Hertfordshire Postcard Artists, Photographers, Publishers, etc.

Laz Roberts

circa 1870

of High Wycombe & St Albans


I scan eBay for interesting low-cost items which could make an interesting story on this web site and the following item caught my eye.

CDV by Laz Roberts, St Albans, c1870

It appeared to be a comparatively early carte de visite with a detailed back, by a St Albans photographer I had not heard of with a distinctive name.

While there is no name for the sitter the date "April 3, 1901" is clearly written on the back.

Surely I should be able to identify the photographer quickly - and maybe the sitter.

A Google search quickly brought up these following information - including a carte de visite with a virtually identical back - datable to 1869 - and with a High Wycombe address.

Laz Roberts at High Wycombe - from the Web


Roger Vaughan's Personal Collection of Victorian and Edwardian Photographs contains three CDV from the Rutty Album, taken by Laz Roberts of High Wycombe. The most relevant is the picture of "Aunt Groome & Ethel Groome" as Ethel's birth was registered at Wycombe in Jan-March 1869, clearly dating the picture to that year.


The competition increased further when Laz Roberts advertised in the Bucks Free Press of 23 October 1868, further reducing the price for CdV's to 3s.6d (17.5p) per dozen. At this time he was operating from Hughenden Road, Frogmoor Gardens, but early in 1870 he moved his business to 85 Easton St. He placed an advert in the Bucks Free Press on 16 March to say that he was applying for permission to move, and then on 29 March announcing that he had moved, and was now open for business. Later in the year, on 2 September, he advertised that ‘’he is working on entirely new process of his own, Chromophotography, and taking life-like CdVs in Natural Colours’’. The last we hear of Laz Roberts is in 1875 when he advertised in Judson’s Trade Directory.

From Early Professional Photographers in High Wycombe, 1869-1977

The brief biography included the words "he is working on entirely new process of his own, Chromophotography, and taking life-like CdVs in Natural Colours" in 1870 - and if this was the case this he would be a significant pioneer photographer, who had not been properly recorded (or else I would have found much more on Google). It is important to realise that in 1870 photographic plates had very little sensitivity to green light, and virtually none to red light. The relevant Wikipedia account on Colour photography reads:

As long as photographic materials were usefully sensitive only to blue-green, blue, violet and ultraviolet, three-color photography could never be practical. In 1873 German chemist Hermann Wilhelm Vogel discovered that the addition of small amounts of certain aniline dyes to a photographic emulsion could add sensitivity to colors which the dyes absorbed. He identified dyes which variously sensitized for all the previously ineffective colors except true red, to which only a marginal trace of sensitivity could be added. In the following year, Edmond Becquerel discovered that chlorophyll was a good sensitizer for red. Although it would be many more years before these sensitizers (and better ones developed later) found much use beyond scientific applications such as spectrography, they were quickly and eagerly adopted by Louis Ducos du Hauron, Charles Cros and other color photography pioneers. Exposure times for the "problem" colors could now be reduced from hours to minutes. As ever-more-sensitive gelatin emulsions replaced the old wet and dry collodion processes, the minutes became seconds. New sensitizing dyes introduced early in the 20th century eventually made so-called "instantaneous" color exposures possible.

In the circumstances I thought I would try and find out more about Laz Roberts, and Chromophotography, and the resulting partial time line is given below.


There was no great difficulty in finding him in the censuses between 1841 and 1871. His father, Lazarus Roberts was a miniature/portrait painter and he was described as an artist (1853), colorer of photographs (1861) and portrait painter and photographist (1871). What happened to him after that? He was not with the family in 1881, (although the last child was born in 1879) and in 1891 his widow remarried. He had 13 children - Fanny; Richard; Sarah; Mary; William; Anne; James; Alice; Minnie; Arthur, Robert, Martha and Emily - and to try and find evidence of what he was doing I tracked down most of them (only relevant links shown below). This was complicated because the places of birth in some censuses were given incorrectly. His (former) occupation was described as an artist in 1874, 1882, 1887, 1899 & 1902 and as photographer in 1895. I found no evidence that any of the children were involved in photography.


