This carte-de-visite was taken at Thomas Whittaker’s Dublin Metropolitan Photographic Company in or around 1860. It doesn’t give an address, however, Edward Chandler’s inventory of nineteenth century Irish photographers lists the company as operating ca. 1860 in both Kilkenny and Dublin. It appears that in the capital, Whittaker worked out of 140 Stephen’s Green West and from another address on Grafton Street. Whilst his Kilkenny base was on John Street. According to a discussion on an Irish genealogical site, Whittaker died in 1872 and I think I have located his son’s family on the 1901 census. I’m basing my date of ca. 1860 on both the fashions and the type of card mount that was used. Early 1860s cartes had square rather than rounded corners and the photographer’s name and/or crest were printed in the middle of the card. Whittaker’s crest has enclosed the Dublin City Coat of Arms within a strap and buckle design.
The fashions worn by the couple are typical of those between 1860 and 1865. She wears a crinoline and the voluminous silk skirt spreads out over the chair and onto the floor. The buttons on her bodice and the brooch pinned to her white collar are made of ebony or vulcanite. The bodice appears to be lightly pleated and gathered and is finished with simple coat sleeves. Her headdress which consists of two plaits is very similar to the one below which was featured in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1862 (source archive.org).
The man wears a large loose fitting wool overcoat with wide notched lapels and a contrasting velvet collar. His upturned shirt collar is finished with a loose bow tie. He carries a hat with a wide band, turned-up brim and a telescope style crown. His trousers are wide legged and his laced shoes appear to be well-worn and polished. Together this middle-aged couple are keeping up with the styles of the 1860s.
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This little girl, Ada Josephine Cowper, was born in Dublin in 1865 and her family lived at 29 Fitzwilliam Place. Thanks to the online availability of church records I have been able to find out something about her life. Her marriage, at the age of twenty-seven, to Ernest Henry Knox resulted in a move to his family home Greenwoodpark, Crossmolina, County Mayo where he was a land agent. The house which was built in 1814 is now a ruin.
Ada had two children, Ada Eveleen and the exotically named Zinna Ethel! Zinna married into the Toler-Aylward family of Shankill Castle, Paulstown, County Kilkenny and it was there that Ada senior died at the age of 71 on the 6th of November 1936!
The grandly named Royal Panopticon of Science & Art was run by James Simonton. It opened to much fanfare in 1862, five years’ before Ada’s photograph was taken. Simonton had been involved in several photographic partnerships prior to this solo endeavour. Before establishing himself at 70 Grafton Street (note the typo on the card above), he was based on Dublin’s other main thoroughfare, Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street).
Simonton spared no expense on the decoration and design of his new premises and an article in The Irish Builder of July 1862 elaborates upon the studio’s mahogany fittings, spacious staircase adorned with sculpture and ‘encaustic tile pavement and richly ornamented soffet.’ In addition to the photographic trade Simonton also displayed paintings, dioramas and scientific inventions. At the time of his marriage in 1859 to Frances Isabella Harricks he listed his occupation as ‘artist’ so it is no surprise that he was to host discussions on artistic matters.
Simonton’s business thrived during the 1860s and early 70s as he benefited from the carte-de-visite craze, however, he announced in 1875 that he was retiring from the ‘fancy goods’ trade and filed for bankruptcy in 1876. He attempted to open a public house in the 1880s but his application for a licence was not successful. Instead, he reverted to photography and entered into partnership with a man called Edwards with whom he ran a business at 28 Grafton Street until 1883.
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