The Francis Frith Collection.
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The Collection

The Frith Collection is recognised as being the only nationally important photographic archive of its kind still in private hands.

The Collection was founded by Francis Frith, the pioneer Victorian photographer, in 1860. Today it contains over 365,000 photographs depicting some 7,000 towns and villages throughout Britain – all taken between 1860 and 1970.

Taken by the photographers of one company, continuously over a 110 year period, the Collection provides an extraordinarily detailed visual record of the enormous social and structural changes that have taken place in Britain since 1860. As such the Collection forms a topographical record of Britain without equal.

Whilst many of the photographs are undoubtedly artistically outstanding, the real value of the archive lies in the personal relevance of individual photographs for anyone with connections to the British Isles.

For each town or village there is an average of 80 photographs. These were often taken from the same spot but over many years, thus providing a unique opportunity to study landscapes, streets and buildings across a century and more of change.

"A unique and priceless record of life in the last Century"
Financial Times

History of the Collection

The original company founded by Frith continued taking and publishing photographs for 110 years until 1970, when it was closed following the retirement of the owners.

From 1860 to 1900 the primary business was selling photographic prints for Victorians to paste into their family albums. By 1910, following the legalisation of postcards, the business had evolved into a postcard publisher, and became the UK market leader for many years.

Following closure of the business in 1970, Bill Jay, one of Britain's first photo historians, identified the archive as being nationally important, and "at risk". Bill managed to persuade Rothmans, the tobacco company, to purchase the archive to ensure its safety.

Frith was re-launched in 1976 as The Francis Frith Collection by John Buck, a Rothmans's executive, with the intention of making the Frith photographs available to as wide an audience as possible.

In 1977 John Buck bought the Collection from Rothmans and has continued to run it as an independent business since that time.

The Future for the Collection

Frith photographs are being bought today as art and as reminders of places that have been important in customerís lives - just as they were in Frithís own time.

Frith was at the cutting-edge of Victorian photo technology, but even he would be astonished to see what is being accomplished today with the archive he established. The internet flashes Frith photographs around the world at unimaginable speeds - in Britain to people that are fascinated by the change that is all around them, and to millions more around the world who are looking for reminders of a place they (or their forbear) knew as home.

As a result the Collection is more accessible now than ever. Over 120,000 subjects have been scanned as high resolution digital files and published in one format or another. More are added every day.

The Frith web site is now one of the most popular web sites in the UK with over 4.0m visits each year. In the last few years we have published over 800 book titles that are exclusively illustrated by Frithís photographs, with more than one million copies sold.

So, today the archive that Frith founded, in 1860, brings pleasure to millions and is valued at over £2.0m. We are certain that he would be delighted to know that his photographs are being made available to an ever-wider audience, and that the future for his work is brighter than ever.

Why people like Frith photographs

At its most effective Frith offers a photograph of your home town; or, where you were born; went to school or college; were married; owned your first home; went on holiday etc. In other words, photographs of the places that bring back specific memories for you, your friends or family. This personal connection means that a Frith photograph often has a strong, specific and higher value to the individual than most other forms of art.

For the individual, a Frith photograph provides attractive wall dÈcor but with a visual link to their roots. A lot of Frith prints and other products are given as gifts because, when illustrated with images of places to which the recipient has connections, they provide a wonderful opportunity to give gifts that really will be treasured for many years.

In commercial locations such as offices, hotels and restaurants, Frith photographs ñ in Black & White, or Sepia, make a visual statement design statement which also confirms commitment to a community. For this reason Frith photographs can be seen in thousands of pubs and commercial buildings around the UK.

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