So what was "Chromophotography"? It is clear from what is known of his career that he was an artist who would have produced coloured CDV by painting on photographs, and this is supported by the wording on the backs of the examples of his work shown above. I found the following definition on Wikipedia:

Chromophotography is a technique, somewhere between painting and photography, which evolved in the second half of the 19th century. Firstly, two prints of the photograph were made. One was hand-painted with very bright colours; the other was painted in paler colours, and then made translucent by applying wax to the paper. The second picture was then superimposed over the first, with a small air gap in between, resulting in a three-dimensional effect. This technique was used by only a very few photographers, mostly in Central Europe.

In Bohemia, (now Czech Republic), one of the best known exponents of this technique was Alexander Seik.


In New Zealand, Gisborne photographer C P Browne, advertised Chromo Photography in 1883.Poverty Bay Herald, Volume XI, Issue 4014, 17 June 1884, Page 3

It might appear that Laz Roberts was one of the few photographers (perhaps the first) to pioneer the Bohemian technique in England. However perhaps he was not talking about the technique invented in Europe at all.  A search of the British Newspaper Archives reveals several relevant references. Messers Porter and Cann were advertising "Chromo-Photographic Portraiture" in the Bury and Norwich Post of 2nd August 1854, which clearly relates to painting colour on photographs and by 1856 several photographers were using the term in their adverts, although this use did not catch on.. This pre-dates by 8 years the first reference to the new invention called "chromo-photography" by M. Albert, photographer to the Court in Munich reported in the South London Chronicle of 10 May 1862. The term "Chromo-photography" was also used to describe a very different photographic technique using chromic acid described in Dr. Hermann Vogel's book The Chemistry of Light and Photography as reviewed in The Examiner of 24 July 1875. In 1882 and 1883 adverts appeared in the press where shops specialising in drawing and painting materials referred to materials for "Chromo-photography" but there is nothing in the advertisements to suggest that this involved anything more than the commonplace tinting of photographs.


It would be interesting to know if any examples of Laz Roberts' chromophotographs survive.


Date   Location   Information
1833-05-13   St Peter the Great, Chichester, Sussex   Laz Steele Roberts christened, parents Lazarus Steele Roberts & Sarah [sic] (christenings of siblings and censuses suggests mother was actually Fanny)
1841 census   Bishopsgate Buildings, St Botolph, Bishopsgate   Lazarus Robards, wife Fanny, and 5 children, including Lararus Robards (8).
1851 census   28 Primrose Street, St Botolph, Bishopsgate   Lazarus Roberts (61, Miniature Painter) wife Fanny, and 3 children. Son Laz Roberts not at home and not located.
1853-01-30   St John, Bethnal Green   Laz Roberts (Artist), son of Lazarus Roberts (Portrait Painter) married Sarah Burns daughter of Dennis Burns (carman), both of 8 Cresant Place, Hackney Road.
1854   Southwark, Surrey   Fanny born [Married 1874]
1858   Lambeth, Surrey   Richard born
1860   Lambeth, Surrey   Sarah born
1861 census   12 East Street, Lambeth, Surrey   Laz Roberts (Colorer of Photographs), wife Sarah, and 3 children
1862   London   Mary born
1862   Munich   M. Albert, photographer to the Court at Munich invents "Chromo-photography"
1863   ?, London   William born [Could he be the 18 year old apprentice engraver , born Battersea, Surrey, living with William Measom, engraver of 10 Cromwell Villas, Hammersmith,  in the 1881 census?]
1865   Bohemia   Alexander Seik (an early Bohemian photographer and inventor who mainly produced portrait photographs in the carte de visite format)  made improvements in the chromophotography process.
1865-02-11   Stratford, Essex   Anne (Annie) born [married 1902]
1866-04   Tottenham, Middlesex   James born
1868-10-23   Hughenden Road, Frogmoor Gardens, High Wycombe   Advert in Bucks Free Press. Laz Roberts reduces the price for carte de visite to 3s.6d (17.5p) per dozen.
1869-03?   Temple End, Hughenden Road, High Wycombe   Carte de visite of "Aunt Groome & Ethel Groome"
1869-03-20   High Wycombe, Bucks   Alice born
1870-03-16   85 Easton Road, High Wycombe   Advert in the Bucks Free Press to say that Laz Roberts was applying for permission to move, and then on 29 March announcing that he had moved, and was now open for business.
1870-07-11   St Albans, Herts   Minnie Julie born [Married 1887]
1870?   Fern Villa, Latimer Road, St Albans   The carte de visite at the top of the page clearly showed he operated from St Albans at about this date. As the 1873 CDV below suggests he was still using the Easton Road, High Wycombe, address it seems likely that he operated at St Albans and High Wycombe at the same time.
1870-09-02   High Wycombe   Laz Roberts advertised that "he is working on entirely new process of his own, Chromophotography, and taking life-like CDVs in Natural Colours"
1871 census   Temple End, Chipping Wycombe, Bucks   Laz Roberts (Portrait Painter & Photographist), wife Sarah, and 9 children
1872   High Wycombe, Bucks   Arthur born [married 1895]
1873   High Wycombe, Bucks  

