Alfred Reeves, 1829 – 1907,
microphotograph slide maker "A.R."

by Brian Stevenson
last updated May, 2017

The introduction of commercial microphotography in the mid-1800s caused quite a stir among the public. While JB Dancer is credited with the invention and is now undoubtedly the most famous producer of early microphotographs, numerous other photographers quickly took up production of miniscule photographs designed for viewing through a microscope. One of these was Alfred Reeves, better known to many antique slide collectors by his initials, "A.R.". His full name appears on a few known microscope slides (Fig. 1). Brian Bracegirdle's Microscopical Mounts and Mounters misprinted the name as "A. Reeve", but the name was written as "Reeves" on all historical records. In the Summer, 2007 issue of Micro Miscellanea, Stanley Warren presented an excellent argument for considering Reeves to be the producer of the many microphotograph slides bearing the initials A.R.


Figure 1. Examples of three label variants used by Alfred Reeves. The upper slide, with Reeves’ name spelled out, is the least common, and is probably the earliest form. Those slides are numbered, while those that bear only Reeves’ initials do not have numbers. The style shown at the bottom is probably the most recent, as it is the most common pattern and is found on the widest variety of microphotographs.

 

Alfred Reeves featured prominently in an anonymously-written article on microphotographs that was reprinted in numerous magazines in 1859. Several of those magazines have been digitized, and can be readily found on the web from such sources as Google Books. Regarding Reeves and his work:

Mr. Alfred Reeves has recently forwarded to us a specimen of one of those minute pictures, which consists of a plate containing the portraits of kings and queens of England since the time of the Conquest. Here, on a space not larger than 1/16 of an inch square, may be perceived a miniature “National Portrait Gallery” with a portrait of every king and queen surrounding her Majesty, who is properly made the centre figure of the interesting group.

A picture of that slide and its image is shown in Figure 2. From the publicity he received from the reprinted microphotography article, one would expect that Alfred Reeves should have become as famous as Dancer. Instead, he possibly gave up on microphotography by the 1870s, and had definitely taken up a completely different occupation by 1890.


Figure 2. “Mr. Alfred Reeves has recently forwarded …, on a space not larger than 1/16 of an inch square, … a portrait of every king and queen surrounding her Majesty”. Original photographs courtesy of David Evans. A competing maker of microphotographs, John C. Stovin, outdid Reeves by producing a similar montage of rulers from Egbert (802-839) to Victoria.

 


Figure 3. Henry Hering issued a cdv-sized version of the kings and queens montage in 1862. Front and back views are shown. The illustrated advertisement is from the May 31, 1862 issue of The Bookseller, and indicates when Hering began selling these cards. Note that Reeves’ slides with this image were described in 1859. Thus, it is not clear whether Hering produced this montage 3 years before he published the cdv, if Reeves produced the montage and later sold the rights to Hering, or if a third person originally made it. Noting that Hering claimed copyright for the cdv image but the Reeves microphotographs do not mention copyright, I think the last two possibilities are more likely

 

Alfred Reeves was born in 1829 in Taunton, Somerset, third of three sons of Thomas and Jane Reeves. By 1841, Alfred, his parents and two brothers had moved to St. Pancras, Middlesex. The 1851 census shows Alfred and elder brother Thomas living with their parents, and both working as photographic artists.

On Oct. 5, 1853, Alfred married Elizabeth Palmer. Letters from Reeves indicate that the couple lived at 36 William Street North, Caledonian Road, London during 1860. In March, 1861, they moved to 257 Tottenham Road, St. Giles, Middlesex.

According to Stanley Warren, two microscope slides labeled “A.R.” bear microphotographs of five pound note number 96275, which was issued in January, 1859. Warren’s article also reproduced an 1861 advertisement from Reeves, stating that he “prepares reduced copies of photographs, with lens attached, adapted for setting in rings, pins, charms, &c.” (i.e. stanhopes), as well as his own “micro-photographs in great variety, and of the most perfect description.” Known microphotographs by Reeves which can be dated, such as images of the Royal Family, indicate that he made such slides until at least 1863.

