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By Kendra Bean on

Hidden Treasures of Our Collection: Snapshots of the last Tsar

Kendra, our Collections Assistant, shares an exciting discovery from the museum’s print archive: snapshots from the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II in May 1896.

July 2018 marks the centenary of the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the hands of the Bolsheviks. I’m a bit obsessed with the tragic personal saga of the Romanovs; Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra is probably the best biography I’ve ever read. So, imagine my excitement when the Collections Services team undertook a recent renovation of our Print Archive and I stumbled across a series of snapshot photographs taken during the Tsar’s coronation in Moscow in May 1896.

Left: text reads 'The Coronation of the Czar, 1896. Snap shots made with a No.2 Bull's-Eye Kodak by Mr. G.W. Tottem, F.R.P.S. (Several were reproduced in 'The Kodak News', Vol II, No.18, Oct, 1896, p.46.) Album 1.' Right: photograph entitled 'House of the Romanovs'.
Left: text reads ‘The Coronation of the Czar, 1896. Snap shots made with a No.2 Bull’s-Eye Kodak by Mr. G.W. Tottem, F.R.P.S. (Several were reproduced in ‘The Kodak News’, Vol II, No.18, Oct, 1896, p.46.) Album 1.’ Right: photograph entitled ‘House of the Romanoffs, Moscow’. G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

The photographs were taken by British photographer George William Tottem using a Kodak Bulls-Eye No. 2 handheld camera. Manufactured by Eastman Kodak between 1895 and 1913, Bulls-Eyes had a fixed focus lens and captured 3.5” square images. Tottem’s snapshots are presented in two square shaped ‘Bullet Picture’ albums, also marketed by Kodak.

Front cover of photographic album entitled 'Bullet Pictures'. Made by Eastman Kodak, 1896
Front cover of photographic album entitled ‘Bullet Pictures’. Made by Eastman Kodak, 1896. Album 1 of 2. © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

George Tottem resided in Kennington, in South London, and was associated with the glass merchant and photography equipment manufacturer George Houghton & Sons. He was named a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 1895. He also participated in the Photographic Club, described by the RPS as ‘a gathering of around a dozen photographers or “gentlemen amateurs” who met regularly to discuss their experiments in photography and to exchange photographs.’

It’s not clear what led Tottem to Moscow in 1896. An inscription on the inside covers of the albums indicates that several of the photographs were published in The Kodak News in October 1896. Unfortunately, the article gives no information about the photographer or how he found himself with a front-row view of this historical event. It’s possible that Tottem was commissioned to produce the images. Or perhaps, being an active amateur photographer, he travelled for leisure and submitted his photographs with the hopes of having them published. Close-up snaps of visiting royalty and dignitaries such as the son of the Khan of Khiva and Russian officers attached to the suite of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, suggest Tottem had some level of special access during the festivities. All we know for certain is that these images were published to promote the use of Kodak ‘pocket cameras’. The snapshot craze was just around the corner and Kodak wanted to show that you didn’t need to be a professional photographer to take interesting pictures.

Eldest son of the Khan of Khiva & attendant & two members of Emir of Bokhara's suite
‘Eldest son of the Khan of Khiva & attendant & two members of Emir of Bokhara’s suite.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Russian officers attached to suite of their R.H. The Duke & Duchess of Connaught
‘Russian officers attached to suite of their R.H. The Duke & Duchess of Connaught.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Tottem’s photographs contrast nicely with a series of snapshot albums compiled by Herbert Galloway Stewart which are part of our Ricketts Collection. Stewart, the English tutor to Nicholas II’s nephew Prince Andrei Alexandrovich, had intimate access to the royal family’s day-to-day life. It turns out, royals—they’re just like us… kind of! Viewed together, the Tottem and Stewart albums offer fascinating glimpses into the public and private spheres of the Romanovs before the Russian Revolution.

Tribune facing Grand Duke Sergius Palace
‘Tribune facing Grand Duke Sergius Palace.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
‘Group of Mongolians, Bokharas, Kivans.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
State entry into Moscow from Petrovsky Palace
‘State entry into Moscow from Petrovsky Palace.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Empress's Mother's state carriage, drawn by eight white horses
‘Empress’s Mother’s state carriage, drawn by eight white horses.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Emperor of Russia on white horse
‘Emperor of Russia on white horse.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
English staff officers
‘English staff officers.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Running footmen
‘Running footmen.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Running footmen
‘Running footmen.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Chevaliers de la garde
‘Chevaliers de la garde.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Chevaliers de la garde
‘Chevaliers de la garde.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
A state carriage
‘A state carriage.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Emir of Bokhara, Khan of Khiva, & their suites
‘Emir of Bokhara, Khan of Khiva, & their suites.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Cossack soliders
‘Cossack soliders.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Gardes à cheval
‘Gardes à cheval.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
The empress's carriage
‘The empress’s carriage.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Russian hussars. (Blue pleisses; chestnut horses.)
‘Russian hussars. (Blue pleisses; chestnut horses.)’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Spectators in the crowd
‘Russian types.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Left: text reads 'The Coronation of the Czar, 1896. Snap shots made with a No.2 Bull's-Eye Kodak by Mr. G.W. Tottem, F.R.P.S. (Several were reproduced in 'The Kodak News', Vol II, No.18, Oct, 1896, p.46.) Album 2.' Right: photograph entitled 'On the review ground.'
Left: text reads ‘The Coronation of the Czar, 1896. Snap shots made with a No.2 Bull’s-Eye Kodak by Mr. G.W. Tottem, F.R.P.S. (Several were reproduced in ‘The Kodak News’, Vol II, No.18, Oct, 1896, p.46.) Album 2.’ Right: photograph entitled ‘On the review ground.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Empress's carriage
‘Empress’s carriage.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Cossack regiment
‘Cossack regiment.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Emperor of Russia—wearing the Russian eagle helmet
‘Emperor of Russia—wearing the Russian eagle helmet.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Gardes à cheval
‘Gardes à cheval.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Russian artillery
‘Russian artillery.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Emperor of Russia—returning the salute
‘Emperor of Russia—returning the salute.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Regiment of hussars
‘Regiment of hussars.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Preobajensky regiment
‘Preobajensky regiment.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Cavalry cantering past
‘Cavalry cantering past.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Emperor of Russia—facing bugler
‘Emperor of Russia—facing bugler.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
Cavalry passing
‘Cavalry passing.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum
The Emperor—leaving the review ground
‘The Emperor—leaving the review ground.’ G.W. Tottem © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

If you’d like to find out more about our collection, why not book free tickets for one of our weekly Collection Tours? You can also discover more about the objects we look after or browse the Science Museum Group collection online.

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