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Photograph - Old Furniture
  • Old Furniture
    Thomson, John, born 1837 - died 1921
  • Enlarge image

Old Furniture

  • 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 TOPIC, shelf 10C

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.

Subjects Depicted
Much second-hand furniture was originally the entire contents of a poor household, bought together for a given sum. The items were then repaired, repainted or varnished for sale. Second-hand furniture dealers in the 19th century were used to scenes of misery: their stock often came from owners who were desperate for money and had to sell their basic possessions to survive.

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

old furniture

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]
Gallery 100, ‘History of photography’, 2011-2012, label text :

John Thomson (1837-1921)
‘Public Disinfectors’, ‘Street Advertising’, ‘Doctor’,
‘Old Furniture’, from the series Street Life in London
After photographing in Asia in the 1860s Thomson
identified London as a subject of equal fascination.
Street Life in London was published in twelve
instalments between 1877 and 1878. The series was
produced in collaboration with journalist Adolphe
Smith, who wrote commentaries for each image.
The project is among the earliest and most evocative
examples of social documentary photography.

Given by Mrs D. Crisp
Museum nos. Ph.320, 321, 322, 350-1982
[07 03 2014]




Photographs; Scotland; Europeana Fashion Project


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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