Date an Old Photograph - Roger Vaughan Picture Library
Marion - Victorian Photograph Card Printers
by Roger Vaughan


On the back of a Victorian photograph - at the bottom - may be some tiny printed writing, this was the company that printed the card and supplied the cardstock to the photographer.

The Printer Marion Imp, Paris & London.

[In 1863-4 A.Marion & Co. 23 Soho Square, London, were publishing cartes for Southwell Brothers of 16 & 22 Baker Street W. London, and in c.1866 producing cartes wholesale for Mayall of Regent Street)

The backs of carte de visite (cdv) and cabinet cards from the period 1859 to 1908 (cabinet from the 1870s) are a riot of designs and colours. I have long thought that there may be some order in all this if it was all sorted out by year. Unfortunately very few photographs have reliable dates with them, so this has had to wait until I had enough information and a feel for what date a photo might be before attempting this. This is my first attempt!

For those who have never thought about it, here are my thoughts about the backs, (mount, card or cardstock). At first in1859 to about 1862 a format of size (4 + 2/16 inch by 2 + 8/16 inch - length varies - width does not) had been established for the card and a photographer went to a local printer and have some made. These were simple blanks with no name or anything on them. A few started to have the photographers name printed on the back in a very simple way, probably pushed into it by the printer who was not getting any work out of this - so simple print did not add much to the cost of the card. Within a few years what was written on the back became a status symbol with royal crowns, indicating royal patronage, medals won at Exhibitions and so on. Some went one better and paid for a design to be made and printed.
Mayall c.1870

Rotating Squares (c.1870 onwards)

Then by about 1863-4 came A Marion & Co. of Soho Square, London, who by 1866 were employed handling the wholesale publishing of the sale of 'famous people' carte de visites, for the top London studio of Mayall (some say that Marion introduced the carte format to Britain in 1857). By 1870 Marion were making the backs for sale to photographers, and must have had travelling salesmen pushing their product to the smaller studios using a standard catalogue of designs. The only way to get the price down to below the level of the customer's local printer, would be by economies of scale - ie: print alot of the same design and try to sell them to everyone - this they tried to do using muted colour cards with a simple border - a coloured line set in from the edge with rotating square shapes in the four corners, at the bottom in small print was Marion Imp, Paris. The first I can find was produced for Mayall of 224 Regent Street, London c.1870 (see image of Rotating Corners) and they used the same border later for A & G. Taylor of London c.1874 and much later for Elliot and Fry, Baker Street, London (1880s). This simple border was soon generally replaced by other designs, but it did keep going with some photographers until at least 1884 (Bennett, 8 Broad St. Worcester). Within this simple border was placed the customers design, often a logo - the name with fine scrollwork, perhaps a crown and some sort of 'Copies can be had' statement. Marion at this time must have employed designers and had the ability to create printers blocks with intricate designs and they seemed happy to copy or improve any previous carte design given to them. Having the 'No.' printed on the lower back seems to start about 1878 with Marion cards - it is the negative number which should be hand written on the back if the negative was to be kept for future reprints.

Wyatt & PhillipsLarge Letter (c.1874 onwards)

Many studios went with simple designs in the early 1870s - simple printing at three type sizes and fonts, often with the name slanting and in fancy font with flying scrolls. By 1874 a new designer was at work creating large exotic 'P' for photographic and smaller fancy 'S' for studio(Large Letter) and numerous very fine scrolls fill more than half the card, or the same for other capital letters as required.

GuttenbergBamboo and Roses (c.1874)

Then in about 1874 a new standard design arrived in pink, green and other colours, (Bamboo and Roses) the fine line is still there minus squares, these squares now move inward to form part of a bamboo design of an oval with squares in the corner and roses and as they didn't want this design to be copied by everyone, they marked them with Copyright, Marion, Imp Paris Depose their customers for this design in the mid 1870s were: M.Guttenberg, Bristol and T.Higgins, Shipstone, and others.
Many studios now wanted to be unique and had the money to have unique designs made, see (Protheroe of Bristol 1877, Webster Bros, Bayswater 1878) but during the 1880s Marion went with any design the customer wanted (W.Smith Leeds, 1881) so they are no use for dating in this sequence.
Printer's code - the cards up to about 1880 just have Marion Imp Paris and no date codes (see below)

