Dundee
26 South Tay Street, DD1 1PD

James Valentine

James Valentine was a Scottish photographer. Valentine's of Dundee produced Scottish topographical views from the 1860s, and later became internationally famous as the producers of picture postcards. James Valentine was born on 12th June, 1815, in Dundee, the second of the five children of John Valentine (1792–1868), engineer of wood blocks for linen printing, and his wife, Mary Valentine née Watson (1790-1866). Valentine studied photography at the University of St Andrews where he became an acquaintance of Thomas Rodger, who probably photographed him in around 1850.

James Valentine began in business aged 17 as an engraver. He began to practice Daguerrotype photography, first as an amateur, as an aid to engraving. On 28th August, 1837, he married Christina Marshall (1812– 1842), daughter of John Marshall, a shoemaker. After giving birth to their third child in 1841, his wife died on 3rd May, 1842, of lung disease. The only son of this marriage, John Valentine (1841–1867), became a pioneer photographer in Hawaii. On 5th December 1843, Valentine married his second wife, Rachel Dobson (1817–1879), in Glasgow.

He was soon proficient and began to take topographical views and portraits in c.1850. He went to Paris to train under M. Bulow, one of the most skilful photographers in that city. On his return to Dundee he set up a studio in the High Street and Valentine & Sons Ltd was founded in 1851. In 1855 he erected one of the largest photographic glasshouses in Britain. About 1860, he decided to emulate the success of George Washington Wilson in Aberdeen in selling topographical view photographs. He received a commission from the Queen to photograph a set of 40 views of Highland scenery and in 1868 was appointed as the Royal Photographer. His organisational and presentational skills were essential in the rapidly expanding and thriving concern which opened a large printing works at 152-154 Perth Road, Dundee.

Valentine views in the nineteenth century aimed at the national middle and upper class tourist market, with the production of both drawing room albums containing selections of photographs arranged geographically and individual landscape prints. As well as competing with George Washington Wilson, they competed with Francis Frith, the largest English publisher of commercial landscape postcards, both of whom who were producing pictures of similar quality. Landscapes were available in a choice of sizes - cabinet, imperial and card. Stereoscopic views were also produced. Subjects concentrated on tourist sights in Scotland, then to England in 1882 and on to fashionable resorts abroad, including Norway, Jamaica, Tangiers, Morocco, Madeira and New Zealand before 1900.

The company became very widely known after the Tay Bridge disaster of 28th December, 1879, when they were commissioned to photograph the remains of the bridge for the Court of Inquiry. They recorded over 50 high quality photographs of the debris, and they were used in the court to help witnesses when giving testimony. The pictures were subsequently sold across the country, and used in picture postcards. In 2003 they were reanalysed using digital methods to show how and why the bridge collapsed in so spectacular a fashion.