The photographic wallets which customers received their photographs back from the processing labs throughout the twentieth century seem to survive in numbers. While some people dutifully mounted their snaps into family photo albums, a lot more just kept them in these thick paper wallets along with the negatives.
In terms of design, where they have an illustration on the front, a lot seem to favour women with cameras.  There’s no doubt that once photography moved from the realm of boy’s own chemical experimentation and into the high street, lots of women purchased cameras and began taking photographs. Maybe the develop and print shop managers preferred a pretty woman on the front of their wallets, or perhaps they felt such images would be less off-putting for female customers. Here are a trio I picked up the other week, all with London origins.
Westminster Photographic Exchange photo wallet girl 1930s
Westminster Photographic Exchange – are promoting some of the new clockwork driven movie cameras, emphasising just how easy they are to use. The wallet is from 1939 and they also advertise their own range of British built cameras on the back. While the front text stresses the easy to use nature of the movie camera, on the back the revert to a more complex technical language: “Steinheil Cassar anastigmat in Compur shutter speeded to 1/250th sec. “. Indeed.
Westminster Photographic Exchange were long established dealers in new and used equipment, started early in the 1900s and lasting through until WW2. I wanted to find out more, but the Science Museum’s online archive has been loading since I began writing this and shows no sign of ever opening (they must have diverted all their funding to pay for that awful new logo of theirs).
1930s photographic wallet girl in shorts London
Ascotts Pharmacies – this wallet has the date 1933 in the logo, so must be from that decade, judging from the waved hairdos, shorts and trousers. They’re promoting the idea of having enlargements done from your snaps, so the poor illustrator has had to try and draw two versions of the same image to show the effect.
A lot of high street D&P work was handled by chemists, reflecting the origins of photography when this was where all the chemicals would have been purchased.  It remains today, with Boots still clinging on to vestiges of the trade through instant print machines for digital images (far cheaper than trying to keep a colour printer working 24/7 at home by the way).
Other than the fact that Ascotts advertise branches throughout London, I can find nothing out about the firm. The wallet has a space for the shop owner to rubber stamp their details. The Hutton family paid 1/8d for their prints on this occasion.
Kodak photo wallet, 1920 girl, long dress with camera
Kodak – This wallet features a drawing of the famous Kodak Girl, introduced by the firm in 1893 and not phased out until the early 1970s, with many variations round the world.  The striped blue and white dress remained a uniform, used by women in photographic outlets selling Kodak products. Kodak used skilled illustrators for these images which put competitors efforts to shame.  The wallets changed regularly, showing the woman in numerous locations, often with sailing boats in the background, and again often (though not here) over-printed with a shop name. This design dates from the late twenties, and was replaced by a more stylised version the following decade. Apparently today Kodak can supply your prints in a wallet featuring one of your own photographs, which sounds worth a try.
A couple more photo wallets can be found on our street photography website Go Home On A Postcard.


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