Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Gilbert & Bacon

Not Gilbert & George!

William Frank Bacon was born in 1843 in Bangor, Maine.  After serving in the Union Army during the Civil war, he settled in Philadelphia with the intention of becoming a photographer.  He apprenticed under  A.K. P. Trask, and after a brief stay in New York City was invited by Trask to become his partner at a studio at 40 N. Eighth St., Philadelphia.  In 1870, Trask was bought out by C. M. Gilbert.  Gilbert & Bacon opened up a new studio at North 820 Arch St.  Bacon was the dominant photographer of the two.  While Gilbert handled much of the walk in clientele, Bacon handled the higher end work.  In a world before movies, cities like Philadelphia had a stage community rivaling that of New York City, and Bacon became the photographer of choice for  famous performers, as well as athletes, authors, and politicians.  Then, it was common practice for photographers to photograph the famous for free and then make their money by selling those portraits to the general public.  In 1886, Gilbert retired and Bacon operated the studio by himself while keeping the Gilbert & Bacon studio name.  Bacon opened up a new studio at 1030 Chestnut St., leaving the management of the Arch Street location to Milton R. Hemperly, who had been hired by the partners in 1883.  (Hemperly bought the Arch street location, from Bacon, in the mid 1890s, and operated it under his own name.) William Frank Bacon died in 1900 of Bright's Disease, and the ownership of Bacon & Gilbert fell to his son Frank T. Bacon.  Frank kept the business running until 1925.  In 2011, 10 original proofs, photographs printed from the original negatives at the time they were exposed, sold at auction for $16,000.  Of course, those prints were of the famous and were almost surely taken by William Frank Bacon, while this cabinet card was probably shot by either Gilbert or Hemperly.


  1. I have a large photo from this studio, no idea who the people in photo are, was hoping you could take a look?

    1. Sorry I haven't replied sooner, but the chances of identifying a person in an old photo without a name is almost impossible. If the people in your photo are famous, and from the theatrical world, then you might be able to get an ID at broadway.cas.sc.edu. They have a nice collection of stage photography, and do include a handful of photos from the Gilbert & Bacon Studio. Too, cabinetcardgallery.wordpress.com has a good selection of Gilbert & Bacon shots. Try their search box.