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    J[ohn]. Thomson. Foochow and the River Min. A Series of Photographs. London: Autotype Fine Art Company, 1873. First edition. Large oblong folio (14.25 x 22 inches; 362 x 560 mm.). [1-2, title leaf], [3-4, list of photographs], [5]-10 (introduction) pages with seventy-seven (of eighty) autotype carbon photographic prints affixed to forty-seven leaves, thirty-seven of which are large format (lacking three), generally measuring 9.75 x 12 inches (248 x 304 mm.), the other forty are smaller (3.875 x 5.875 inches; 98 x 123 mm.) and arranged four per leaf on ten leaves; guard sheets tipped in. Each individual leaf pasted onto a prepared stub. Publisher's binding (unsalvageable). Binding moldering, boards disintegrating. Pervasive tidemark at the upper-corner of the text-block, expanding significantly, up to about the upper-third of each leaf, after "Mountains on the Yuen-fu Branch of the Min" (the twenty-ninth photograph) with the image area of each following large print (as well as the upper row of small prints) affected, on occasion causing the guard sheets to adhere to the photograph potentially with corresponding bruising or discoloration; some guard sheets tattered or detached; tiny flaky debris throughout the last half of the book; most leaves partially or fully detached from the stubs; other marginal soiling and wear; page edges Incomplete and in a poor state of preservation. Though defective and in need of extensive conservation efforts, Foochow and the River Min is one of the most significant--and likely the singular most impressive--of all nineteenth century photography books.

    A monumental work, of which just forty-six copies were produced for subscribers, largely foreign residents of Foochow, to whom the album was dedicated "as a lasting memento which will aid them in future years in recalling the scenes and incidents of their life in one of the most picturesque provinces of China" (Introduction, p. 9). Rare. Known surviving copies likely in the single digits and no institution holdings listed in WorldCat though copies were known to be in the collections of the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum; the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television; and the Peabody Essex Museum. Some of Thompson's original glass plates are part of the Wellcome Collection. It appears that five copies have sold at auction between 1991 and 2013 (three in London, one in New York and one in Beijing).

    "Thomson is unusual amongst nineteenth-century photographers in that he was equally adept at photographing landscape and people. He was also an assiduous maker of photobooks, and it may be his concentration on the book form that has prevented his reputation from matching the quality of his work. He was concerned to see his pictures produced in the most efficacious way, and his bibliography covers a number of photomechanical processes reflecting that desire. He made three important China books in the early 1870s, of which the first and most sumptuous, Foochow and the River Min, contains carbon prints...[T]he carbon print is nevertheless as labour-intensive as photographic printmaking. Its permanence and rich tonalities, however, bring a just reward" (Parr/Badger, The Photobook I, p. 32).

    "Foochow city, one of the great tea marts of China, stands about seven miles above the arsenal and the harbour where the vessels load tea. Of all the open ports this is perhaps the most picturesque, and its stone bride of "ten thousand ages" proves that the Chinese, had they so chosen, might have left monuments behind them more worthy of their civilization and prowess than their great unwieldy wall monuments, which would have shed a gleam of truth across the obscure pages of their bygone history." (John Thomson. Through China with a Camera, accessed online).


    More Information: Photos lacking include number 12, "The River Min at Foochow," and a print between thirty-three and thirty-seven, as well as one of the final five prints (note: approximate number identification of the last two prints relies on early pencil identification, written in the upper margin of leaves and only those visible without attempting to separate prints stuck to guard sheets and cannot be confirmed).



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