Donovan2 - Brighton Photographer
Thomas Donovan - Brighton Photographer
Part 2 : 1892 -1909
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Thomas Donovan (1837-1909)
was born in Bristol on 6th September 1837. Donovan worked as a stationer and
newsagent in Bristol until around 1872, when he moved to Brighton with his
wife Victoria and their four children. Thomas Donovan was employed as a
Studio Manager by the French artist and photographer Albert
Adolphe Boucher, who had taken over Dixey & Co.'s photographic
studio at 23 Ship Street, Brighton a couple of years earlier.
After Albert Boucher's death in 1875, Thomas Donovan decided to open his own photographic studio. By 1878, Thomas Donovan had established a photography business in St James' Street, Brighton in a parade of shops opposite the Old Steine, within walking distance of the Royal Pavilion and the Chain Pier on Brighton's seafront.
By the early 1880s, Thomas Donovan had been joined in his photography business by his two teenage sons, Thomas "Harry" Donovan and Charles Edward Donovan. By the time Harry Donovan had left Brighton for the United States, Thomas Donovan was being assisted in his studio by his four surviving children Charles Donovan, Minnie Donovan, Frank Donovan and Florence Donovan.
Thomas Donovan was one of Brighton's leading photographers for over thirty years. The studio that Thomas Donovan had established in St James' Street, Brighton in 1878 did not close until the early 1920s.
Thomas Donovan died at his home in Loder Road, in the Preston district of Brighton, on 15th December 1909, at the age of 72.
Portrait of Thomas Donovan, the well known Brighton Photographer (c1902).
This portrait carries the studio details "Donovan, Brighton, 1c St James'
[PHOTO: Courtesy of David Cryer]
|[ABOVE] The back of a carte-de-visite produced at Thomas Donovan's studio at 1c St. James's Street, Brighton, around 1902.|
Thomas Donovan's Photographic Studio in the Eighteen-Nineties
According to Philippe Garner,
in the 1890s, Thomas Donovan was Brighton's "most
prominent and respected photographer"(2).
The anonymous author of an article about Thomas Donovan, published in W.
T. Pike & Co.'s "Views and Reviews" around 1897, commented on
Thomas Donovan's reputation as an artist and photographer and claimed
that "his reputation is now fully established as one of the leading
photographic artists in the South of England"(3).
Thomas Donovan's services were certainly in great demand in the 1890s
and early 1900s. Donovan was often commissioned to record important
events in and around Brighton. In a letter composed on 15th August 1892
to his son Harry, Thomas Donovan wrote : "A new park was opened in
Kemp Town and I had to photograph the Mayor and Corporation in big
(Donovan was referring to the opening of Queens Park on 10th August
1892, on the site of a former Victorian pleasure garden called Brighton
Park, situated north of Kemp Town Railway Station).
[ABOVE] The opening of Queens Park, Kemp Town, Brighton (1892).
By the mid 1890s, Thomas Donovan was one of the best known photographers in Brighton and was held in high regard by his fellow Brightonians. Bright & Son's "View Book and Guide to Brighton", published around 1896, made a special mention of Thomas Donovan and his studio as the printed guide took its reader on a verbal tour of Brighton : "On the right hand, rising upwards towards Kemp Town, we have St James' Street where is the photographic studio of MR DONOVAN, well known not only for his pictures, but also for his unflagging energy in the improvement interests of the town.(5)"
Thomas Donovan reputation as a photographer in the 1890s was firmly based on his commercial work, either as a studio portrait photographer or the producer of photographic views to illustrate Brighton guide books. However, there is evidence to suggest that he was also concerned with the artistic and technical aspects of photography. In 1878, Donovan had exhibited at the 23rd Annual Exhibition of the Photographic Society of Great Britain and, in 1889, he had been awarded a silver medal for "technical and artistic excellence". Published material and actual examples of his work, demonstrate the fact that Donovan produced every type and format of photography over his long career. An article published around 1897, provided a list of the techniques, formats and styles that Donovan employed - platinotype, carbon prints, miniatures on ivory and porcelain, enlarged portraits coloured with oil paints, permanent carbon enlargements, "Rembrandtesque" portraiture, cabinets, locket portraits, "life-size" enlargements, children's portraits, interiors, views, and Röntgen X-ray photography. Donovan's output included albumen prints in carte-de-visite, midget carte and cabinet format, gelatin silver prints, and permanent photographs using the carbon process.
(2) & (4) "A Seaside Album : Photographs and Memory" by Philippe Garner (Philip Wilson Publishers, 2003), page 65
(3) "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove" (W. T. Pike & Co., 1897) page 94.
