American Art Rapid Photography


The winner of the 1903 Stock Exchange Race hurrying through Patcham

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Palace Pier, Brighton. This firm operated from a stall on the Palace Pier, selling "instant" portrait photos to passing holidaymakers, some in the form of vignettes on the front of undivided back postcards. It also supplied souvenir postcards of Pier entertainers and views from the Pier. In addition, it published cards recording two sporting spectacles that took place on the London - Brighton road in the spring and summer of 1903.

The title piece card shows Mr E. F. Broad, the eventual winner of the First Stock Exchange Race from London to Brighton on May 1, passing through Patcham on the very last leg of his journey with an escort of cyclists. A clerk with a firm of stockbrokers, Broad completed the 52 mile walk in 9 hours, thirty minutes and one second.

The photographer evidently used an unusually fast film for the period, as there is remarkably little blurring. He also showed commendable speed in making his picture available to the public. A note on a used example of the card, apparently penned by someone who was well acquainted with the publisher, says "Plummer at my suggestion took this photo at Patcham while the winner was coming thro' that place, he then cycled back quickly, developed the photo & they were on sale just as winner reached winning post. We have sold some hundreds at 2d & 3d". The card, like many others that the firm issued, has an undivided back carrying the label "Brighton Palace Pier, American Art Rapid Photography".

The message on the card is initialled, but unfortunately indecipherably. A second card combines the photo seen on the title piece card with a portrait of Mr Broad. A halftone card reproducing the same photo (but not the portrait) was issued by George Sones of 97 Queens Road, Brighton, and is labelled "Copyright R. A. P." (another version has been found that puzzlingly is labelled "Albert Broom, 87 Streatham Hill, S. W., Copyright"). Directories indicate that 97 Queens Road was a lodging house. Although George Sones presumably lived there, David Simkin has established that he was in business as a retail stationer at 112 North Street in Brighton. David has also discovered that Plummer, whose full name was De Jornette Plummer, is likely to have been an immigrant from the Continent. Before setting up in business at Brighton, Plummer had been a photographer in London, where he had married Hortense Loretz, a Belgian, in 1902. After founding American Art Rapid Photography, he went on to create a new company called Rapid Art Photography (R. A. P.), establishing branches in Brighton (at 59 King's Road and 13 East Street), Eastbourne, Hastings, Bournemouth, Southsea, Folkestone and London. For a detailed account of the activities of the R. A. P. company, you are recommended to vist David Simkin's highly informative website at

On June 17, 1903 the redoubtable Mademoiselle Florence set off from Westminster Bridge in London balancing on a large globe that she rotated under her feet. She reached Brighton Aquarium in the early hours of June 21, to the delight of thousands of cheering spectators. Mademoiselle Florence, despite her name, was actually an American, who reportedly embarked on the epic walk to win a wager of £500. American Art Rapid Photography issued a real photographic card showing her making her slow but triumphant progress to Brighton. They also marketed a halftone that once again was labelled "Copyright R. A. P."

Other cards issued by American Art Rapid Photography included stunt cyclists at the Palace Pier and a man standing on floats in the sea aiming a gun, presumably to amuse holidaymakers on the Pier.

Despite its technical proficiency and business success, American Art Rapid Photography appears to have been a short-lived firm, soon making way for its replacement, the highly successful Rapid Art Photography studios and galleries, which operated until about 1919. Dates on the cards including postmarks indicate that American Art was active in the autumn of 1902 and in 1903, but as yet no evidence has been found to suggest that it operated in 1904. It appears not to be listed in Brighton Directories.

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