Ash Bester
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About the publisher


Ash Bester & Co was a Hobart pharmacy, photographic processor, souvenir and camera store that produced postcards from about 1940 to 1960. They produced the long A.B. series of black and white photographic print cards which numbered up to at least 669. A small series of similar photographic print cards was published using images from The Mercury newspaper, and a small series of coloured cards was produced in conjunction with Wally Green of Katoomba, NSW. The company also employed street photographers who operated under the name Tassie Photos, and produced photos which were printed on postcard paper.

Glynne Roy Bester (1907-1992), known as Bob, took over Ash’s pharmacy at 102 Elizabeth Street, Hobart in 1932, renaming it Ash, Bester & Co. He was qualified as a pharmacist and initially operated the business entirely as a pharmacy, but having an interest in photography he soon branched out into photographic processing and the sale of camera and photographic equipment. His son Jeffrey K. Bester (born 1934) also trained as a pharmacist and joined his father in the business in 1951. The business continued as a Hobart institution until it closed down in 2003. 


The overall card design of the A.B. Series was a black and white photographic print with handwritten caption on the front, printed on Kodak pre-printed postcard photographic paper.

 The images on the cards are mainly photos taken by Bob Bester or his son Jeff. Bob Bester probably had a stock of suitable photos when he started card production around 1940, but later photos were taken specifically for the postcards. Jeff Bester started an apprenticeship with his father in 1951 at the age of 17, but even before then he had been taking photos for his father. Jeff told me that his father always had a list of places he wanted photographed. The company also employed casual street photographers, who took photos under the name Tassie Photos, and these photographers occasionally supplied a postcard image.

 The subjects  chosen were those likely to appeal to tourists and are mainly of  Hobart and southern and eastern Tasmania. The cards show buildings and streetscapes of Hobart, particularly hotels, historic sites and buildings such as Port Arthur, natural landscapes and interesting or imposing man-made features such as the floating Hobart bridgeThe Hobart Floating Bridge. There was an emphasis on Port Arthur and the east coast, partly as they were (and still are) popular tourist destinations, but also because the Besters owned tourist accommodation at Coles Bay.  All of the photographs were taken from the road or within a short stroll; there was none of the adventuring by foot or horseback into the remote parts of Tasmania as done by earlier photographers and postcard producers such as the Spurlings.

 Jeff Bester said it was his father who decided on the subjects to be photographed. Subjects were driven by customer demand: “All the hotels, or any time there was a new venue for tourists, and then all the attractions around the district – if anybody asked for a photograph we didn’t have we got a photo of it”.

 Jeff Bester said that the latter photos were taken with a Leica 35 mm format camera, but the earlier photos taken by his father would have been done on a Carl Zeiss Super Inconta camera, using 2¼ x 3¼ 120 roll film.

 Images used in the cards were unashamedly presented as they came out of the camera, with no apparent attempt at enhancement.  The landscape views are tidy and picturesque, but streetscapes and building views are often marred by untidy electrical poles and wires and incidental structures. A classic case is number 126, showing the centre of Swansea, where the scene is dominated by an electrical pole. Another, number 283, showing the streetscape in Macquarie Street, would  serve well as an illustration in an electrical engineering textbook. There was no effort to bring structures to the vertical when it seems that it would have improved the image. Many of the images are remarkably dull (e.g. no. 627, Great Lakes Road), and one wonders how many copies were sold. In some cases the uninteresting subjects are made even less attractive by poorly focused, low contrast prints. But occasionally the composition is interesting, and the print well produced, as in no. 597, Mountain Lodge. Regardless of the deficiencies, such raw images are a useful real record of streetscapes and landscapes as they were at the time. 


 The cards were produced from the late 1940's to the early 1960’s. Bob Bester had acquired the pharmacy in 1932, and his son Jeff thought he may have started producing postcards from about 1937, when the first photographic lab was installed. To make the lab viable Bester needed to increase throughput, as business through the door was not enough to pay the staff costs. As well as processing film for over-the-counter customers, the lab produced prints for street photographers employed by the company, trading as Tassie Photos. One person in the lab was employed more-or-less  full time printing these Tassie Photos, while another staff member printed from customers film and produced postcards in quiet times. 

 It is difficult to determine the date of manufacture of the cards, as so few of them have been posted and postmarked. Number 10 is of the floating Hobart Bridge, which was built in 1943, so that may be a firmer starting date than Jeff Bester’s estimate of 1937.  A copy of number 107, The Magazine at Port Arthur, is dated in the message 6 July 1949, which seems to indicate that at least the first 100 were produced in the 1940’s. 