(5) "View Book and Guide to Brighton" (Bright & Son, c1896) pages 50-51.
Thomas Donovan discussed in "Views and Reviews" (c1897)
Around 1897, W. T. Pike & Co. published a promotional booklet entitled "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove", which included articles on many of the leading and most successful businesses in Brighton and Hove. Selected extracts from the article on the photographer Thomas Donovan are presented below :
[ABOVE] A page from W. T. Pike & Co.'s booklet "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove" , published around 1897. The article on pages 94-95 was devoted to "Mr. Thomas Donovan, Artist and Photographer, The St James's Portrait Studio, St. James's Street."
[ABOVE] An advertisement for Donovan's photographic studio at 1c St. James's Street, Brighton, which appeared in the Brighton Herald on 14th January, 1899. Donovan's studios were then situated on the ground floor of his St James's Street premises. George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) was a famous Victorian artist, well known for his portrait work and a series of allegorical paintings. A testimonial from G. F. Watts, a leading portrait painter of the day, helped to boost Donovan's reputation as a portrait photographer. By this date, Donovan had also been awarded a silver medal for "technical and artistic merit".
Donovan's Photographs in View Books and Guides to Brighton
[ABOVE] A photograph of holidaymakers on the beach near Brighton's Chain Pier by Thomas Donovan (c1890). The Chain Pier, which was built in 1823, was destroyed by gale force winds on the evening of 4th December 1896.
[ABOVE] A photograph of the Church Street entrance of Brighton Museum by Donovan & Son. Photograph dated April 1900.
|In some respects, by the mid 1890s,
Thomas Donovan had become Brighton's "official photographer". Many
of the "view books" and guides to Brighton published in the 1890s and
early 1900s feature photographs taken by Thomas Donovan or one of his
sons. For instance, Bright & Son's "View Book and Guide to Brighton",
printed around 1896, contained 24 full page photographic illustrations
and Donovan had provided all but three of the total number of original
photographs (the other three had been supplied by W. & A. H. Fry of
East Street, Brighton). Donovan also supplied the majority of the
photographs that illustrated Alfred Mountjoy Grist's guide book, "Brighton of To-Day",
published in 1896. In
the introduction to the guide book "Robertson's Brighton", the
author H. Mackinnon Walbrook tendered "warm acknowledgments" to the
photographers "Messrs W. & A. H. Fry of East Street and Mr T. Donovan of
St. James's Street." Thomas Donovan also produced most of of
the photographic illustrations that were featured in the most popular
visitors' guides, including Ward, Lock & Co.'s "Guide to Brighton"
(1896), W. Junor's " A New Pictorial and Descriptive Guide to
Brighton " and Ward, Lock & Co.'s "Pictorial and Descriptive
Guide to Brighton & Hove" (1913/1914).
As a consequence of Donovan's amazing output during the 1890s and early 1900s, many of the un-credited photographs which appear in modern books about Victorian and Edwardian Brighton originate from the studio of Thomas Donovan. Here is a list of some of the more familiar images of Brighton created by Thomas Donovan, or by his son Charles Donovan :
Scene at Black Rock after a Storm ; Black Rock Showing Convalescent Home ;
View from Marine Parade ; Madeira Walk and the Electric Railway ; The Chain Pier ; The Beach near the Chain Pier [see top left] ; View from Marine Parade (1896) ;
The Aquarium and Marine Parade ; Aquarium Clock Tower and Entrance ; Entrance to the Aquarium ; The Beach ; A Rough Sea ; The Palace Pier ;
The Old Steine ; An Hour's Rest - A Band in the Old Steine ; St Peter's Parish Church (1896) ; St George's Place and Parish Church ;
The Royal Pavilion ; The Dome, Royal Pavilion ; Brighton Museum, Church Street ( April 1900, before alterations ) [see bottom left] ; Brighton Museum, Church Street ( November 1902, after alterations ) ;
Brighton Central Railway Station ; Jubilee Clock Tower ; Floral Hall, Market Street ; Regency Square, Brighton ; Old Parish Church of St Nicholas - The Church on the Hill (1890) ; St. Nicholas Church, Brighton (1896) ;
A Characteristic View on the Front, King's Road ; Sea Front, West ; King's Road, Brighton, looking East from the West Pier ; The West Pier ; The Beach, the Boats and the West Pier ; The Beach and King's Road, Brighton, looking West ;
Hove Sea Wall and Lawns ; The Hove Lawns (1902) ; The Lawns on Sunday Morning ; Hove Town Hall ;
Thomas Donovan's firm of photographers also produced views of places across the county of Sussex : Gateway, Lewes Castle ; Meadow at Lewes, Sussex ; Meadow at Lewes during Floods, 1894 ; Arundel, Sussex ; Poynings Church ; Steyning Church ; View from Devil's Dyke to Ovingdean Church ;
|Thomas Donovan and The Brighton Chain Pier|
The Royal Suspension Chain Pier was designed by Captain Samuel Brown (1774-1852), a retired naval officer, engineer, and iron chain manufacturer. A site was chosen on Brighton's eastern seafront at the foot of the East Cliff, below the New Steine, east of the Old Steine and not far from Marine Parade. Construction of the Chain Pier began towards the end of 1822 and the pier was completed by September 1823, at a cost of £30,000. The Chain Pier was opened to the public on 25th November 1823.
