Gibsons of Scilly – A window into Cornish life


Gibsons of Scilly – A window into Cornish life

Discover Cornwall in years gone by in this wonderful set of photographic albums, featuring in our Antiques & Interiors sale, taking place at our Penzance saleroom on Thursday 17th & Friday 18th November 2022.


 Lot 19 Gibsons of Scilly


Although Cornwall's famous son Humphry Davy flirted with his own photography experiments at the beginning of the 1800s, he did not pursue the process. Louis Daguerre developed the first commercially viable photographic process and introduced it to the world in 1839.


John Gibson

John Gibson (1827—1920)


John Gibson (1827-1920), a native of the Cornish Scilly Isles, gave up seafaring during the 1860s to set up business as a professional photographer. By 1877 he had two studios, one on St Mary's and another in Penzance. Photography was still very much in its infancy and the processes involved were challenging and laborious; carrying a portable dark room, fragile glass plates and heavy equipment around the countryside to capture images of Cornish life.


Herbert Gibson Shipwrecked of Scilly

Herbert Gibson (1861—1937) and S.S. "Minnehaha" ashore at Scilly. 1910


His sons Alexander and Herbert both joined the family business, perfecting their techniques and taking photographs of astonishing quality. Gibson & Sons established a reputation for their extraordinary pictures of shipwrecks off the Isles of Scilly, with Alexander also developing an interest in photographing antiquities and archaeological sites. This he did with characteristic dedication and can be seen in a wonderful collection of albums in the next Antiques & Interiors Sale on November 17th & 18th at Lay's Auctioneers.


Lot 19 – Gibson of Scilly


The albums, six in total, contain over 140 original, very fine, rare and museum quality photographs by the Gibsons. Subjects include scenes of Cornish life including mining, fishing, the Floral Dance and houses in Mousehole but the majority concentrate on antiquities, stone crosses and take us on a fascinating tour of standing stones, fogous and ancient sites in West Cornwall. Starting with Mousehole and Paul and moving on to Lamorna, St Buryan, St Levan, Sennen, St Just and further locations around Penwith. The majority of the pictures would have been taken in the late 1800s but the albums were probably compiled in the 1930s or 1940s. Each photograph is annotated with location and historical background, much of it from the writings of another great son of Cornwall, William Borlase (1696-1772) author of The Antiquities of Cornwall.


Cornwall, then and now...


The ease with which we can capture an image today makes it easy to forget the astonishing skill involved in the making of these photographs, this alone makes them an absolute joy. Also from an historical perspective, they transport us nearly 150 years back in time. Many of the stone crosses have been moved and the ancient sites have changed, so they provide a wonderful record.
Estimated at £2,500 – £3,000, it is a fascinating and valuable collection. The Gibson's shipwreck archive, which included many 100s of glass plates and photographs, sold at Sotheby's in 2013 for over £120,000.

This collection can be viewed at our Penzance saleroom on Saturday November 12th 9–1pm and Mon—Wed November 14–16th.


Lot 19 – Gibson of Scilly

Lot 19 • Gibsons of Scilly, six albums of high quality original photographic prints
Estimate: £2,500 – £3000

Antiques & Interiors • Thursday 17th & Friday 18th Nov from 10am

View the full catalogue of over 850 lots



a few more of our favourite lots from our two-day antiques & insteriors sale:


Lot 500 Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924—2005) A moulded container 'Elephant' for Nairn Floors Ltd

Lot 500 • Sir Eduardo Paolozzi (1924—2005) A moulded container 'Elephant' for Nairn Floors Ltd
Est. £300–£500


1805 William and Mary walnut and marquetry chest

Lot 1805 • William and Mary walnut and marquetry chest
Est. £600–£900


Lot 920 Lalique frosted glass cat sculpture, 'Chat Assis'

Lot 920 • Lalique frosted glass cat sculpture, 'Chat Assis'
Est. £300–£500


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