Old photo album sells for £350,000

A BOOK of 19th-century prints taken by a pioneering Scottish photographer, which was won in a pigeon-shooting match, has been sold for £350,000.

The 1873 book of 80 prints of China, taken by John Thomson, was one of 46 copies made, and is one of only seven surviving editions.

It was offered as first prize in a society “pigeon match” held for British workers employed in the tea trade in China, where it was won by Oliver Latham, a tea merchant from Dublin, who shot the maximum of ten pigeons.

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The album, containing some of the earliest photos documenting life in the Far East, has been passed down through several generations of the Latham family. Following the death of 
Oliver Latham’s granddaughter, Margaret, in Australia last year, the album was left to his three great-grandchildren, who decided to auction it in ­London.

Auctioneers described it as being “very rare, complete and still in its original bindings” before placing a £70,000 estimate on it.

But due to the current booming market for Chinese art, the album sold for a record £290,000. With the additional premiums and fees, the overall price paid by the anonymous bidder was £349,240.

Richard Fattorini, of auctioneers Sotheby’s, said: “The three siblings who were selling it watched the auction online and were blown over by the price it fetched. The money will help them take care of their own families and it is all thanks to their great-grandfather’s sharp-shooting skills.”

Edinburgh-born Thomson was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, spending years documenting Singapore, Cambodia, Vietnam and China with his dog Spot.

During his travels, he photographed everyone from members of the Chinese imperial family and government to fisherfolk, miners and street traders. Mr Fattorini added: “John Thomson realised that all these British people working in the tea trade in Foochow would want some souvenir of their time there.

“He didn’t have the money to publish the albums and so he invited people to subscribe and 
45 of them did. He kept one copy spare. His fine photographs comprise an extensive pictorial record of the landscape, architecture and people of China’s 
Fukien province.”

Oliver Latham travelled to China in 1859 and became a tea broker. Eleven British men paid five pounds to enter the pigeon shoot event on 22 April, 1873, and the names of the competitors are still listed on the title page of the album.

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