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spectacular Charles Darwin family photograph album

DARWIN, CHARLES. Important Darwin family photograph album, assembled by Emma Darwin.

No Place, Ca. 1860s-1870s.

81 albumen prints on carte de visite mounts, inserted two per page in the original calf CDV album, brass clasps. Rubbed. Excellent condition overall.

This is likely the most important extant Charles Darwin family photograph album. The scientist’s wife Emma Darwin evidently assembled this well-preserved album of cartes de visite and has identified almost all of the sitters with initials or names on the album mounts.

The dazzling array of sitters includes Charles Darwin, his wife Emma, all seven of their children who reached maturity, a grandchild, and other relations from both family lines, the Darwins and the Wedgwoods. The families of some of Darwin’s principal scientific peers are also represented including Huxley, Galton, Lyell, Hooker, Haeckel, Henslow, and more.

This album also collects important photographs known from Darwin’s correspondence to have been sent to the naturalist. Their whereabouts or survival has been unknown until now. For example, the photographs of German scientist Ernst Haeckel’s children accompanied a letter sent to Darwin in 1864. In 1879 a German admirer, having named his child Darwin, sent his hero a letter enclosing a photograph in this album. Further research will uncover additional connections with Darwin’s letters.

Remarkably the album includes a portrait of Darwin’s old shipmateaboard HMS Beagle, Thomas Burgess, identified here as “T Burgess, marine of Beagle.” Forty years after that celebrated voyage,Burgess wrote to Darwin asking for the naturalist’s photograph and sending one of his own—the portrait preserved here. Burgess’s letter recalled some of their interactions to convince Darwin he was not an imposter. The two subsequently exchanged several letters and Darwin sent the old marine one of his books.

Darwin’s longtime personal manservant Joseph Parslow appears in what may be his first identified portrait. A major figure in the naturalist’s life and work, Parslow was Darwin’s butler, scientific assistant, companion, billiards opponent, and nurse through Darwin’s illness. A second unidentified photograph also appears to be of Parslow.

This remarkable Darwin family album, descended through the family until we acquired it, will be a centerpiece of any Darwin collection.


Provenance: estate of George Erasmus Darwin, (1927-2017), great-grandson of Charles and Emma Darwin. The pencil inscriptions closely resemble known examples of Emma Darwin’s hand. The contents, range and date of the album indicate that she compiled the album. This suggests a provenance as follows: 1. Emma Darwin (1808-1896) to her son 2. George Howard Darwin (1845-1912) to his son 4. William Robert Darwin (1894-1970) to his son 4. George Erasmus Darwin (1927-2017).

A detailed list of the album’s contents is available.