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September 27, 2016

The Earliest Known Photograph of Men Drinking Beer, Edinburgh Ale, 1844

On the table we see a beer bottle and three 19th-century drinking glasses called “ale flutes”. One contemporary account describes a popular Edinburgh ale (Younger's) as "a potent fluid, which almost glued the lips of the drinker together, and of which few, therefore, could dispatch more than a bottle."

Edinburgh Ale: James Ballantine, Dr George Bell and David Octavius Hill (Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the photographers were David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. The skills involved in producing calotypes were not only of a technical nature. Hill’s sociability, humor and his capacity to gauge the sitters’ characters all played a crucial part in his photography.

D.O. Hill is shown here on the right, apparently sharing a drink and a joke with James Ballantine and Dr George Bell. Bell, in the middle, was one of the commissioners of the Poor Law of 1845, which reformed poor relief in Scotland, and author of Day and night in the wynds of Edinburgh. Ballantine was a writer and stained-glass artist, and the son of an Edinburgh brewer.


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