Britt, Peter & Emil (Jacksonville)

Britt, Peter (1818-1905)
Britt, Emil (Jacksonville)
We are fortunate that a book-length monograph about Peter Britt’s photography was written by Alan Clark Miller, titled “Photographer of A Frontier, The Photographs of Peter Britt” (Eureka CA; Interface, 1976.) He is represented in museum collections around the United States. The site of his former home is a historic landmark and musical amphitheater, presenting the longest running musical festival in the Northwest (appropriately named the Peter Britt Festival.) His cameras, negatives and equipment are preserved in the Jacksonville Museum, with additional negatives at the University of Oregon.
Britt was born in Switzerland on March 12, 1819. He emigrated to the United States and began making daguerreotypes in 1847 at Highland Park, Illinois. He arrived in Jacksonville on November 9, 1852, and immediately built a daguereotype studio. Over the years, Britt built an estate looking over Jacksonville, which is one of the most picturesque “old towns” of Oregon. He was famous for his gardens, and had a vineyard aptly named “Valley View”. His house burned down in 1949, just two weeks after the photographic materials had been removed to the museum. The site of Britt’s home is virtually a stone’s throw from downtown Jacksonville.
Britt has a long “paper trail” for researchers to pore through, a product of his many activities as horticulturist, government weather observer, money lender, and leading citizen.
Despite a long list of attempts, no other individual was able to establish a successful Jacksonville photography studio while Britt was active. The results of these workers after resettlement to another location often point out the lessons they learned in Jacksonville and the qualities of Britt they chose to emulate. I have examined hundreds of Britt tintypes and portraits. His portraiture was generally outstanding, certainly the best of the photographers working in his region.
His daguerreotypes can be recognized by the studio backdrops (Britt painted them himself) and the posing chair and ballustrades. By the early 1860s, he was also making ambrotypes, tintypes, card photographs, and stereoviews. I have seen over 80 examples of tintypes made by Britt with his engraved imprint pasted on the back. I have seen one with an imprinted front. There are many Britt tintypes in blank holders, which are recognizable by the studio props and backgrounds.
He generally used imprinted cards to mount his CDV portraits on, but there are many examples of Britt CDVs on blank mounts. During the Civil War, photographers were required to collect a tax, affix a revenue stamp on the photograph, and cancel it. This became law on August 1, 1864 and terminated on August 1, 1866. Tax stamps on Britt CDVs were cancelled in black ink with his initials “PB.”
Britt made some stereos in the late 1850s, but these are rare. His main series of stereo views are on red, yellow, or pink mounts. The earliest dated example is 1876 (#126, Crater Lake.) The series was titled and numbered by pencil. Most of Britt’s stereoviews are imprinted with his name, although some are on blank mounts. They are numbered from 101 to 201. Additional information and an inventory are enumerated in this book.
Britt’s most famous photograph was of Crater Lake. He claimed to be the first to photograph Oregon’s only national park, and these photographs are said to have been influential in obtaining the Congressional designation. Although his were not the first, which were the photographs of Crater Lake that were taken on the Sutton Expedition in 1869, Britt’s first wet-plate views of the lake are outstanding and were taken with the greatest difficulty.
Peter Britt died on October 3, 1905. The studio continued to be operated by his son Emil.