Henry Brothers: Masters of their Trade (Part One)

Henry Brothers: Masters of their Trade (Part One)

This article is about a set of seven stereoscopic collodion glass negatives I recently bought from a seller in France. The lot in his possession originally consisted of nine of those negatives, two of which he chose to keep but very kindly sent me scans of. What prompted me to buy them was that six of the images (seven actually since one of the glass plates kept by the seller belongs to the same photo shoot) show the workers, workshop, family and owners of a firm of nineteenth century manufacturers of agricultural implements known as Henry frères (Henry brothers), from Dury-lès-Amiens, a village in the département of the Somme, north of Paris. I spent several years of my life in the Somme, where one of my daughters was born, but I must confess I never went to Dury-lès-Amiens, now simply called Dury, although I now wish I had as it may be some time before I can go there on account of the current pandemic.

Illustration01-Dury-La Routesmall

Illustration 1. Postcard from the 1910s showing the main street in the village of Dury.

What makes the negatives interesting is not their vague connection to a period of my life but the fact they show working men proudly posing for the photographer outside their working place (it would have been too dark inside to take any photos). I have seen millions of stereos but not very many of workshops or workers and finding original stereoscopic collodion negatives is definitely not a common occurrence. I am used to researching stereo cards and to using every single piece of information they can provide: the way they are mounted, any handwritten or printed indication on the front or the back of the mount, labels, etc. In the case of negatives, however, all of the above clues are missing and you can rely only on what the images themselves provide since very few photographers ever signed their plates.

So let’s start by examining those images if you don’t mind.

The glass plates are quite large and not one of them has the same exact dimensions. They measure between 207 to 211 mm in width, and between 117 and 121 mm in height. As for their thickness, it varies between 1.8 to 3.5 mm. As seems to be quite common with negatives of the period featuring groups or scenery, all the plates show signs of pronounced vignetting – a gradual reduction in brightness on the periphery of the images – probably due here to the optical limitations of the lens or to the use of a small diaphragm. It results from this vignetting that the images, if they were ever printed as stereo cards, would have necessitated some heavy cropping and the loss of a lot of information, as shown in one of the illustrations below.

Illustration02-Original negativesmall

Illustration 2. One of the six original negatives.  Notice the vignetting and the untransposed left and right images. The image can only be seen in 3D if you squint. If you view it with a stereoscope it will be pseudoscopic: the background will appear in the foreground and vice-versa.

Illustration03-Stereo Henry Brothers-1small

Illustration 3. Transposed and cropped image from the same negative as it would have appeared on a stereo card of the time. Notice how much of the original image has been lost.

It is also possible to infer from the examination of the negatives that they were taken with a binocular camera: the left and right halves of the stereo pair are untransposed and there are no noticeable differences in the positions of the sitters, as often happens when the images were taken sequentially.

As for the images themselves, they contain a couple of interesting clues, in the shape of a signboard and some posters. The signboard is the main clue here, giving the name of the owners of the firm as well as some indications showing that they were at the top of their trade. Here is an enlargement of the sharpest image I could find in the six negatives:

Illustration04-Medals won by the Henry Brotherssmall

Illustration 4. Enlargement of part of one of the negatives showing the signboard above the front door of the workshop.

The sign is perfectly legible, at least in this picture, and reads:


Twenty six plaques mentioning the awards won by the Henry brothers at various regional and national agricultural shows are hung around the sign. A much later advertisement, published in Le Progrès de la Somme, reveals that between 1850 – the date the firm was apparently founded – and 1896 – the year the advertisment was issued – they won 352 awards, including a gold medal at the International Exhibition of 1889 (the one in which the Eiffel Tower featured as the entrance gate) !

Illustration05-Publicité pour Henry frères-1896small

Illustration 5. Advertisement published in Le Progrès de la Somme in February 1896.

Having established that the Henry brothers were very proficient in their field and quite famous in the agricultural milieu, it is time to have a closer look at who they were and what we know about them.