Naudin Parasol (c.1884)

In about 1884 another standard design was produced the Parasol ( Naudin, London, W.Baker, Birmingham, F.W.Broadhead, Leicester) the 1888 ones have Marion, Imp Paris London - . - Depose which looks like a printer's code for the year of manufacture, in fact a whole range of these dashes, dot, speech marks, before or after a word, give some sort of a pattern through time that I am beginning to sort out (see my attempt at the bottom of this page). This design, and varieties by other printers can be found to about 1890.

Two new standard designs appear in 1889 the Folded Corner (customers: Edward Down, Bournemouth, S.J.Line, Southampton) and the Bamboo and Square designs (South Kensington Studio, Frederick Argall, Turo).
Many studios simply kept the same early 1880s designs (example:Bennett, Worcester 1887) with minor modifications up to the 1890s some liked the stability of a single design, as it went with and old-established and respectable image.
During the 1880s many other card printers came into fierce competition with Marion, designs were copied and re-copied - usually redrawn or re-interpreted, so that at first sight they look the same, or similar, but drawn by a different hand [a Naudin version of Parasol (above) by Trapp & Münch, Berlin] - and interesting new designs were created by companies in London and Berlin, that rival any that Marion produced.

S.J.Line - Folded Corner
Folded Corner c.1889
  Argall - Bamboo and Square
Bamboo and Square c.1889
  F.Higgins - Bamboo, and Fan
Bamboo and Fan c.1892 - reused 1884 design
An 1884 design was still being used by Marion c.1892 in the Bamboo and Fan (F.Higgins & Son, Chard, F.C.Christopher, Bristol) by Marion, it is likely it was some other companies original design, as it occurs in so many similar copies and is not claimed as a Marion copyright. (see design elements created by rival printers in Charles Norris, Pollards Art Studio, Edward Roger, Scott & Wilkinson, W & J Stuart, T.Tame, W.Usherwood 1884) and may have been originated by Trapp & Münch, Berlin, London, and makes this design hard to date.

Seated Artist
Seated Artist c.1894
  Hartwell - Reclining Lady
Reclining Lady c.1892

The last great designs were in 1892-4 they are the Seated Artist and Reclining Lady. The first of these, registered design 41062, came in a range of colours: greens, reds, browns and the name was written "Marion Imp Paris - - or "Marion & Co - - probably indicating a year of manufacture of 1892 (see W.Rigg, S.J.Line, Raymond Lynde, FTJ Morris), for a similar design by printer Reg CE & G. see Auty). The other design of the reclining lady is registered no 41057 so may be the year 1893 with the code - Marion & Co - - ( see Herbert Hartwell above). See date codes

The above designs seem to have no names so I have invented some for easy reference.

The printer's name Marion Imp Paris can be found on cartes from all over the world, showing that their business was shipping cardstock worldwide and the same designs, so far they have been found from: India, Burmah, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Gibralter (thanks Malcolm Davis for the information).

Marion and Co. Advert 1889 Marion and Co. advertisment,
showing they had a Guide,
sold Outfits and Sets,
and gave free lessons to all purchasers.
(Enquire Within upon Everything, 1889)

An Estimate of dates from the Marion Code

It seems that Marion introduced a date code to the cards produced after 1880, but old stock was still being used as late as 1886. There is some system to this, though it looks a bit random. Look for speech marks or mark, dashes, dash dot dash, dash dot dash under the name and so on.
I now have made an attempt to sort out the code - see the next page.

A Page showing some Marion Codes and dates

If you have a well dated Marion card with a date code let me know.
Also use these below
Marion's Registered Designs
Rd No. 41.055 (1891)
Rd No. 41057 (c.1892-3)
Rd No. 41062 (c.1892-1896)
Rd No. 161785 [1898]

Many cards will have no printer's name - so the general style of the design may sometimes be used to get a rough date.

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