I’m quite excited about this month’s King’s Ginger blog post. It’s the first time I have actually acquired a piece of genuine Edwardian royalty memorabilia. But, thanks to the lackadaisical UK postal system, the post has come a little late as I couldn’t publish it without having said item in my sweaty mitts! But here it is, a new adventure into the life of King Edward VII – this time I’m talking about his good lady wife, Queen Alexandra, a most unexpected pioneer of early photography! Time to get snap happy!
Something which has mysteriously never come up in the couple of years that I’ve been doing these posts is the fact that Queen Alexandra was seriously into her photography. She was absolutely devoted to her hobby, and was the lucky owner of a Kodak No. 1, one of the first cameras ever made by American company Kodak in 1889. It was lucky she was the Princess of Wales as those little magic boxes were really quite expensive back then. An American company, they cost $25 (around $600 now) in 1889 but came pre-loaded with 100 shots – you finished the roll and then sent the whole thing back to the company to be processed and reloaded.
The first camera they ever made was simply called the Kodak, followed by the Kodak No. 1, and it even had its first ever promotional model, or Kodak Girl, Kitty Kramer, in 1890.
Apparently, Kodak founder George Eastman had opened a London shop selling his film products in 1885 but by 1891 they had also opened their first manufacturing plant outside of the US, in Harrow. Alexandra seemed committed to one brand (not that there were many around back then) at least throughout the pertinent period. In an unprecedented move for a Royal, she exhibited her work in public in the Kodak exhibitions of 1902 and 1906 and in 1908, she published a book, the aforementioned rather fabulous piece of memorabilia that I tracked down on Mssrs E. Bay & Co.
It contained reproductions of 136 snapshots, ninety printed in photogravure and forty-six mounted by hand on to dark green pages, to look like a real photograph album. The book, sold at 2s 6d (12 ½ p) a copy, was published simultaneously in England and America on 12 November 1908. Large orders were also dispatched to Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, France and throughout the British Empire. The book had an incredible success and over thirty charities ultimately benefited from sales, giving the Queen the greatest satisfaction.
The book itself is filled with snapshots of family life and the duties of a Queen as well. Numerous snaps of the King, their children and grandchildren appear:
The Queen was so proud of her efforts that she even had her photographs printed onto a tea set in circa 1900!
I guess it’s the 1900s equivalent of getting a mug of your own mug from Moonpig (dot commm!)? But distinctly classier.
There can be no doubt that the public support and enthusiasm that Queen Alexandra showed for photography helped make the hobby more popular for the masses. The Royal Family were the super celebrities of their day, after all! And although that first 1880s camera was out of reach of most people’s pockets, Kodak introduced the Brownie in 1900. It cost only 5D or $1 and remains the most famous Kodak ever.
I wanted to have a look at an original Kodak camera myself, but the best I could track down was a Brownie in the V&A Museum of Childhood. It’s from much later – 1950-1960, but the design didn’t change all that much in the 50 years, it just got a bit smaller!
I’ll leave you with one thing, the most suitable recipe for the season. Enjoy one and all – I will be posting a special extra blog on behalf of the King’s Ginger sooner than usual – from the Hampton Court Flower Show no less!