James Hamilton


Shepherd George Tuppen with his flock, dewpond near Glyndebourne

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James Hamilton was by far the most prolific publisher of Sussex postcards. He was born at Motherwell in Lanarkshire in 1874, the son of Thomas Hamilton, a jeweller. He remained proud of his Scottish ancestry, even though he chose as a young man to settle in England. Why and exactly when he came south is unclear. The 1901 census records that he was lodging at 30 Over Street, Brighton, with a family called Tubbs, and was working as a "collotype and photochrom printer". Other documents reveal that he and another collotype printer called Charles Lane were trading as the Mezzotint Company at 35 York Road in Brighton (see the separate entry for Mezzotint).

In July 1902 James Hamilton married Violet Hawgood at Brighton Parish Church. Violet was the daughter of Alfred James Hawgood, who, at the time of her birth in Southsea in 1871, declared himself to be a pawnbroker and jeweller. On her marriage certificate, however, Violet described her father as a retired dry goods merchant, which may have been a convenient euphemism. In addition to shortening her name (originally Violette) she also adjusted her age, declaring she was 28 when she had actually turned 30! At the time of his marriage James Hamilton was living at 80 Rugby Road in the Preston area of Brighton.

In February 1903, Violet gave birth (at 52 Southdown Avenue, Preston) to a daughter, Constance Winifred Hamilton, known to friends and family as Connie. By this time Violet and James had moved to 35 Edburton Avenue, which joins Rugby Road. A son, Norman Muir Wilson Hamilton, nicknamed Scot, was born in 1904. There were to be no more children.

In 1907 the Hamiltons moved to 50 Hollingbury Park Avenue, also in the Preston area. During 1909 they moved again, across the Ditchling Road to 16 Dover Road. In 1910 and 1911 they were at 115a London Road, but during 1912 they moved to Blackman Street, first to Number 24 and then to Number 23. The frequency of moves may indicate that they were renting property on short leases. The tiny terrace houses of Blackman Street were greatly inferior to the more modern villas of the Preston area, and it seems clear that by 1912 Hamilton was experiencing financial difficulties.

On his marriage certificate James Hamilton declared himself to be a "collotype printer", which matched the 1901 census entry. A year later, when Violet registered the birth of their daughter, she described her husband's profession, perhaps with a touch of pride, as a "master photographer". This was a period of rapid expansion for the Mezzotint Company, whose printing works were located at the junction of London Road and York Hill. They were soon to become major publishers of Sussex postcards.

In 1907 Hamilton and his partner Charles Lane dissolved their partnership and Hamilton took over the running of Mezzotint for five years until 1912 when the firm collapsed. During this period he would have overseen the production of possibly a thousand or more different collotype cards. It would be interesting to know to what extent Hamilton was responsible for Mezzotint's demise, perhaps through inexperience as a manager or a failure to plan ahead. Many of the pioneer postcard publishers over-reached themselves after only a few years of business, running up huge debts on stock that sold more slowly than expected, largely because of increased competition with newer publishers.

After Mezzotint collapsed, a new company, Mezzograph, was formed, which operated from the same address, issuing real photographic cards instead of collotypes, but it lasted for only about two years before sharing the same fate as its predecessor. Whether Hamilton played any part in this new fiasco is unknown, but his experiences at the helm of Mezzotint must have been deeply unsettling and the failure of Mezzograph, even if he merely watched from the sidelines, must have further convinced him that he needed to broaden his business base and rely less on postcard publishing as a source of income. In 1915 he moved from Blackman Street and opened a stationer's shop at 24 Queens Road in Brighton, even though the war was creating much financial uncertainty. Perhaps one of his relatives helped to finance the move.

Hamilton's choice of location for his shop was quite shrewd. He was well placed for serving local residents, and at the same time could count on custom from day visitors walking between the railway station and the sea front. Within a year or two he managed to get the shop designated as a sub-post office, and he became the sub-postmaster. He and his family lived over the shop, on the second and third floors of the building.

