The William E. James Stereograph Collection

William E. James
William Evans James, born, Troyfa, Unvedd, Wales, 1835, died, Santa Cruz, California, 1887

Professor William E. James was an early American photographer, lecturer, and inventor of photographic apparatuses, probably best known for his historical voyage to Europe and the Holy Land with Mark Twain. There is evidence that he was responsible for great advances in the art to which he was never given credit for.


The Quaker City Excursion was to be the first luxury cruise of its kind and with an impressive venue. The Sidewheel Steamship Quaker City departed New York City on June 8th, 1867 with it's well screened, illustrious passengers, and ship captain aboard for the 5 1/2 month voyage to the Mediterranean. One such passenger, Mark Twain, later wrote, "Innocence Abroad" detailing the trip. W. E. James' stereoscopic images of Europe and the Holy Land were used for educational purposes in Sunday schools and in his lectures. Many of James' stereoviews are of missions and early settlements. The series, "Views of Palestine and the East", with a backlist of 60 stereoviews, could be purchased in New York from most of the publishers and dealers in Stereoscopic Views, A. O. Van Lennep, George W. Thorne, William B. Holmes, and L. E. Walker.


By newspaper accounts Mr. W. E. James held the chair as vice president of the newly formed "Brooklyn Photographic Society" when they held their first public meeting in July of 1864. His gallery was located at No. 267 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. and although he advertised "Portraits Taken", he was devoted to stereo photography and spent much of his time in the field extensively photographing Utica, Brooklyn, and the newly developing Prospect Park in Brooklyn among other things. At the end of the Civil War, as a member of the Oceanus Excursion his photography documented the destruction of Charleston, and Beecher's Oration at Fort Sumter. After Lincoln's assassination, Ford's Theater, The Whitehouse, and the Funeral Procession down Broadway were captured as "instantaneous views", a newly devised procedure in which the exposure time required to set the gelatin plate was less than one second.


Professor James relocated to San Francisco, California in 1874 where he gave highly entertaining and distinguished stereopticon and lecture shows. In October of 1875 as the photographer for the J. M. Hutchings Expedition, James photographed Yosemite Valley and the Mount Whitney area. Hutchings used the photographs in his magic lantern lectures in San Francisco. James again relocated to Santa Cruz, California in 1880, occupying the old Reese’s Photographic Studio, a gift from his new father-in-law, where he resided until his death.


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Copyright © 2012 Casey James