Back is identical to above 85 Easton Road example with the words "Evangeline Patty" and "1873" added.

Evangeline Patty Aldridge was born at Beaconsfield, Bucks,  in 1853, the daughter of James Aldridge (blacksmith/farrier) and Elizabeth. In 1871 she was living with her parents at Beaconsfield. She married John Jesse Redrup (farmer) in 1874 and in 1881 was living with her husband and two young children at Hughenden, Bucks.

1874   High Wycombe, Bucks   Robert born
1874-10-26   St Mary, Lambeth, Surrey   William Parnell (Shoe Maker of Gloucester Street) married Fanny Roberts of Gloucester Street, daughter of Laz Roberts (Artist)
1875   High Wycombe, Bucks   Martha born [married 1899]
1875       Laz Roberts advertised in Judson’s Trade Directory.
1879-06-20   Walworth, London   Sarah Emily born
1881   2 Pleasant Row, Newington, Surrey   Sarah Roberts and 7 children - no sign of her husband Laz Roberts (Places of birth incorrectly recorded and ignored where they contradict other evidence)
1881-1890   ???   Presumably Laz Roberts died after the 1881 census and before his widow married.
1882-08-22   St Agnes, Southwark  

Baptism of children of  Laz (artist) & Sarah Roberts of 165 Portland Street: Sarah Emily born June 20 1879; Minnie Julie born 11 July 1870; James born April 1866

1882-10-29   St Agnes, Southwark  

Baptism of children of Laz (artist) & Sarah Roberts of 165 Portland Street: Annie born Feb 11 1865; Alice born March 20 1869

1887-08-08   St Philips, Bethnal Green, Middx   Edward Henry Hopkins (28, Print Colourist) son of Henry Hopkins (Print Colourist), married Minnie Julia Roberts of 16 Austin Street, daughter of Laz Roberts (Artist)
1890-11-02   All Saints, Newington, Surrey   Joseph Jerome Harding (57 year old shoemaker, widower) married Sarah Roberts (53, widow, nee Burns)
1891 census   98 Marylebone Lane, Marylebone   Household includes Joseph Harding (57, bootmaker), Sarah Harding (53, machinist), stepchildren Robert Roberts (18, bootmaker) and Emily Roberts (11, scholar) and an apprentice bootmaker.
1895-12-25   St Philip, Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets   Arthur Roberts (waiter) son of Laz Roberts, (Photographer) married Mary Corbett
1899-08-27   St Giles without Cripplegate, City of London  

Ignaz Pazal (tailor) married Martha Roberts, daughter of Laz Robert Roberts (Artist)

1902-09-01   St Andrews, Holborn  

Arthur John Richardson (clerk) married Annie Roberts of 39 Furnival Street Holborn, daughter of Laz Robert Roberts (Artist, deceased)


Footnote: I still do not know the significance of the date "April 3, 1901" on the first CDV shown, or who the sitter was.

November 2013   Page created