The Henry family lived in Dury for several generations. The grandfather of the Henry brothers we are interested in, Louis Henry, was born at Dury in 1756 and died there, aged seventy-eight, on July 3rd 1834, four years after his wife, Elizabeth Lamarre (1755-1830). Louis, like his forefathers before him, and like his sons and grandsons, was a “maréchal” or “maréchal-ferrant”, a blacksmith specialising in shoeing horses but probably also forging tools and plough blades. Louis and Elizabeth had at least two sons, Louis, the elder, named after his father as was customary, born at Dury on June 27th 1789, and Eloi, also born at Dury, on 12 Ventôse An V (March 2nd 1797).

Louis, a blacksmith like his father, first married Marie Rose Cornette, a girl from the nearby village of Saint-Fuscien, and, when she died there in 1836, he took as his second wife a widow from Dury. He died at Saint-Fuscien, on February 17th 1868, four months after his spouse Françoise Victoire, née Dumont. 

Eloi, the younger son, also married a girl from Dury, Marie Josephe Sevin, born on August 30th 1795. The wedding took place at Dury on January 20th 1824. Eloi and Marie Josephe had at least two sons and a daughter. The first born son, who came into this world on January 30th 1825, was given the name of his father. No surprise there. I will call him Eloi junior to differentiate him from his father. On July 17th 1850 he married Valentine Françoise Sevin a local girl born at Dury on April 18th 1828. Eloi junior and Valentine had five children, all daughters. The first born, Héloïse Valentine died on June 29th 1851, aged 19 days. The second child, Philomène Théodosie Valentine, lived a little longer. She was born on May 16th 1853 and passed away on January 30th 1859, by which time a third girl called Marie Léontine had been born, on March 21st 1857. The fourth daughter, Maria Albertine was brought into this world on December 8th 1860 while the fifth and last child was not born until September 9th 1870, most probably after the photos under study were made. We will get back to that later.

The second of Eloi and Marie Josephe’s sons, Adolphe, was born on August 4th 1831 and got into wedlock fairly early. On June 8th 1853, he married a girl from Dury, Madeleine Rosine Andrieux, who, being born on May 14th 1830, was a year older than himself. She bore him two children, both daughters, Rosine Emma, born at Dury on January 23rd 1854 and Jeanne Adolphine, whose birth took place on February 4th 1858, also at Dury.

It is in 1850, if we are to believe the advertisement published in the press in 1896 and mentioned earlier, that the two Henry brothers, Eloi and Adolphe, got together and founded the firm Henry frères which soon specialised in the manufacturing of agricultural implements and brought them some renown and lots of awards. Three of the negatives show that they were still shoeing horses but by then it must have been only one facet of their business.

Illustration06-Stereo Henry Brothers-5small

Illustration 6. Stereo photograph from one of the negatives showing a horse being shod.

The skill of the Henry brothers in manufacturing harrows, rolllers, extirpators, scarifiers and ploughs did not develop overnight but we saw that by 1860 they were at the top of their trade and won a gold medal at the national agricultural show of Paris (for their turnwrest ploughs) as well as numerous other awards in regional events.

Illustration07-Médaille Concours National Agicole-Paris 1860bsmall

Illustration 7. Medal for the 1860 national and regional Paris agricultural show. The category is different from what it would have been for the Henry brothers (tillage implements, instead of equine race here) but the medal is basically the same as the one they received. Notice that somedody drilled a hole in the medal so that it could be worn around the neck. This probably explains why the reverse is not as well preserved at the obverse. The medal was engraved by Joseph Arnold Pingret (Bruxelles, 1798-Paris, 1862) who sometimes signed PINGRET F. for PINGRET Fecit (made by).

Illustration08-Médaille Concours Régional Caen-1860small

Illustration 8. Medal for the 1860 regional agricultural show held at Caen. The medal is wrong but the category, “instruments aratoires” or “tillage implements”, is the one in which the Henry brothers would have been competing. This medal was engraved by Armand Auguste CAQUÉ (Saintes,1795-Paris, 1881).