The Chain Pier consisted of a platform 1,134 feet in length and 13 feet wide, paved with Purbeck stone. The platform was suspended from iron rods, hanging from chains that were strung from a series of cast iron towers.
The Chain Pier had been built as a landing stage for passenger vessels that crossed the English Channel between Brighton and the French port of Dieppe. However, the Pier proved popular with visitors to Brighton and provided a pleasant promenade for holidaymakers and locals alike. Small shops and stalls offering refreshments and souvenirs were installed at the pier-head and the hollow iron towers contained kiosks selling sweets, toys and gifts. One of the iron towers housed a silhouette artist and in the late 1860s, at least one of these "profile artists", George Azariah Lloyd, took photographic portraits on the pier. Another photographer, G. H. Hemmings, was using the third tower as a photo booth in 1881 and between 1889 and 1895, Alfred Sharp was operating as a photographer from the East Toll House, a large kiosk at the entrance to the Chain Pier.
The Chain Pier also proved to be a popular subject for artists and photographers and Thomas Donovan himself took a number of photographs that featured the pier.
On the evening of 4th December 1896, the Chain Pier was completely destroyed in a violent storm. Thomas Donovan took several pictures of the broken pier over the next few days (e.g. "The Brighton Chain Pier : The Morning After the Storm of December 4th, 1896" ; "The Pier on its Last Legs" ;"The Pier after the Storm of December 4th, 1896 - High Tide" ). The photographs taken Thomas Donovan (together with a few by fellow Brighton photographer, Ebenezer Pannell) were used to illustrate John George Bishop's book The Brighton Chain Pier, published the following year.
The Destruction of Brighton's Chain Pier (1896)
[ABOVE] The destroyed Chain Pier on 5th December 1896, a photograph attributed to Thomas Donovan. The Chain Pier was destroyed by a fierce storm on the evening of 4th December 1896.This photograph, credited to Thomas Donovan, shows all that was left of the Chain Pier after the gale force winds had done their damage. In the background, on the horizon, is Brighton's Palace Pier (now known as 'Brighton Pier'), which was then under construction and was not opened to the public until May 1899.
Souvenirs and Memorials of the Brighton Chain Pier
[ABOVE] A souvenir card entitled "Brighton Chain- Completely Destroyed by the Gale, December 4th, 1896", featuring three photographs by Thomas Donovan of Brighton. The photograph at the bottom of the picture is shown in more detail, opposite.
[ABOVE] "The Pier after the Storm of December 4th, 1896 - High Tide", a photograph by Thomas Donovan which was reproduced as an illustration in John George Bishop's The Brighton Chain Pier, published in 1897.
The Donovan Family of Photographers
Thomas "Harry" Donovan (born 1862) - Thomas Donovan's eldest son who later worked as a photographer in the United States.
|Charles Donovan (born 1864) - Thomas Donovan's second son, a professional photographer who later ran his own studio.||Minnie Donovan (born 1869) - Thomas Donovan's eldest daughter who worked as a photographic artist in her father's studio.||Frank Donovan (born 1871) - Thomas Donovan's youngest son who worked as an assistant in his father's studio and later became a partner in the firm.||Florence Donovan (born 1873) - Thomas Donovan's youngest daughter who worked as photographic assistant in her father's studio, but later became a professional singer.|
[PHOTOS: Courtesy of David Cryer]
|Thomas Donovan and his Family of Photographers|
[ABOVE] Portrait of Edith Tocque, a carte-de-visite photograph by Donovan & Son, 1 St. James's Street, Brighton (1902). Edith Maud Tocque was born in Richmond, Surrey in 1869. At the time of the 1901 census, thirty-one year old Miss Tocque was "living on own means " in Hastings. An inscription in ink on the reverse of the carte, reads "For Miss Oram, from Edith Tocque, April 1902". This carte carries the studio name of "Donovan & Son". In 1902, the studio at 1 St. James Street, Brighton, was operated by Thomas Donovan and his youngest son, Frank Donovan. Between 1899 and 1902, when Charles Donovan was a member of the firm, the studio was known as "T. Donovan & Sons".
|During their long marriage, Thomas
Donovan and his wife Victoria produced six children, all but one of whom
reached adulthood. As each child reached maturity, he or she was
recruited by their father to work in his photographic studio in St.
