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Photograph - The Seller of Shellfish
  • The Seller of Shellfish
    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921
  • Enlarge image

The Seller of Shellfish

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    London (photographed)

  • Date:

    1877-1878 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Credit Line:

    Given by Mrs D. Crisp

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level F, case X, shelf 37, box A

Object Type
The photographer John Thomson (1837-1921) used the 'Woodburytype' process patented in 1864 for the images in Street Life in London, including this photograph. This was a type of photomechanical reproduction using pigmented gelatin, usually of a rich purple-brown colour. The process was complicated but remained popular until about 1900 because of the high quality and permanence of the finished images.

Social Class
The stallholder in this photograph sold crabs, lobsters, oysters, whelks and eels. He collected the goods for the day at 5 o'clock in the morning from Billingsgate Market in the City of London. Both he and his wife worked on the stall, leaving their children at home to look after themselves, sometimes until 12.30 at night. When business at the stall was bad the seller added to his income by selling shellfish in pubs, cleaning windows and beating carpets.

Real or Posed?
The people in the pictures were arranged or posed by Thomson to form interesting compositions. However, the results were often naturalistic because the subjects and surroundings were always authentic.

Physical description


Place of Origin

London (photographed)


1877-1878 (made)


Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921 (photographer)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 11 cm unmounted, Width: 9 cm

Object history note

Taken in London by John Thomson (born in Edinburgh, 1837, died in London, 1921)

Descriptive line

Seller of shellfish

Labels and date

British Galleries:

These photographs were first published in 12 instalments in 1877-1878 in a series entitled 'Street Life in London'. John Thomson had earlier photographed in China and recognized London as a remarkable new subject. Together with journalist Adolphe Smith he wrote commentaries on each image. 'Street Life' is among the earliest and most evocative examples of social documentary photography. [27/03/2003]




Photographs; Scotland; Europeana Fashion Project


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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