Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Collector:
Princeton University. Library. Special Collections and Cotsen, Lloyd E.
Title:
Lloyd E. Cotsen Collection of Potter Family Photographs
Repository:
Cotsen Children's Library
Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/3484zg92m
Dates:
1865-1935
Size:
1307 items and 19 linear feet
Storage Note:
Firestone Library (hsvc): Box 1-19
Language:
English

Abstract

This collection consists primarily of photographs taken by Rupert Potter (1832-1914), father of children's book author Beatrix Potter (1866-1944). It includes many portraits of Beatrix, of family members, and of friends. In addition, the collection includes studio portraits of Potter family members taken by various commercial photographers; a few photographs taken by Beatrix as aids for illustration; and photographs of animals and farmsteads in the Lake District related to Beatrix Potter Heelis' career as sheep farmer and land preservationist from the 1910s to 1940s.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Description:

The Lloyd E. Cotsen collection of Potter Family photographs consists primarily of photographs taken by Rupert Potter (1832-1914), father of children's book author Beatrix Potter (1866-1944). Rupert Potter was a prolific amateur photographer who made many portraits of Beatrix, of family members, and of friends. He also photographed the landscape of the Lake District, Cumbria, England, where the family spent their summers. In addition to Rupert Potter's photographs, the collection includes studio portraits of Potter family members taken by various commercial photographers; a few photographs taken by Beatrix as aids for illustration; and photographs of animals and farmsteads in the Lake District related to Beatrix Potter Heelis' career as sheep farmer and land preservationist from the 1910s to 1940s. The Cotsen Children's Library also houses a wide array of drawings, manuscripts, correspondence, printed works, merchandise, and ephemera related to the life and career of Beatrix Potter. Some of these materials, along with the photographs, are described in Margit Sperling Cotsen, The Beatrix Potter Collection of Lloyd Cotsen (Cotsen Occasional Press, 2004).

The collection comprises approximately 1300 items. Almost all are photographic prints, including albumen prints; platinum prints; gelatin or collodion printing out prints; and silver gelatin developing out prints. Also included are a group of photographs of Bertram Potter's landscape paintings, and several envelopes originally used to store groups of photos.

Arrangement:

The photographs are arranged according to three series. The first series consists of portraits, which are arranged in the sequence used to describe them in the printed catalog of the Cotsen Potter collection. That is, they are arranged by portrait subject, and by date within each subject group. Although this mode of classification has the disadvantage of separating groups of images that were made on the same occasion with different subjects, every effort has been made to note such cross-references in the database entries. Photographs of animals are included in this series.

Rupert Potter's landscape photographs are arranged in chronological order and constitute the second series. Rupert Potter inscribed full dates on most of his photographs. Photographs that are dated only by month and year are filed at the end of the month to which they belong. Photographs dated only by year are filed at the end of the year to which they belong. Photographs from the same date in different formats are arranged smallest to largest, except when a smaller photograph is a cropped version of a print from a larger negative. In the latter case, the smaller print is filed immediately after the larger print from the same negative. At the end of this series is a small group of unsigned landscape images that cannot be confidently attributed.

The landscape series is followed by the third and final series, a group of photographs of Bertram Potter's landscape paintings.

Collection Creator Biography:

Cotsen, Lloyd E.

Rupert William Potter was born in 1832, the second son of Edmund Potter (1802-1883), a wealthy calico printer, and Jessy Crompton (1800-1891). Rather than assisting in the management of the family enterprise, Rupert Potter trained as a barrister, enrolling at Lincoln's Inn in 1854. In 1857 he established offices in London, but did not devote most of his time to his practice. In 1863 he married Helen Leech (1839-1932), daughter of a wealthy Manchester cotton merchant. Before the birth of their first child Beatrix, in 1866, the Potters purchased a 4-story home at No. 2 Bolton Gardens, Kensington, London, where they lived for the next thirty years. Their second child, William Bertram, was born in 1872.

Like his father, Rupert actively associated with politicians, artists, and intellectuals, many of whom appear as subjects in his portraits. Radical reform politician John Bright, the painter John Everett Millais, and the aging minister William Gaskell were among the family's close friends and were frequently photographed by Rupert. Rupert also photographed sitters in Millais' studio and gave the painter photographs to be used as drawing aids and background studies. Rupert had been an avid sketcher in his youth, and after moving to London he was a regular visitor at galleries and exhibitions. His wife, too, exhibited talent as a watercolorist, and both children were encouraged to draw and paint.

The Potter family took two prolonged holidays each year, and the majority of the photographs in this collection were taken during holiday periods. For about three weeks at Easter the family went to the sea, usually to Devon or Cornwall, while the house at Bolton Gardens was cleaned for spring. During the summer the entire household spent three months in the country. The Potters did not own a summer house, but from 1871 to 1881 they rented Dalguise House in Dalguise, Scotland, which Beatrix fondly remembered as her childhood home. At Dalguise, Beatrix and Bertram employed themselves collecting plant and animal specimens which they drew, mounted, or stuffed. They also kept small animals as pets, including mice and rabbits. Many of Rupert's portraits of family and friends are taken outside the front door at Dalguise, where the bright summer sun was ideal for photographic exposures.

When Dalguise House was sold in 1882 and its new owner demanded a rent that Rupert Potter deemed exorbitant, the family instead took Wray Castle on the west shore of Windermere in the Lake District. For the next two decades the family spent almost every summer in the Lake District, renting various homes on the shores of Windermere, Derwentwater, and Esthwaite water. A number of Rupert Potter's portrait photographs were also made on visits to the family's estate, Camfield Place, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Not a great deal is known about Rupert Potter's methods and aims as a photographer. Beatrix's journal, which she kept in code-writing from 1881 to 1897, describes many photographic outings that she made alone or with her father. Beyond this, the photographs themselves are a rich source for the study of amateur photography among the leisured class in the late nineteenth century. The years of Rupert Potter's activity, from the 1860s to the 1910s, span photography's evolution from a nascent commercial art to a fully-fledged popular medium.

Collection History

Acquisition:

Gift of Lloyd E. Cotsen, Class of 1950 in 2006 .

The bulk of these photographs passed from Beatrix Potter to a family member at her death. They came into the possession of Beatrix Potter's cousin-once-removed Stephanie Duke and, after her death, into that of her husband, and still later into that of Col. Duke's second wife, Joan Duke. They were consigned to auction either by Joan Duke or her heirs. They were purchased at Sotheby's London EXCALIBUR 29/30 Nov 1989, lot 168, by Justin Schiller acting for Lloyd Cotsen. [information provided by email from Ivy Trent and Anne Wright]. In 2006, Cotsen made a gift of the photographs to the Library.

A number of photographs were acquired individually for the Cotsen Children's Library but have been united with this group; their original Cotsen accession numbers are noted in the item-level descriptions of the photographs.

Archival Appraisal Information:

No materials were separated during 2006 processing.

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Charlotte Whelan in June 2006. Finding aid written by Robert Lee Brutus III on July 30, 2006 and edited by Allison Hughes in February 2017.

Access & Use

Access Restrictions:

Permission to use the collection must approved by the Cotsen staff.

Conditions for Reproduction and Use:

Permission to digitize or photograph materials from the collection must be granted by the Cotsen curator. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Associate University Librarian for Special Collections. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Credit this material:

Lloyd E. Cotsen Collection of Potter Family Photographs; Cotsen Children's Library, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/3484zg92m
Location:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-1148

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