Story of the Lawrence Collection

On the 20th March 1865 at the age of 24 William Mervin Lawrence opened a Photographic Studio opposite the G. P .O. at Sackville street Dublin. Over the years the studio successfully photographed the length and breadth of Ireland from Howth Head (Co.Dublin) in the East, to Achill Head (Co.Mayo) in the West ,and on to Malin Head (Co.Donegal) in the North and finally to Mizen Head (Co.Cork) in the South. The collection consists of 40,000 glass plates mainly from the period 1880-1915,

William Lawrence was not himself a photographer, but an early entrepreneur. He opened his Studio in his mother’s toy and fancy-goods shop. opposite the G.P.O Dublin

At that time there was great interest in Studio Portraits, After losing an Arm  he then  employed an Assistant  photographer. His brother, John Fortune Lawrence, was interested  stereo photographs and  William  took over the sales of the Stereo photographs, which were very popular at the time.and that was the start of the “Lawrence Collection”.

In 1880 when the dry plate process came in William Lawrence  employed a team of printers, artists (colourists and retouches).and around that time, Robert French  joined the Lawrence Studio, and he worked his way up as printer, artist and then Chief photographer,. He took over 30,000 photographs of the “Lawrence Collection”.glass plates


William Lawrence produced at least 11 albums as follows

Dublin City and County ~ Counties of Wicklow and Wexford

The Lakes of Killarney & Glengarriff ~ Cork, Blarney, & Queenstown (Cobh)

Belfast & the County Down ~ Glens and the Coast of Antrim

Giant’s Causeway, Portrush, and Antrim County ~ Armagh and its Environs

Lough Erne, Bundoran and the Donegal Highlands

West of Ireland, Galway, Connemara, and Achill Island

Irish Life and Characters

William Lawrence also produced a series of travel albums called the “Emerald Isle” albums.

Emerald Isle Albums were produced in Chicago in 1897 in weekly parts “Ireland in Pictures”. A grand collection of over 500 magnificent photographs of the beauties of the Green Isle. In the 1890’s a new line of business developed, Also when the Post Office allowed postcards to be sent without envelopes, in 1902 you could send a message, with four words only on it, his postcard business took off.

Lawrence’s business prospered for nearly 50 years, and of course with the invention of the Box Brownie, the business was falling off, by that time Lawrence and French were in there early seventies and Robert French retired in 1914 and William Lawrence in 1916.

In 1916 the premises in Sackville Street Dublin was looted and burnt down during the 1916 Easter Rising. Most of the portrait negatives were destroyed. The negatives of scenes around Ireland were stored in Premises in Rathmines and survived. The firm closed down in 1942 and the following year, the negatives (glass plates) were acquired by the National Library of Ireland for £300.00 old pounds