About us

About usThe year 2020 will be remembered affectionately by Ken & Jenny Jacobson as marking the 50th anniversary of their life in early photography - a time to celebrate and reflect.

Photographic art collecting, even today a young discipline, was a mere infant when they set foot in the field. Little formal training was then available so, like most enthusiasts entering this arena, they began in another. Ken had gained a B.A. in Chemistry from Princeton University before moving to the UK in 1970, to do a Ph.D. in Biophysics at King's College, London. There he met Jenny, who was working in research in Biochemistry. Ken is truly grateful to his parents for financial support when, initially, grants were rare for a foreign student. At the same time, he has someone to hold responsible (even if unfairly) for that Doctorate taking six years instead of four. His Dad suggested Ken spend spare time looking in the London markets for old cameras and photographs, the sale of which could substitute for a missing stipend.

Ken did so, becoming besotted with the hunt for 19th-century photographs, much to the detriment of his scientific studies. To appease this now shared burgeoning passion for early images and to gratify Jenny's yearning for a more rural lifestyle, a move to the English countryside followed the completion of Ken’s thesis. K&J Jacobson thus became full-time photographic art dealers, inclined to believe it a brief interlude before careers in scientific research. That 'gap year', which began in 1976, is still continuing and the passion has happily not yet been extinguished.

The intervening years have brought a successful working partnership, rich and varied experiences plus the chance to meet a host of interesting fellow enthusiasts from around the world. Fortuitously, Ken’s arrival in London in 1970 was ideally timed for the inaugural auction at Sotheby’s newly opened photography department in 1971 and perhaps for 40 years thereafter, Ken was one of very few conscientiously viewing virtually every 19th-century lot being auctioned in the UK capital. The sales produced copious early photographic treasures, sometimes displayed in overflowing tea chests – the contents often a mystery to all. Remarkably, this initially baffling mishmash was to contribute much to the early history of photography written and published for at least the next decade. Those tea chests subsequently gave way to single albums and photographs from the 19th century that in turn have mostly given way to single late 20th- and 21stcentury framed works. Thus, museums and collectors seeking outstanding work of the 19th century are becoming more dependent on a small number of dealers.

A resurgence of Ken’s previous academic scientific curiosity is now re-directed towards the history of photography; consequently, for several years, he has been increasingly occupied in archives and libraries. The results have been a series of publications, including Odalisques and Arabesques: Orientalist Photography, 1839-1925, that was shortlisted for the 2008 Kraszna-Krausz award for the best photography book published during the previous two years.

In 2006, the Jacobsons made a discovery that upended their world. Certainly the greatest find of their lives, and perhaps also of any of their colleagues’ lives, when a cursorily described item at a country auction transpired to consist of 188 daguerreotype views of Italy, Switzerland and France, assembled by John Ruskin, the greatest art critic of the 19th century. The collection contained the largest group of daguerreotypes in the world of Venice and the first photograph of the Matterhorn. In 2015, after many years of research and preparation, Ken & Jenny co-authored Carrying Off The Palaces. John Ruskin’s Lost Daguerreotypes. They were fortunate to receive both the Apollo Magazine award for the best art book of the year and also the first ever Ruskin Society award for best book.

On occasion, Ken has provided advice to institutions like Sotheby’s and the National Art Fund and has given lectures at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, Royal Asiatic Society in London, Department of Art History at Cambridge University, Daguerreotype Symposium in Bry-sur-Marne, France, J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Tate Gallery in London, Daguerreian Society in New York, Museu de l’Empordà in Figueres, Spain and Snite Museum at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

It is hoped that the Jacobsons' knowledge of photographic history as well as a highly developed sense of the eclectic, allows them to provide others with a rounded understanding of 19th-century photography, creating an awareness of works that may previously have been neglected. There are few other fields where so many astonishing works of art may be discovered outside the mainstream narrative of art history; they feel confident they are able to encourage this nuanced approach to their clients, hopefully generating visual as well as financial benefits. Their aesthetic preference is for imagery of a documentary nature taken with a minimum of artistic self-consciousness. Many such images manifest a surprising nascent modernism. The photography of India, China, the Middle East, Japan, Sri Lanka, Latin America, daguerreotypes and artist's studies are particular interests.

The Jacobsons have always been happy, where possible, to assist serious researchers by offering their own facilities including one of the most extensive libraries in private hands devoted to the study of 19th- century art photographs. They continue to sell photographs to museums and collectors around the world and welcome enquiries by telephone and email or via their website. Unfortunately, Ken & Jenny admit to being shockingly remiss about refreshing that web site with images from their large stock. Nostra culpa... Jenny is to be found ever more frequently in her garden and Ken, too frequently writing or at his stove.