Constable's Successful Photographic Studio

Constable had been fortunate to secure Royal patronage and his aristocratic and noble clients saw him safely through his first two years of business at Marine Parade. However, Constable was an astute businessman and was prepared to take steps to ensure a steady flow of sitters.

When Constable opened his Photographic Institution in November 1841, he charged one guinea (£1.1s or 1.05p) for a portrait in a plain morocco leather case. His prices are comparable to those charged by other Beard Licencees of the period. Prices in the West End of London were rather higher. Beard's own Polytechnic Studio in Regent Street London charged upwards from £1 8s 6d (about £1.42p) for a small daguerreotype portrait.


Jabez Hogg, an operator for Richard Beard, taking a daguerreotype portrait of Mr Johnson in London (c1842)

Running a Photographic Institution in the 1840s could be lucrative, but it was a risky business. Within two months of opening to the public in September 1841, the Liverpool studio had taken 500 portraits. However, in Nottingham, Alfred Barber had taken only 53 portraits over a four month period and when he failed to keep up his quarterly payments, Beard took legal action to close Barber's studio. Constable feared that the prices he charged his exclusive clientele would deter other potential customers. By the end of 1843, he had reduced his price for a cased portrait from £1.1s (£1.05p) to 12s 6d (62p), hoping "to possess himself of the patronage of the middle classes of the community." A daguerreotype portrait was still out of the reach of ordinary working people. An unskilled worker would earn less than 10 shillings (50p.) a week in the 1840s. However, reducing the price of his daguerreotype portraits meant that his customer base was widened to embrace wealthy visitors and Brighton's expanding middle class. The Dukes, Earls, Lords and Ladies who made up Constable's early clientele were joined by prosperous merchants, successful businessmen and professional gentlemen together with their wives and children.The addition of customers drawn from the middle ranks of society ensured that Constable had no shortage of sitters in the late 1840s.

William Constable is known to have employed operators at his Photographic Institution on Marine Parade from the very beginning.Constable's sister, Mrs Susanna Grece, mentions in her journal that her brother employed at least two assistants in 1842. John Counsell, who later became a daguerreotypist in Edinburgh and Cornwall, claimed to have made the portraits of Prince Albert and the Duke of Saxe Coburg at Constable's Marine Parade studio in March 1842. The photographic artist James Thomas Foard, who went on to manage Beard's Liverpool studio in 1849, had worked for William Constable five years earlier.

Very few of the original proprietors of the provincial Photographic Institutions licensed by Beard stayed in business for very long. The Photographic Rooms in the Horticultural Gardens of Bristol changed hands at least 3 times between 1841 and 1848. John Palmer, an early Beard licensee, vacated the Cheltenham Photographic Institution in 1844 after only 3 years. In contrast, William Constable remained in business as a Photographic Artist in Brighton for 20 years from November 1841 until his death in December 1861.

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Website last updated: 23 December, 2002


This website is dedicated to the memory of Arthur T. Gill (1915-1987), Sussex Photohistorian


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