For many years Hamilton concentrated on running his shop and post office, and published very few postcards, but then in 1925 he began issuing great numbers of cards of Sussex in partnership with his son Norman. After finishing at school in Brighton, Norman had worked for three years at the London head office of Thomas Cook, the travel agents, but in 1924 he resigned to join his father in preparing the new postcard publishing venture. The cards that he and his father started producing in the following year proved popular, despite the competition provided by other publishers.

Tragically, what promised to be a very successful business partnership between father and son came to an abrupt end on Christmas Eve, 1927. Late in the evening Norman Hamilton went by car to Rottingdean and Peacehaven with three young men friends. One of them owned a Morris Cowley and acted as driver. They had a few drinks, and then set off back to Brighton. At the eastern edge of town, driving round a corner on the wrong side of the road, they collided with a taxicab. Norman Hamilton was seriously injured and died on Christmas Day in hospital.

Despite Norman's death, Hamilton continued to build up his business. He did not leave Queens Road until 1947, when he and his wife and daughter moved to a bungalow at 62 Fallowfield Crescent in the West Blatchington area of Hove, near the famous windmill.

Violet died of cancer in January 1953 at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. In April of the same year Connie, who had just turned 50, married at the Presbyterian Church in Church Street, Brighton. The groom was Thomas Edwin Mellor, a 54 year bachelor, who lived at 47 Albany Villas, Hove, and worked as a grocer and provision merchant. Apparently Connie had long wanted to marry Mellor, but her father was greatly opposed to the match and did everything he could to dissuade her. Her mother's death and her own fiftieth birthday convinced Connie that time was not her side, and she decided to ignore her father's wishes. After his marriage Mellor joined Connie and James Hamilton at Fallowfield Road.

James Hamilton died of a thrombosis on the 30th of June 1964 in a Hove nursing home after a long illness "bravely borne". The faithful Connie was by his side when the end came.

Hamilton seems soon to have made a success of his Queens Road business. Even in his first year, he issued a few real photographic cards of Brighton and neighbouring places such as Falmer, Bramber and Henfield. Despite much searching, only about 15 different view cards have been found, with postmarks ranging from 1915 to 1925. A rather smaller number of cards have turned up showing the parade at the 1923 Brighton Carnival. This meagre haul is evidence that Hamilton was publishing on a very restricted scale. He seems to have been building up his business very cautiously, anxious not to overreach himself. It is quite possible that he sold the cards only at his Queens Road shop.

Examples of the cards include "The Dyke Hills near Brighton" (the girl and boy posing are possibly Connie and Norman), "A pretty corner at Fulking", "A fine catch at Falmer" (three boys proudly display the fish they have caught in Falmer pond) , "Cross Roads, Ditchling" and the "Indian War Memorial, Patcham, near Brighton (two cards; the Chattri was opened in February 1921). As originally issued, most of the cards were labelled on the back or sometimes the front: "Hamiltons. 24, Queens Road, Brighton". Re-issues were generally anonymous.

Soon after the end of the First World War, Hamilton arranged to have his cards produced in Hove by two brothers, Alfred and Edward Banks, who were starting in business as independent postcard publishers. No documentary evidence for this link-up survives, but one of Hamilton's cards has been found, posted in August 1923, that is labelled on the back "Printed & Published by A. & E. Banks, 40 Church Street, Hove" and on the front "Hamiltons. 24, Queens Road, Brighton". In their haste to complete what may have been an urgent order from Hamilton, the Banks brothers evidently blundered and printed a batch of his cards using backs specially prepared for their own cards. It is quite possible that they never noticed the mistake, and the cards were sent out to be sold as ordinary Hamiltons. Two other cards have been found that lack postmarks but may record earlier printing blunders.

Hamilton's low-key approach to postcard production ended in 1925, when in partnership with his son Norman he began issuing high quality real photographic cards of a great many places in Sussex, as well as southeast Hampshire and Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. It may seem puzzling that Hamilton was able to expand his business in the face of what must have been stiff competition from long established and successful postcard publishers. Part of the explanation is that he acquired a car - a smart 1924 10 hp Singer tourer with the registration GB7234. The car appears in many of his early postcard views, sometimes so prominently as to make one wonder whether they were more a celebration of the car than a serious attempt to record the Sussex scene! Hamilton's purchase of a car at such an early date, when they were a comparative rarity, shows that he had become more secure financially. GB registrations were issued by the licensing authority in Glasgow, and it seems likely that he bought the car through Scottish family connections in the motor trade, possibly at a discount. GB numbers were allocated from January 1922 to August 1925, which suggests that GB7234 was probably on the road in late summer 1924.

