Life before the Great War: Incredible black-and-white images from a grand tour of Europe in 1904 (but who took them remains a complete mystery)
- The amazing snaps were bought by photography enthusiast Bill Nelson at an estate sale in the early 1990s
- They show a variety of fascinating scenes from across Europe from policemen in London to farmers in Austria
- Mr Nelson is desperate to find out who exactly snapped the charming pictures – and where they are from
These fascinating vintage black-and-white pictures shed light on what life was really like in Europe in the early 20th century – before World War I.
The amazing images show a variety of scenes from across the continent from a grand 1904 tour, including police on a horse and cart in London, a man taking his poultry to market in Germany and fishermen wearing clogs on a dock in Holland.
But not only are the old photographs absolutely mesmerising, their origin is just as fascinating – because who took them remains a complete mystery.
Policemen looking smart in their uniforms stand guard during a procession in the street in London
A man in a suit stands among poultry while visiting a market in the town of Bayreuth in the heart of Bavaria in Germany
Pedestrians stroll across the famous Charles Bridge in the city of Prague. The bridge runs across the Vltava River and in the early 1900s saw an increase in horse-drawn traffic
Two fishermen wearing traditional baggy trousers and clog shoes have the assistance of a young helper who carries two small buckets in Marken in the Netherlands
Farm workers in Austria stack huge bales of hay on top of a cart that is being pulled by ox
The negatives and index system for the fascinating collection that Mr Nelson bought at an estate sale in Minneapolis in 1990
The vintage images were posted online by photography enthusiast Bill Nelson, who is desperate to find out more about the photos.
Mr Nelson, who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, told MailOnline Travel that he stumbled across the set of negatives in the early 1990s at an estate sale in his home city.
He said: ‘The packet was unassuming, but also inexpensive. I pulled out one of the negatives and I could see it was a photo of a windmill so, sufficiently intrigued, I bought it.’
However, at that time he didn’t have the technology to process the images, so he froze the mysterious package – and forgot about it.
Until he bought a better scanner.
He said: ‘The film appeared to be nitrocellulose stock, which is highly flammable, so I opted to store the negatives in the freezer. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say and it wasn’t until later in the 1990s that I decided to have a more thorough look at the film.
‘By then, I had a quality scanner and was able to see the images in detail. The film, which was by then over 90 years old, was rather brittle and prone to curling. I could see that the images needed to be preserved against their eventual disintegration, so I scanned at high resolution all 240 or so negatives and it was then that I came to realize how much was there.’
A grand looking horse-drawn carriage rides past the Blue Ball Inn in Countisbury, Lynmouth, in Devon
Before machinery was widely-used, farmers would use ox hooked up to cutting machines to chop down the hay. Pictured is a farmer and his animals in Germany
Four little boys pose for the camera wearing traditional buttoned-up shirts, baggy trousers and clogs in the town of Volendam in the Netherlands
Two young girls wearing traditional dress pose for the camera in Marken in the Netherlands. Mr Nelson said: ‘Not only are the images well composed and correctly exposed, but they are unlike what one might expect from a casual tourist’
A man stands at the bottom of an old cobbled street in what is believed to be Montreuil-Sur-Mer in France, left. Pictured right are several horse-drawn omnibuses making their way around the streets of London
A typical chocolate box village with tiny cottages with thatched roofs at Cockington Forge in Devon, England
Bill quickly realised that he had a very special set of photographs on his hands. They were charming and pulled back the curtain on a more innocent age.
And they were also clearly taken by someone who knew how to take a superb photograph.
He said: ‘Not only are the images well composed and correctly exposed, but they are unlike what one might expect from a casual tourist.
‘Not only that, the photographer was serious enough about his or her photography to travel with a considerable amount of equipment.
‘Because of the quality of the photos and the nature of the imagery, I suspect that, if the identity of the photographer were known, he or she would be someone that could be further researched and perhaps someone with an established reputation.’
A replica windmill in Sans Souci Park, Potsdam, Germany. This picture was the first one that Mr Nelson saw. It prompted him to buy the whole collection
Women kneel on the pebbles to do their laundry on the beach in Étretat in northern France
A man sits on top of his cart, which is attached to two dogs in the Netherlands. Not only are the old photographs mesmerising, but their origin is just as fascinating as mystery surrounds who took them and where they came from
An organ grinder wanders the streets of London with his daughter playing to passers-by. A monkey can be seen sitting on top
A picture Mr Nelson uncovered that had been labelled ‘the oldest man in Clovelly’, which is a small village in Devon, England
A picture showing a man wearing a sandwich board advertising the play Cynthia at Wyndham’s Theatre in London. It only ran from mid-May to early June in 1904
Over the years, Mr Nelson has been able to build up some details about who is in the pictures and when they are taken thanks to help online.
He added: ‘I determined the date from clues in the photos themselves. I’ve expanded on that over the years by searching the negatives for clues I could follow and from comments provided by visitors to my Flickr site.
‘Some great mysteries persist. In the entire set of negatives, there is only one that I can identify as having been taken in Paris and only one that was taken in Prague. Who goes to Paris or Prague and takes only one photo?
‘That obviously suggests that my set of negatives is only a partial set and maybe the lesser of the images.
‘The handwriting was difficult to decipher, but it gave me a starting point.
An exceptionally smart group of people wander through the ancient buildings of Oxford
A group of men in Germany sit on the side of a street and appear to be playing a card game while one man smoking a pipe stares down the camera
A smartly dressed lady wanders down the cobble streets of Clovelly in Devon. The collection of vintage snaps contains several pictures taken in the village
Mr Nelson said: ‘While these photos are not technically from the 19th century, they belong to that period known as the long 19th century, which is the period from the French Revolution to the First World War’
‘Other times, I have just had to spend time sorting through photos online until I find a modern counterpart to the image.’
One of the things that fascinates Mr Nelson about the pictures is the time frame of when they were snapped.
He explained: ‘While these photos are not technically from the 19th century, they belong to that period known as the long 19th century, which is the period from the French Revolution to the First World War.
‘These photos capture a time where costume was specific to a region and sometimes to a village. They record places and a frame of mind that, after the war, would never be the same.
A well-turned out female tourists looks engrossed in a book as she gathers around the Frauenkirche in Nuremberg, Germany
Two smartly dressed gentlemen chat on the street in London as horse and carts whizz past. This picture is among Mr Nelson’s favourites
Small fishing boats are left on the shoreline in a charming picture taken at the Quay in Clovelly in Devon
Mr Nelson has been able to find out that the ladies in this picture are known as Mrs Dixon and Alice. They pose next to a parrot in a bird cage in London
A man focuses his whole attention on trying to repair a fishing net that has become broken in Étretat, Normandy
‘Many of my favorites are the ones that seem to be universal favorites – the four boys from Volendam, the two gentlemen in London, the Tourists at the Frauenkirche, the women in the market in Bayreuth, The Organ Grinder and his daughter.
‘One photo that I find intriguing is the one of the two men and the little girl on the docks in Marken. They are apparently just arriving at the dock, as one of the men is just stepping out of the boat.
‘The photographer is there with his or her camera, perhaps a tripod as well.
‘Yet none of the three is looking at the camera, not even the girl. What could have been more interesting than the photographer?’
However, the biggest mystery remains the identity of the photographer.
Bill added: ‘It’s apparent that this was no mere amateur. The photos required too much skill and the subject matter is unusual for a tourist but exactly contemporary with some of the groundbreaking photographers of the period like Stieglitz, August Sander, and Atget. I have spent the last two decades following every avenue I could think of to try to discover who took these images.’
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