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ARCHIVED - William James Topley:
Reflections on a Capital Photographer

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The Studio

The Topley Company

At the end of the 1880s, George Eastman introduced his Kodak camera. Although it was a rich man's toy, it ushered in the era of the "snapshot." Starting as primarily a source for photographic and lithographic images, Topley's studio soon began dealing in photographic equipment and supplies, as well as providing a service and repair shop for the general public. The Topley Company provided some of the same services to a more specialized and professional community in both government and the private sectors. By the early 20th century, Topley was the Canadian representative for both Carl Zeiss and Bausch & Lomb, two internationally respected optical instrument companies, as well as being the local dealer for Kodak.

The Topley Studio's location in Ottawa was ideal for selling photography, equipment and supplies to the Dominion government. Starting in the 1880s, Topley's prepared photographs and enlargements for a number of overseas exhibitions, including the 1883 International Fisheries Exhibition at London, the 1885 Exposition universelle d'Anvers at Antwerp, and the 1886 Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. William Topley was paid $565 for expenses to collect specimens with W.F. Whitcher, Commissioner of Fisheries, for the 1883 exhibition. An avid hunter and fisherman who owned at least one boat, Topley enjoyed the outdoors. He no doubt revelled in the chance of being paid to do something that tapped into his other passions.

During the 1890s, Topley's government business had significantly expanded beyond making prints for exhibitions or for government departments. Increasingly he sold cameras, darkroom equipment and supplies to them. Evidently many departments, including the Geological Survey and the Department of the Interior, decided that their employees should document their activities photographically, and not just in writing. In 1899, the value of Topley's government business exceeded that of the business he did with the government for the whole decade of the 1880s. By the First World War, the company was supplying gunsights, and assisted the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory in finding needed equipment.

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