A second reason why Hamilton was able to enlarge his business territory (and probably the reason for the purchase of the car) was that he became a wholesale stationer. In addition to selling postcards to shops, pubs and post offices (many of which feature on the cards), he took to supplying a range of stationery items. By diversifying in this way he could make more money than by just selling postcards, and could afford to make regular visits to supply shops in remote hamlets where postcard sales alone would not have justified the effort.

A third factor underpinning Hamilton's successful business expansion was the very considerable support he received from his son Norman. It was undoubtedly Norman who took many of the pictures for the new range of postcards, and quite possibly the entire business expansion may have been his initiative. His father was around 50 years old, and may not have been as keen as his son in taking on new commitments.

Norman's death at the end of 1927 came as a "severe blow" to Hamilton. Had he been a lesser man he might have been tempted to retrench, but instead he pressed on with expanding his postcard "empire". It must have been difficult for him to find the time to keep adding to the range of postcards while continuing to supply the shops and other sales outlets with all their stationery requirements. Fortunately, he could rely on the Banks brothers to print the cards and on his daughter, Connie, to help run the Queens Road shop and sub post-office.

The Singer car, GB7234, that features in so many of the early pictures had eventually to be replaced. Hamilton opted for yet another Singer, this time a sturdy, two-tone 1476cc Twelve-Six saloon with sliding roof, which he registered in Brighton in October 1932. Its license number was UF9259. Unlike its predecessor, it appears in only a few pictures (notably at Glynde, Halland, Handcross and Sharpethorne), even though Hamilton issued many new cards throughout the 1930s. Perhaps he wanted to be discrete about his new purchase, or perhaps he was disenchanted with cars following the death of his son. Yet another possibility is that it was Norman Hamilton who doted on GB7234 and kept including it in the pictures.

Robert Jeeves of Step Back In Time, Brighton, has found an interesting card of Hamilton's Queens Road shop that he may have produced for publicity purposes. The photograph must have been taken in the late thirties since it includes the Grafton Dairy next door, which opened in late 1936 or early 1937. A board on the side of Number 24 advertises 'Post Cards, Maps, Inks, Fountain Pens'; other notices on the shop announce that he also sold films, presents, chemist's goods and sundries. The window display appears to be largely given over to calendars and patent medicines, and no postcards by Hamilton can be identified with any certainty.

Judging from postmark evidence, Hamilton's new cards achieved steady sales throughout the inter-war period. He managed, unlike so many of his competitors, to keep production going during the Second World War, but business was evidently slack. Demand for the cards picked up again after the War, and they remained on sale until the mid or late 1950s.

Hamilton reached the age of 65 in 1938 or 1939, but did not immediately retire. Perhaps he was unable to find anyone to take over the house and shop because the storm clouds of war were gathering or perhaps he enjoyed robust health and saw no reason to retire. It was not until 1947 that he and his family left 24 Queens Road, handing over the shop to a Mr Kendall, who became the new postmaster. Postmark evidence suggests that he continued to market his cards until at least 1955, possibly 1958.

There is no record of how many different cards that Hamilton issued from 1925 onwards, but his numbering system indicates that the total is likely to have been well over 3000, which was a major achievement given the difficult trading conditions of the period. Earlier in the century, when public enthusiasm for buying cards was much greater, the major Sussex publishers managed quite modest totals. Even the celebrated Arthur Homewood of Burgess Hill produced only about 2000 different cards during his entire publishing career.

Hamilton's main rival during the interwar years was Harold Camburn of Tunbridge Wells who published the Wells Series of high quality postcards of southeast England, Staffordshire and Orkney. No estimates have yet been made of Camburn's output, but it seems to have been even larger than Hamilton's, judging from the relative numbers of surviving cards.

