Discovered in antique shop: photographic portrait of Charles Dickens's wife, Catherine, to sell at Bonhams

Believed to be the only daguerreotype portrait of Catherine in existence

A profile portrait of the wife of Charles Dickens, Catherine (1815-1879), by John Jabez Edwin Mayall (1810-1901), is to be sold at Bonhams, Knightsbridge, as part of the Photographs Sale on 17th May. The only daguerreotype portrait of Catherine known to exist, it has been estimated at £8,000 – 12,000.

The portrait first came to light in 1996, discovered in an antique camera shop in Canterbury. Initially believed to be an image of Charles Dickens's sister, leading scholars soon identified the sitter as the writer's wife, Catherine (née Hogarth).

The earliest date for the portrait can be given as 1852 from the patent date 'Reg July 20 1852' on the catch of the morocco-bound case. Indeed surviving letters of Charles Dickens reveal that he sat for Mayall in 1852 and a daguerreotype portrait of the novelist, dated 1853-55, was sold at auction in London in 2001. It is possible that the couple visited Mayall's studio together during this period and that the two portraits were intended as a pair.

This daguerreotype was discovered with two ivory passes for the 1870 Italian Opera inside its case, which will be offered here alongside the photograph. One is inscribed 'Miss Dickens', suggesting that the daguerreotype might once have belonged to the couple's eldest daughter Mary, known as Mamie. In 1870 Dickens rented a house in Hyde Park Gardens, in part so that Mamie could experience the delights of the London Season.

Coincidentally, in the same auction, is an 1867 portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) of Valentine Prinsep, with whom, it is believed, Charles Dickens's youngest daughter, Kate, had a love affair. Both Valentine, who was the son of Cameron's sister, Sarah, and Kate were artists and mixed in the same circles.

The sale also includes portraits by Cameron of Alfred Lord Tennyson (an image known as The Dirty Monk), 1865, signed by Tennyson himself (estimate £6,000 – 8,000) and an intimate portrayal of the photographer's grandson, Archibald Cameron, and her maid Mary Hillier (estimate £6,000 – 8,000).


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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