Illustration09-Concours général agricole Paris 1908small

Illustration 9. Postcard from 1908 showing the Paris agricultural show forty-eight years after the Henry Brothers won their gold medal.

Between 1866 and 1879 The Henry Brothers also filed six patents for various improvements in tillage implements. And in 1867 they were admitted to the Paris international exhibition were they got two second prizes, one for a roller and the other for a scarifier and extirpator.

Illustration10-1867 Exhibition-Annexe-Machines agricoles section anglaisesmall

Illustration 10. Léon and Lévy. Stereo card showing the English Agricultural section at the 1867 Paris International Exhibition. The French section must have looked very similar but I could not find the stereo card.

In a roundabout way this brings us to the dating of the negatives.

We know from the sign above the door of the Henry brothers’ workshop that the photo must have been taken after 1860. A poster stuck on the inside of a door further indicates that it cannot have been made before 1867. The poster is for a parliamentary by-election that took place in the Amiens area on August 18th and 19th 1867. The Member of Parliament for the area, Édouard de Morgan [2], died at Paris, on 17 July 1867 and new elections were quickly organised to find a successor to his parliamentary seat. The first contestant was the “official” candidate, supported by the government of Emperor Napoleon III, Antoine Auguste Félix Cauvel de Beauvillé (Montdidier, September 30th 1815-Menton, February 18th 1898). It is his name which appears on the poster stuck on the inside of the door of the Henry brothers’ workshop.


Illustration 11. Detail of one of the negatives showing the poster announcing the by-election and showing the name of M. Félix Cauvel de Beauvillé.

However, and quite unusually, another candidate was later approved by the government. His name was Auguste Antoine, baron de Fourment  (Paris, January 18th 1821-Paris, October 30th 1891). To those two official candidates was added a third one, Adolphe Bertron (La Flèche, March 6th 1804-Paris, January 26th 1887), who earned the nickname of the “omnibus candidate” because, for over four decades, he stood for every possible municipal, cantonal, parliamentary, senatorial and even presidential election, without ever being elected. This rather eccentric and wealthy philanthropist was the founder and unique member of what he himself called the Humanity Party. Although he made a lot of people laugh Bertron was actually a very early feminist (he suggested, among other things, that the Senate should exclusively be composed of women) and a sincere humanitarian, as well as a keen opponent of wars, the clergy and death penalty. At the 1867 election, only four people voted for him [3]. The winner of the parliamentary seat was de Fourment who, out of 24,411 voters, got 13,961 votes as opposed to 10,271 for M. Cauvel de Beauvillé.

Even though this election may not seem important, I believe it is the key to dating the negatives. The poster on the door cannot have been issued before 17 July 1867, it does not look tattered and torn like the other posters visible on the left of some of the negatives, which means it did not have time to deteriorate. Also there is no trace of a poster for the other official candidate which makes me think that the photos were made before the election actually took place, some time between late July and mid August. The fact that the sign above the door does not bear the mention “admitted to the 1867 exhibition”, something any firm would be proud to advertise, nor alludes to the two prizes won at that major international event also suggests the Henry brothers had not yet had time to have it altered and that the images are from the second half of 1867. Other clues to dating the images include the people featuring in the photographs, especially the children. In August 1867, Eloi’s daughters Marie Léontine and Maria Albertine would have been respectively ten and a half and six and a half. Adolphe’s elder child, Rosine Emma, would have been thirteen and a half while his younger girl, Jeanne Adolphine, would have been nine and a half.