Many of the early photographs show a middle-aged man of slim build posing for the camera, wearing a distinctive striped sweater or dark sports jacket over pale-coloured trousers. His dark hair is partly concealed by a trilby with an emphatic top crease and a broad band that is paler than the rest of the hat. There can be little doubt that the man in question is James Hamilton, and that the invisible photographer was his son Norman.

Norman liked to include children and young women in his pictures, whereas his father favoured quiet, contemplative pictures, with little or no animation. Some of the children that add interest to Norman's pictures seem to have been just passing by or at play when they were caught by the camera; they are typically scruffy and uninhibited, and sometimes they stare naively at the camera. Other children in the pictures are smartly dressed, as if for a special outing. It is tempting to imagine that they were the sons and daughters of retailers that the Hamiltons hoped would agree to sell the cards.

After Norman's death the photographs must all have been taken by Hamilton. Although often well composed, they are less lively and inventive. Far fewer people appear in the pictures, and for obvious reasons Hamilton is never shown. Some of the late 1930s pictures look decidedly tired and uninspired. It is odd that Hamilton did not attempt to imitate his son's style and introduce more human interest in his pictures.

Most of the cards that Hamilton issued from 1925 onwards have sepia photographs, but black and white variants are also known. Early cards lack borders, while later cards and reprints have narrow, white borders surrounding the photographs, repeating the stylistic change that the Banks brothers introduced for their own cards. Although Hamilton devised the wording, it was generally Edward Banks who actually wrote out the captions that appear on Hamilton's cards. When producing multi-view cards for Hamilton the Banks brothers used the same designs that they had created for their own multi-views.

Until the mid 1930s Hamilton issued all his cards anonymously. Many collectors find great difficulty in distinguishing his cards from those that the Banks brothers published themselves. The serial numbers on the cards are an important clue, as is the wording of the captions. Hamilton cards often have sentimental and tritely worded titles. There is an over-reliance on hackneyed adjectives, such as "sunny", "pretty", or "tranquil", and on stock phrases, for example "A pretty corner of ..." and "The hills at ...". Many of the titles include the word "Sussex", even in contexts where the identity of the county is obvious. The Banks rarely used adjectives, and seldom referred to Sussex in their titles. They were much less sentimental, and rarely indulged in such Hamiltonian excesses as "A bit of old England, Amberley".

Hamilton's peculiar system of numbering his cards has long mystified investigators. Although he numbered the majority of his cards in one unified sequence, he made an exception for a few places creating short local sequences, each starting at 1.The numbers in the main series range from 1 to 6041, but there are many unexplained gaps, especially amongst the higher numbered cards. Three quarters of the numbered cards so far recorded have numbers below 3000. For some reason Hamilton seems to have been very reluctant to allocate numbers between 3500 and 4999.

Hamilton did not number his cards in simple chronological order. Nevertheless, the photographs on low numbered cards have a distinct tendency to be older than those on high numbered cards. The first cards that appeared spanned almost the full range of numbers, but were mostly concentrated at the lower end. Later cards were more often given numbers towards the higher end of the range. It is clear that Hamilton numbered his cards on a geographical basis, allocating the cards that he intended to sell at a particular place a block of ten consecutive numbers, or a simple multiple of ten. This suggests that he offered each retailer an assortment of ten different cards or a choice of assortments. The Banks brothers also numbered their cards in blocks, and sometimes photographed the same places as Hamilton. However, the numbering of the individual blocks differed from that employed by Hamilton, which helps to distinguish the two sets of cards.

Although a few places were allocated only one block of numbers, Hamilton's usual practice was to create two or even three blocks. The cards of Alfriston, for example, are numbered in two separate blocks, and those of Lindfield in three blocks. As a general rule higher numbered blocks postdate lower numbered ones, but there are exceptions. The pictures in each block seem for the most part to have been taken on the same occasion, but some blocks contain pictures taken at different dates. Adding to the confusion, pictures obviously taken on the same photographic expedition are sometimes assigned to different blocks.