Warren recently discovered letters from Alfred Reeves to the managers of the 1861 Exhibition of the Photographic Society of Scotland, in Edinburgh. Reeves shipped a microscope and 24 microphotograph slides to the Exhibition. He listed the titles of the slides, providing important insight on his productions during early 1861:
View of the Houses of Parliament
The Orphans
Shoeing
Orphans’ Dream
Flight of Spirits
Jack on Guard
Laying Down the Law
Her Majesty
Origin of Music
Oh!
Five Pound Note
Cymon and Imphygenia
Salmon and Otter
Emminent Men (115 Portraits)
Emminent Women (105 Portraits)
See-Saw
Not Caught Yet
The Lord’s Prayer
Thine is the Kingdom
Charles Dickens
Albert Smith
May and December
Highland Shepherd’s Home
The Last Return from Duty

Reeves also exhibited his “microscopic photographs” at the 1862 International Exposition in London, and was rewarded with an Honourable Mention. J.B. Dancer exhibited in the same class, and received the same honors. Warren quotes the Report of the Exposition’s Juries as writing, “the reduced copies of pictures for microscopic examination.., although partaking of the character of toys, may yet become of important application and that Mr. Reeves exhibits interesting specimens in this class.

Elizabeth died shortly after the success of the Exhibition, probably in 1863. Alfred re-married in 1866, to Emma Pavey, in Middlesex. At around this time, his photographic studio (and probably the family home) was in Charing Cross, London (see Figures 5-9).

Alfred’s older brother, Thomas, operated a photography studio in Plymouth, Devon between 1862 and approximately 1867. Evidence suggests that Alfred then moved to Devon to take over his brother’s business. Whether or not he continued producing microphotographs in Plymouth is unknown. The studio was located at 17 Bedford Street, and several known photographs by Alfred carry that address (Figures 5-10). The 1871 census placed Alfred, Emma and their three year old son, William, at 14 John Street, Devon. Alfred was still operating from 17 Bedford Street in 1873, suggesting that the family did not live at the studio.

An 1875 editorial response to a query in The Photographic News mentioned Alfred Reeves, and implied that microphotographs (and/or stanhopes) were of little concern to serious photographers by that time, “Mons. Dagron, of Paris, is the chief producer of the microscopic photographs to which you refer. There is no work devoted to the subject that we know of. Various articles have appeared in our pages from time to time on the subject. In our seventh volume you will find several articles on the subject, and a description of a camera for producing them. We believe that some photographers in England produce them, but we are uncertain. Mr. A. Reeves, of 17, Bedford Street, Plymouth, did at one time produce them; whether he does so now or not, we do not know.

By 1881, Alfred and family had moved again, this time to Luton, Bedfordshire, where Alfred again set up a photographer’s shop. Luton at that time was a major site for production of straw hats, and the majority of the Reeves’ neighbors worked in that profession. Emma joined in, being recorded as a “bonnet sewer” on the 1881 census. By 1890, the whole Reeves family was in the straw hat-making business, the 1890 edition of Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire listing Alfred as a “straw hat manufacturer”, located at 21 Hastings street. The next year’s national census listed Alfred as a “maker”, Emma as a “finisher” and son William as a “packer” of straw hats. Alfred appears to have kept to this business until his death in 1907.

This information indicates that Alfred Reeves was commercially producing microphotographs by 1859, but may have ceased production by the mid-1860s. It is reasonable to date slides bearing his name or initials to that time period.












Figure 4. A sampling of images from Alfred Reeves’ microphotographs.

 

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Carte-de-visite (CDV) photographs by Alfred Reeves and his brother, Thomas Saunders Reeves (ca. 1816 - ca. 1889)

 


Figure 5. This CDV was almost certainly taken by Alfred Reeves. The typeset information on the reverse gives his address of 17 Bedford Street, Plymouth, and “late of Charing Cross, London”. Alfred moved to Plymouth in 1867 directly from London, whereas brother Thomas arrived in Plymouth in 1862 by way of Devonshire. The false window prop and carpet are the same as used in other CDVs that are shown here. The initials “M.P.S.” probably stand for “miniature photograph service”, a common phrase for producers of these small cdv photographs.

 


Figure 6. Another Alfred Reeves CDV, with the same printing on the reverse.