In several of the photos children can be seen, which is hardly surprising since the arrival of a photographer with his darkroom van [4], tripod, binocular camera and black cloth was most certainly very unusual in Dury-lès-Amiens and would have drawn half the village outdoors. Two of the children, however, feature in all of the images, one being more noticeable because in some of the pictures – including the one kept by the seller – she is holding a doll. It is obviously difficult to be one hundred percent sure but I think these two girls are Adolphe’s daughters. The older one has all the appearance of a teenager and looks very suspicious of the camera and of the proceedings in nearly all the images. This would be Rosine Emma and the younger girl with the doll would be Jeanne Adolphine. They appear on some of the photographs with a rather short woman whose features are so much alike the two girls’ that there is little doubt she is their mother. The man with the moustache, who features prominently in the foreground of some of the negatives must be their husband and father, Adolphe Henry, who would have been thirty-six when the image below was taken.

Illustration12-Adolphe Henry and Familysmall

Illustration 12. Adolphe Henry, his wife Madeleine Rosine, and his two daughters, Rosine Emma and Jeanne Adolphine.

The enlargement of one of the negatives below shows the two brothers, Eloi junior and Adolphe, posing behind one of their ploughs. Eloi was forty-two years old at the time.

Illustration13-Eloi and Adolphe Henrysmall

Illustration 13. Eloi Henry (left) and his brother Adolphe (right), posing behind one of their ploughs.

Now that I have had a go at dating the negatives, is there a way we can try and determine who their author was ? What follows are hypotheses and educated guesses as there is nothing on the original plates that gives any indication as to the identity of the artist.

There were quite a few photographers operating in the Amiens area at the time but, using the information we have about them, it is possible to reduce the number of potential authors to three, that is if we exclude the option that the images may have been taken by a well-off amateur of whom we know nothing about. It is a definite possibility but I will wave it aside for the moment.

I consider the fact that the negatives are stereoscopic ones as an important clue as it implied buying a special camera and knowing how to mount the resulting images properly. We know for a fact that three photographers from the Amiens area published stereo cards. I have limited the research to Amiens and its surroundings as it seems reasonable, on account of the cost, that the Henry brothers, when they commissioned these photographs to be taken, must have chosen someone local.

The first of these operators is Nicolas Charles Kaltenbacher who is known to have published stereos of Amiens, as is evidenced below.

Illustration14-Kaltenbacher-Amiens Cathedralsmall

Illustration 14. Nicolas Charles Kaltenbacher. Stereo card showing the cathedral of Amiens, a gem of medieval architecture built in a relatively short time.

Kaltenbacher was born at Lunéville, Meurthe-et-Moselle, on October 27th 1816, the son of a grocer. Nicolas Charles had no taste for grocery and shop-keeping and became an artist. He got married in his native town on October 18th 1841 and his wedding certificate describes him as a painter. His wife, Marie Anne Fondevraye (Lunéville, March 11th 1824-Amiens, March 5th 1886), bore him three daughters. The eldest, Marie Eugénie, was born at Lunéville on August 16th 1842, the second Jeanne, in an unknown location around 1850, and the third one, Isabelle, at Amiens on February 22nd 1854. From an advertisement, we know that Kaltenbacher became a photographer in 1849. He had a studio at Amiens, first rue des Trois Cailloux and then rue du Commerce, and is listed in the 1856 census as a daguerreotypist. He remained in activity until his death on November 4th 1886 and is best remembered for taking photos of the Amiens cathedral at the request of English art critic and writer John Ruskin.

The other possible author is the Hélios firm, a trade name chosen by photographer Michel Berthaud (Vienne, Isère, November 9th 1845-Bragny-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire, November 20th 1912), and painter Etienne Prosper Berne-Bellecour (Boulogne-sur-Mer, July 29th 1838, Paris, 17th arrondissement, November 29th 1910), who worked as a photographer for only a short period (c.1864-c.1870) before he made a name for himself at the Salon and definitely traded the collodion plate for the palette and brush. Although the main address for the Hélios studio was 9, rue Cadet at Paris, they had another studio at Amiens 110, rue des Trois-Cailloux, and we know they produced stereo cards as illustrated below.

