Cottingley Fairies
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Interest Gathers Pace

Polly Wright attended a Theosophical Society meeting in Bradford in 1919 and it was here where the infamous pictures were to gather interest. The topic of discussion was "fairy life" and during the meeting she was overheard talking about the children's photos. The lecturer asked to see them and was astounded.

In the Autumn months the 2 photos were presented at the Theosophical Society in Harrogate where a captivated audience believed that evidence of countless tales of fairy sightings had finally been presented. Sceptics gathered with plenty of mockery - how could so many people be fooled by such obvious photographic trickery?

Interest was to gather pace in May when a letter was sent to leading Theosophist Edward L Gardner with 2 small prints asking for his opinion. Intruiged, he requested that the original plates be sent to him and on receipt asked Harold Snelling, a friend and photographic expert, to prepare new prints from the original negatives.

In a letter to another photographic genius, Fred Barlow, Gardner recounts:

"Then I told them to make new negatives (from the positives of the originals) and do the very best with them short of altering anything mechanically. The result was that they turned out two first class negatives which are the same in every respect as the originals except that they are sharp cut and clear and far finer for printing purposes"

As a leading body in faked photographs, Snelling's opinion was seen to be unquestonable so when he passed his approval that the pictures were indeed genuine, Gardner was convinced.


"This plate is a single exposure... These dancing figures are not made of paper nor of any fabric; they are not painted on a photographed background - but what gets me most is that all these figures have moved during exposure... "

Harold Snelling


Note: After Snelling made up the clearer prints, these were to be the basis of the investigations and not the original photographs

Snelling sent the prints to Kodak for analysis and they came to the following conclusion:

  1. The negatives are single exposure
  2. The plates show no sign of being faked work, but that cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of genuineness
  3. Kodak's were not willing to give any certificate concerning them because photography lent itself to a multitude of processes, and some clever operator might have made them artificially
  4. The studio chief added that he thought the photographs might have been made by using the glen features and the girl as a background; then enlarging prints from these and painting in the figures; then taking half- plate and finally quarter-plate snaps, suitably lighted. All this, he agreed, would be clever work and take time
  5. A remark made by one, as we were thanking them and bidding good-bye, was that "after all, as fairies couldn't be true, the photographs must have been faked somehow"

from "Pictures of Fairies: The Cottingley Photographs," by Edward L. Gardner


Despite the findings, Gardner remained convinced that they were genuine fairies that had been spoken of in hundreds of tales and sightings throughout history. This was proof. They did exist. Others needed to see.


The First Letter

Trips To Cottingley