 


Figure 7. An Alfred Reeves CDV, with a different pattern on the reverse. It also states “late of Charing Cross, London”. I am not aware of any authorization for Reeves to use the Royal Coat of Arms on his photographs. He may have misused the Royal Arms to emphasize his London connections to the Plymouth provincials.

 


Figure 8. Another CDV from Alfred Reeves.

 


Figure 9. Vignetted photograph by Alfred Reeves.

 


Figure 10. The 1862 prize that Alfred noted was the Honourable Mention for his microphotographs.

 


Figure 11. A CDV signed "Reeves" with handwritten address "17 Bedford Street, Plymouth". The same false window studio prop can be seen in photographs taken by Alfred Reeves (see above). If this photograph was taken by Alfred Reeves, the handwritten name and address suggests that it was produced shortly Reeves after moved to Plymouth, ca. 1867, before he had custom cards printed. Alternatively, the photograph may have been taken earlier by his brother, Thomas, who operated the studio at 17 Bedford St. between 1862 and 1867. A customer wrote “this is my sister Fanny it was taken 2 years ago I will send you our likenesses as soon as I get them taken”.

 


Figure 12. A CDV with the same handwritten address. The false window and table are seen in CDVs taken by Alfred Reeves (see above).

 


Figure 13. A vignetted photograph with the Reeves’ handwritten address.

 

 

Alfred’s eldest brother, Thomas Saunders Reeves, was also a professional photographer, although there is no evidence to suggest that he produced microphotographs. It is probable that the two brothers worked together at times. Thomas also moved around England pursuing his career. As noted above, Alfred’s move to Plymouth in 1867 was likely so that he could take over Thomas’ business there. Examples of Thomas’ photographic work are shown in Figures 12-14. Another example of the brother’ work can be seen at http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~brett/photo2/tsreeves.html


Figure 14. Front and rear views of a CDV made by Alfred’s brother, Thomas S. Reeves. The monogram is "TSR". Thomas moved from Plymouth to Exeter in approximately 1867, and operated a studio there until 1871. The listing of both the Plymouth and Exeter addresses suggests that this photograph was taken during the period of his transition between those towns. The same chair is seen in the Figure 8 cdv, which evidence suggests was taken in Plymouth by Alfred.

 


Figure 15. Another CDV made by Thomas Reeves, presumably in Exeter.

 


Figure 16. CDV by Thomas Reeves. He operated from this address between 1871 and 1880.

 

Acknowldegments
Many thanks to David Evans, Brian Davidson, Geoff Goldberg, Reg Porter and Stanley Warren for their assistance.

 

Resources

The Bookseller (1862) Advertisement from Henry Hering, Number 53, May 31, page 349

Bracegirdle, Brian (1998) Microscopical Mounts and Mounters, Quekett Microscopical Club, London

British Hat Guild, a history of British hat manufacturing

Kelly’s Directory of Bedfordshire (1890) page 99, accessed through http://www.historicaldirectories.org

Medals and Honourable Mentions Awarded by the International Juries (1862) pages 208 and 438

England vital statistics, accessed through www.ancestry.co.uk

National Portrait Gallery information on the Henry Hering cdv, http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw136443/The-Kings-and-Queens-of-England-From-the-Conquest-to-Queen-Victoria

The Photographic News (1859) vol. 2, page 15

The Photographic News (1875) vol. 19, page 528

PhotoLondon, Alfred Reeves: http://www.photolondon.org.uk/pages/details.asp?pid=6441Some bullet points about Reeves’ life, although the suggested death information is probably incorrect

PhotoLondon, Thomas Saunders Reeves: http://www.photolondon.org.uk/pages/details.asp?pid=6446

Victorian & Edwardian Portrait Photo Collection, Photographers' Profiles, Thomas Saunders Reeves (c1816-c1889) of Exeter, Plymouth & London, and Alfred Reeves (c1835-) of Plymouth & Luton. http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~brett/photo2/tsreeves.html

Warren, Stanley (2007) Initials on microphotographs – thoughts on AR, Micro Miscellanea, Summer issue, no. 66, pages 20-29

Warren, Stanley (2009) Studying microphotographic slides, an update to current knowledge, Journal of the Microscope Historical Society., Vol. 17, pages 35-50

Warren, Stanley (2014) Alfred Reeves (A.R.) re-visited, Micro Miscellanea, In press