Illustration15-Stereo HELIOSsmall

Illustration 15. Stereo card of an unidentified French town by the Hélios studio.

The third possible author of the photos of the Henry brothers in front of their workshop is also a photographic duet, composed of Philippe Alcide Duvette and Arsène Romanet. Duvette was born at Amiens on December 11th 1834, the son of banker Claude François Édouard Duvette and of his wife Adeline Mélanie Renard. Arsène Romanet was born at Abbeville, Somme, on January 3rd 1833 to landowner Adrien Romanet and his spouse Marie Pauline Baillet. We know the two men were already photographic partners in 1861 when they were awarded a medal at an exhibition in Amiens for their photographs of the cathedral. In 1862 they were admitted to the London International exhibition where they also showed photographs of the cathedral and in 1863 they took part, again as Duvette and Romanet, in the fifth exhibition organised by the Société Française de Photographie where their frames (numbers 633 to 654) contained more photos of the same building. At this exhibition Duvette also had a frame (number 1102) showing the enlargement of a microsopic photograph of a human flea which is described as being 1 metre in diameter (the enlargement, not the actual flea). Duvette ended up following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a banker but Romanet carried on photography and had a studio at Bovelles, Somme, not very far away from the village of Dury. The Bibliothèque nationale de France have in their collection a stereo card bearing on its front a wet stamp that reads “A. Duvette & Romanet phot.”, and on its back the handwritten words “Romanet et Duvette”. It is therefore established that they, too, made stereo photographs.

With three likely authors, the question remains, who actually took the images under study ? Is there something that may help decide in favour of one photographer over the two others ? Actually, there is, in a way. The Henry brothers were working class people from a rural background and living simple lives. They were probably not the kind of persons to go to a photographic studio to have their portraits taken or commission a photographer to come over and have group photos made. However, we know they took part in agricultural shows and, more importantly, in the 1867 International exhibition. Of the three photographers or photographic partnerships mentioned above, two were also admitted to the 1867 exhibition: Berthaud & Berne-Bellecour (although Berthaud was exhibiting with Garin and Guilleminot) and Duvette & Romanet. Duvette’s address was given as rue des Rabuissons, Amiens, Romanet’s as Bovelles, Somme. It is possible that while visiting the exhibition the Henry brothers saw the photos diplayed by either Hélios or by Duvette & Romanet and that they commissioned one of them to come and photograph their workshop. Of the two I personally think it is more likely they chose to contact Arsène Romanet since the address given was that of Bovelles as opposed to Paris for Hélios and Amiens for Duvette. It is my opinion they would have been less daunted approaching someone who was operating in a small town than in a large city, but of course I may be wrong.

Again, all the above is only pure conjecture and the photos may have been taken by someone else whose stereoscopic production remains unknown, or, as mentioned earlier, by a local wealthy amateur. Until we find a document establishing for sure who took the negatives the question of their authorship remains open and I welcome any suggestion [5].

There is another point which remains to be elucidated. Why were those images taken and how were they used ? Again it proves a very tricky issue as we have yet to find positive prints made from those negatives. Once more we are left with the plates themselves as our only means of trying to answer the questions. When examined together, the seven negatives seem to tell some kind of “story”. The “first” five ones show the two brothers and their employees but the “last” two only feature Adolphe and fewer employees. In two of the images (illustrations 13 and 18) Adolphe appears holding a folded document and in two of the negatives (illustrations 16 and 17) a key can be seen, held tight by his wife in one and prominently held up high by his younger daughter in the other. The way I read that “story” is that in 1867 Adolphe took over from his brother Eloi and became the only owner of the firm Henry frères although he kept trading under the same name. The photographs can therefore be seen as documenting things as they were and as they would be in the future. It may be a coincidence but one of the negatives – the one featuring Adolphe, his wife, his employees, his elder daughter Rosine Emma, and his younger daughter, Jeanne Adolphine holding a key – has been marked with an X scratched in the emulsion. This would tend to imply it was the negative chosen by Adolphe to be printed and it would really be interesting to find a copy of that print that would corroborate my interpretation of the story.

