in different formats. I wonder how Sutcliffe felt about Bird working his patch!

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You can see more Graystone Bird Whitby photos in my booklet on this topic.

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