Alfred W. Bennett and the Photographic Gift Book


  • Steven F. Joseph



Alfred W. Bennett (1833-1902), better known to posterity as a botanist, was active as a publisher in London in the eighteen-sixties. Almost uniquely amongst his contemporaries, Bennett specialized in books illustrated with mounted photographic prints for the middle-class market. Every year, new ‘photographic gift books’ would be released to coincide with the Christmas season of giving. Subject matter was mainly topographical or literary. Text and images were associated creatively; design, typography and photographic printing were of the highest quality.

While Bennett’s career in photographically illustrated books was brief, starting in 1861 and ending in 1868, he made a distinctive contribution to the creation and development of the genre in Britain. The article evaluates Bennett’s career and impact, covering the following topics: the Quaker context that influenced Bennett’s activity as a publisher and photograph dealer; Bennett’s invention of the photographic gift book as a genre; synergy with Lovell Reeve, another pioneering photographic book publisher; the crucial importance of literary tourism for Bennett’s output; assimilation of the concept of the Picturesque within photographic illustration; the extension of subject matter to Continental Europe; and the decline of the photographically illustrated book business in the hands of Bennett’s successor Abraham Provost.


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Author Biography

Steven F. Joseph

Steven F. Joseph is an independent historian of photography and a longstanding friend of the Rijksmuseum. His research interests include nineteenth-century photographic books and early photomechanical processes.




How to Cite

Joseph, Steven F. 2022. “Alfred W. Bennett and the Photographic Gift Book”. The Rijksmuseum Bulletin 70 (3):222-43.