As far as is known, every block starts with a number ending in a zero. Thus 480 is the start of the first block of Alfriston cards and 3010 the start of the second. Apart from the final zero, however, no rhyme or reason can be found for Hamilton's selection of start numbers for his blocks. No doubt he had a system, but its secret has yet to be discovered.

Although Hamilton issued mainly numbered cards, unnumbered cards appeared increasingly during the 1930s. In 1934 he evidently tired of publishing his cards anonymously and decided to get the Banks brothers to give them a face-lift and a firmer identity. The brothers responded by printing "HAMILTONS POSTCARDS, BRIGHTON" on the backs of many of the cards, and adding a round logo with the words "HAMILTONS QUALITY". The logo featured a flower and the letter "H" or more rarely a shield with a lion motif. From 1935 onwards, some of the cards had machine printed titles. In many cases fake clouds were added to the pictures to give them a more modern look. Judging from postmark evidence, these revamped cards did not enjoy significantly greater sales than their predecessors, though they presumably increased public awareness of Hamilton's publishing activities.

Starting in 1934 Hamilton arranged for some of his cards to be reproduced as halftones by a firm of printers. The quality of the cards was poor, and judging from their rarity today they found little favour. Production evidently ceased by the late thirties.

At the beginning of the Second World War Alfred and Edward Banks gave up printing their own and Hamilton's postcards and went to work for a Brighton engineering firm. Despite the difficulty of obtaining photographic supplies, Hamilton managed to restart production of his cards within about a year, but the print quality was poor, and initially the cards had completely blank backs. Although demand for the cards picked up again after the war, sales never reached the same levels as in the inter-war period.

Hamilton's 1925 and later cards covered a very wide area, from Hailsham in the east to beyond the Hampshire border in the west, and from the coast inland up to the Surrey border in northwest Sussex (around Rudgwick and Plaistow), but in East Sussex only as far north as East Grinstead and Uckfield, presumably because of competition from Harold Camburn, who was based in Tunbridge Wells.

Hamilton does not appear to have ventured into Surrey, but in Hampshire he sold cards at Petersfield and also at Hambledon, East Meon, Wickham and Southwick in the Meon valley. His wife may have had relations living in the Meon valley, and family visits may have enabled him to take photographs to sell to local shopkeepers. Hamilton also published cards of Amersham in Buckinghamshire. It would be interesting to discover how he came to visit the town and establish a business link.

It is clear from the titles and subjects that Hamilton's cards must have been sold at well over a hundred different outlets in Sussex, mainly small shops but also hotels (for example at Pulborough) and pubs, and even churches (for example at Sompting). He seems to have found it profitable to supply very tiny and remote villages that had only a single store. Some of these villages, such as Plummers Plain, are marked only on large-scale maps and in Hamilton's day were seldom visited by tourists. Print runs for many of his cards must have been very low. Postmarks show that cards that do not specify a particular place in their titles and provide general views of the countryside, for example sheep flocks on the Downs, were sold in shops over a wide area, and not necessarily near where the picture was taken.

Hamilton and his son seem to have been particularly interested in recording farming scenes and quiet villages; the big urban areas and the coast seem to have held little interest for them. They evidently had a soft spot for old market towns, such as Lewes and Horsham, and they produced relatively few cards of newer settlements, such as Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill. Despite their obvious sympathy for the rural scene both Hamilton and his son seem to have remained "townies" at heart. When taking photographs they seldom strayed far from the car, as if attached by some invisible umbilical cord. Many other postcard publishers were distinctly more adventurous, climbing up hills or church towers to get unusual or interesting views.

There is no record of the number of different cards that Hamilton issued from 1925 onwards, but the total is likely to have been well over 3000, which was a major achievement given the difficult trading conditions of the period. Earlier in the century, when public enthusiasm for buying cards was much greater, the major Sussex publishers managed quite modest totals. Even the celebrated Arthur Homewood of Burgess Hill produced only about 2000 different cards during his entire publishing career.

Hamilton's main rival during the interwar years was Harold Camburn of Tunbridge Wells who published the Wells Series of high quality postcards of southeast England, Staffordshire and Orkney. No estimates have yet been made of Camburn's output, but it seems to have been even larger than Hamilton's, judging from the relative numbers of surviving cards.

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