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Stickybacks - Sticky-Backs - Sticky Backs: What is this site all about?

"Stickybacks" (sometimes spelt Sticky Backs or Sticky-backs) were a type of photograph which enjoyed popularity in some parts of the UK in the early 20th Century, disappearing during and after the first World War. This site is dedicated to recognising the practitioners and products of the Stickyback trade.

Stickybacks were tiny black and white portraits, produced cheaply and quickly for a new mass market - the working classes. At this time the regular products of the professional photographer were cabinet photographs, cartes de visite, postcard format portraits and various mounted enlargements. Their business was directed towards a middle class clientele, and having your portrait taken was still a serious and expensive business. The stickyback photographer made the process not only affordable, but also fun. The Stickyback Photographer rarely used newspaper advertising and was more likely to entice custom by advertisements plastered over their premises and touts shouting in the strret outside. This type of photographer sometimes incorporated the "Stickyback" word in their name or the name of their studio. Several claimed to be the originator of the genre. Many of their clients had never been photographed before and for some, 12 portraits for three pennies was an experience that they enjoyed and even loved to repeat.

 

I ....am producing the class of photographs which sell, and by which I have managed to make a living and pay my way for the past few years. I don't go in for "stickybacks and postcards" for any particular love for that class of business, nor yet because I couldn't do a better class of work, but simply because I find it easier to keep myself in constant employment, and therefore be more certain of a regular wage each week.
(Robert C.Platt Jnr, 51 Carr Street, Hebburn-on-Tyne. British Journal of Photography Sept 15 1911 p712.)

 

The name seems to have originated from the fact that one of the differentiating features of this format (at least initially) was that the rear of the photograph had adhesive applied which operated, as with a postage stamp, with the addition of moisture. The earliest use of the title would appear to date from the promotions of one particular Liverpool photographer, Spiridione Nicolo Grossi (1877-1921), who ran a seasonal portrait studio on the Isle of Man.

Main stream professional photographers referred to their stickyback colleagues in disparaging terms, sneering at their inferior products, which were produced to an affordable price for a new customer base.

As a genre, the stickyback photograph and those practicing this part of the trade have been largely overlooked by photo, family and local historians. Surviving products are less common than might be expected given their popularity. They have not been recognised as being of interest by today's collectors and are often mistaken for the products of more recent photo booths or the polyfoto system. Unlike the more expensive cabinets and cartes de visite, the stickyback was generally not preserved in a leather-bound family album. Their size also meant that they were easily lost over time. Many lack the details of the photographer who took them, which again reduced their interest and value. Yet these tiny portraits do have a place in photographic history. They may have been the only images some had of their loved ones when separated through war or work. They may also, as a first encounter with the photographic arts, have stimulated the interest of many who later became competent amateur photographers, availing themselves of more readily available equipment and materials.

Stickyback photographs may crop up in family albums. There were a number of Stickybacks photographic studios up and down the country early in the 20th Century, some stand-alone single businesses, others multiple locations set up by individual entrepreneurs. In some cases travelling photographers might set up a stickyback studio for a few weeks then move on when the novelty wore off and sales started to decline. We have started to put together list of Stickyback Photographers for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the rest of the world on the site (see sidebar for links). These initial attempts, with around 125 studios listed, are probably far from complete and we would very much welcome information and example prints to improve on this list. The site is a work in progress, started in 2019 with additions and amendments most days. This site also contains details of stamp photographs, which preceded the Stickyback, together with a number of other small photo formats, which might be confused with the Stickyback.

PLEASE, PLEASE, if you come across any examples of Stickyback photos, or information about Stickyback photographers, please consider sharing, via this site, so that these fascinating photographic survivals can become better recognised and understood.

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www.stickybacks.uk is a non-commercial web site for local and family historians, exploring the Stickyback photograph genre and Stickyback Photographers.
This page was last modified: 15 April 2019, 20:05

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