Illustration16-The Keysmall

Illustration 16. Enlargement of one of the images showing the key, held her by Adolphe’s wife.

Illustration17-Stereo Henry Brothers-6small

Illustration 17. Stereo from the negative marked with an X scratched in one of the top corners.

It only remains to tell what I know about the events following the photo shoot. In July 1870 France declared war on Prussia. On September 2nd, Napoleon III was defeated at Sedan and by the end of the month Paris was under siege. On November 27th, a furious battle took place at Dury and the French troops resisted valiantly against superior numbers only to be eventually driven away. Amiens fell and was occupied until July 22nd 1871. A memorial, inaugurated one year after the event, commemorates the battle of Dury and the gallant men who died trying to stop the advance of the enemy.

Illustration18-Dury-Monument commémoratif 1870-editingsmall

Illustration 18. Early twentieth century postcard showing the monument commemorating the battle of Dury on November 28th 1870.

Since the Henry brothers only had daughters their branch of the family disappeared and their surviving descendants, if there are any, must bear different names, Andrieux or Morel for instance. On September 25th 1876, Rosine Emma, Adolphe Henry’s elder daughter, married one Quentin Lucien Onésime Andrieux (1852-1897), a native of Dury. Four years later, on December 8th 1880, Adolphe’s younger girl, Jeanne Adolphine, wedded one Louis-Jean Baptiste Morel, also born at Dury. Their uncle Eloi signed the wedding certificate in both cases.

Eloi Henry died less than a year after his younger niece’s marriage, on July 29th 1881. For reasons which are hard to understand in a village where everyone knew each other, his death certificate contains several major errors [6]. His brother Adolphe survived him by eight years, was awarded the medal of the National Order of the “Mérite Agricole” in 1886, and passed away, aged fifty-eight, on July 11th 1889. His widow carried on the family business under the name Widow Adolphe Henry until her death at the age of seventy-three on September 12th 1903. Her death certificate describes her as a manufacturer of agricultural implements. As for Eloi’s widow, Valentine, she breathed her last on November 3rd 1913, not long before another, deadlier war started.

Illustration19-Henry frèressmall
Illustration20-Stereo Henry Brothers-3small

Illustrations 19 and 20. Another one of the negatives and, below, the corresponding “stereo card”.

Denis Pellerin


My warmest thanks to Mrs. Annie Farge, deputy mayor of Dury, Somme, who very kindly provided me with information I could not find online.


[1] Here is the English translation of what is written on the sign:

Henry Brothers

Manufacturers of agricultural implements

Gold Medals

at the regional shows of Amiens and Beauvais

Gold Medal

at the national show of Paris, 1860

[2] Born at Amiens on August 15th 1803, Édouard de Morgan was the son of a former mayor of Amiens and M.P. for the département of the Somme. He married Marie Estève Foucques d’Emonville on July 2nd 1833 at Abbeville and was M.P. for the Somme from 1857 to his death in 1867.

[3] This was no surprise as he never got more than 5 of 6 votes in the elections he stood for.

[4] The negatives were made using the wet collodion process. As the name implies the glass plates were coated with a sticky solution of guncotton and ether, sensitised in the dark and put in the camera without delay as the photograph had to be taken while the collodion was still wet and be developed at once. The presence of a darkroom tent or van was therefore essential. Since the photographer cannot have been from Dury and had to travel there, a darkroom van makes more sense.

[5] If you think you have some relevant information, please drop me an email at denis@londonstereo.com. [6] The death certificates states he was married to Marie Joseph Sevin, who was not his wife but his mother –  his wife being Madeleine Rosine Andrieux – and that he was the son of Louis Henry and Elisabeth Lamarre, who were his grandparents, not his parents. Really very odd, especially considering his brother Adolphe was one of the witnesses.

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