 Sales of postcards, and presumably their manufacture, declined in the 1960’s as colour slides became available and other publishers offerred good coloured postcards. Geoff Bester said that during his early time in the business colour transparencies started to become popular and they began to sell sets and individual slides of the tourist sights rather than black & white postcards.

 The postcards were produced at the Ash Bester photo lab at the back of their shop at 102 Elizabeth Street, Hobart. They were printed manually, in quantities of a few dozen to a few thousand, enlarged with a Lietz autofocus enlarger and processed by traditional wet processing. The caption was written on a glass plate which was placed over the printing paper as it was exposed. The implication of this method of captioning is that the caption had to be rewritten if a reprint was required, which explains variations in the caption seen on some cards. But it also allowed a poorly written caption to be replaced. Most cards were captioned in a fair hand by Mrs Morrisby, a long-serving employee, but others were captioned in various clumsy hands, and apparently redone by Mrs Morrisby!

 Cards were printed on Kodak paper with a pre-printed postcard back. Occasionally, through running out of stock or by error, they were printed on ordinary photo paper with a blank back.


 The postcards were sold, mainly to tourist, by newsagents and souvenir shops, but mostly at the Ash Bester shop at 102 Elizabeth Street. Jeff Bester told me “most of the newsagents were interested  in them because people were after postcards, and that’s where other postcard manufactures sold. One of the first things I did when I first started work was to go round all our customers – they were pharmacies, souvenir shop, newsagents and a few odd merchants. We supplied them with postcards and souvenirs – ash trays, butter dishes, rulers with pictures on them. A lot of the souvenirs were manufactured for us by Wally Green in Katoomba”.  Hotels also sold their own postcards produced for them by Ash Bester.


 The cards were intended for use in the post, but very few used cards survive. Perhaps most cards that were sold were kept as a souvenir or record of a holiday and never posted. Also, perhaps those that were posted were regarded as ephemeral and not kept, unlike more substantial coloured postcards of previous generations.  Some unused cards are very common, because after the Ash Bester business closed down in 2003, large quantities of unused cards were sold at auction. 

 The used dated cards known to me are:


River Derwent at New Norfolk
28 River Derwent at New Norfolk Dated on back 21-5-51
Salmon Ponds, Plenty
49 General View. Port Arthur Postmarked Feb 1953
Mt Wellington
Postmarked 9 Jan 1952
Dock &  Mt Wellington
Message dated 8 Jan 1952
Titania's Palace
Message dated 6 November, 1955
Ruins Church, Port Arthur
January 1956
 Magazine Port Arthur
Message dated 6 July 1949
Model Prison bell with guide
143 Hadley's Hotel Dated on back 19-5-51
Hadley’s Hotel
Postmarked 31 July 1952.
144 Blowhole. Eaglehawk Neck. Dated on back 24-5-51
GPO & Franklin Square
In message; late 1957
GPO & Franklin Square
Postmarked 1960
165 Franklin Square & G.P.O Hobart. Dated on back 25-5-51
165 Franklin Square & G.P.O. Hobart. Tas. Postmarked 1953
Sleeping Beauty from Huon Rd
Triabunna Wharf.
Dated on back 13-9-49
Russell Falls. National Park.
Message dated 15 February 1955
276 Cambridge 'Drome from Mt. Rumney Dated on back 19-5-51
Russell Falls. National Park
Message dated 31 Oct 1951
344 Botanical Gardens. Hobart. Tas Dated on back 22-5-51
347 Hobart Bridge from Eastern Shore. Tas. Dated on back 19-5-51
Hobart Bridge from Eastern Shore
Message dated 24.7.61
The Chalet, Hastings
Message dated 6 November 1955
Bush Hotel, New Norfolk
August 1950
453 Eaglehawk Neck, showing site of new Lufra Hotel. Tas. Dated on back 24-5-51
Bay View Hotel, Swansea
21 April 1960
 Dock & Mt Wellington
Postmarked 18 Sept. 1951
Hobart Bridge & Mt Wellington
January 1956
Fire Wagon Port Arthur
January 1956
Hopfields, Bushy Park
Message dated 1962.
Commonwealth Bank, Hobart
Murray St. Hobart. Tas.
Sept 1956
General View. Port Arthur
Postmarked December 1957
General View. Port Arthur
Postmarked April 1959