James's Street. When a journalist visited Donovan's studio around 1897,
it was noted that all the work was directed by Thomas Donovan, adding
that "Mr. Donovan, however, is ably assisted by his two sons and his
daughter" [W. T. Pike & Co.'s "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove"
(c1897), page 95].
In the early years of his photography business, Thomas Donovan was aided in the studio by his wife Victoria Donovan (born 1842, Bristol). In the 1881 census, Mrs Donovan is entered on the census return as an "Assistant in Photographer's Establishment". By 1881, the eldest son, Thomas Henry Donovan, known as Henry or Harry, (born 1862, Clifton, Bristol) and his younger brother, Charles Edward Donovan (born 1864, Clifton, Bristol), were both employed by Thomas Donovan as photographer's assistants. By the time the 1891 census was taken, with the exception of his eldest son, Harry Donovan, who had emigrated to the United States, all of Thomas Donovan's grown-up children were assisting him in his St James's Street studio. Charles Donovan, by this date a twenty-seven year old widower, was employed as a "Photographic Printer". Frank Herbert Donovan (born 1871, Bristol) retouched the photographs produced at his father's studio. Twenty-one year old Minnie Victoria Donovan (born 1869, Bristol) is described as a "Photographic Artist" in the 1891 census, while her younger sister Florence Alice Donovan (born 1873, Brighton) is entered on the return as a "Photographic Assistant". By the time the next census took place ten years later, Charles Donovan had remarried and was living away from the Donovan family home with his wife and four children. At this date (31st March 1901), Charles Donovan was still being employed as a photographer by his father, but within a year he had opened his own photographic studio (see below). Thomas Donovan's youngest son, Frank Herbert Donovan, who was now in his late twenties, had progressed to the status of photographer and had become a partner in the family firm. [ In 1902, the studio at 1c St James's Street, Brighton, was known as T. Donovan & Son, yet over the preceding few years, from 1899 to 1901, before Charles Donovan left to set up his own studio, the firm was listed as T. Donovan & Sons ]. Thomas Donovan's eldest daughter, Minnie Donovan, had continued her photographic career and on the 1901 census return she is described as an "Artist Photographer", aged 32. However, by the mid 1890s, Florence Alice Donovan had abandoned photography and was pursuing a professional singing career. In the 1901 census, twenty-eight year old Florence Donovan gives her profession as "Vocalist".
Thomas Henry Donovan (born 1862, Clifton, Bristol), generally known to family members as Henry or Harry Donovan, left Brighton for the United States around 1889. After arriving in New York, Harry Donovan established a photographic studio in the Brooklyn district of the city. Harry Donovan later worked as a photographer in Jamestown, a town situated in the far west of New York State, not far from Lake Erie. Eventually, Harry Donovan settled in Allentown, Pennsylvania where he worked as a professional photographer. Harry Donovan died in Allentown on 30th December 1930.
Charles Donovan (born 1864, Clifton, Bristol)
Thomas Donovan's second eldest son, was born in the Clifton district of
Bristol early in 1864. By the time he was 17 years of age, Charles
Donovan was working in his father's Brighton studio as a "Photographer's
Assistant". When Harry (Thomas Henry) Donovan left Brighton, Charles
Donovan became Thomas Donovan's chief assistant at the St. James's
In 1885, at the age of twenty-one, Charles Donovan married dressmaker Minnie Caroline Comber (born 1862, Brighton), the daughter of Susannah and Edward Comber, a "coach trimmer" who probably worked at the Brighton Railway Works. Minnie gave birth to a son named Edward Charles Donovan in 1886. Not long after her son's first birthday, Mrs Minnie Donovan died at the age of twenty-five. At the end of 1887, Charles Donovan was a young widower with an infant son. Charles Donovan returned to the Donovan family home, where his mother and sisters could help care for the motherless child. At the time of the 1891 census, Charles Donovan, along with his four year old son, was living at 5 Princes Crescent, Brighton, with his parents and unmarried siblings. Charles Donovan is described on the census return as a 27 year old widower and his occupation is given as "Photographic Printer (employed)". This arrangement, whereby Charles Donovan worked in Thomas Donovan's studio during the day and returned to his parents' home in the evening was to end shortly after the census was carried out in April 1891.
During the Second Quarter of 1891, Charles Donovan married for a second time. His bride was Ellen Greenfield (born1871, Ringmer, Sussex), the daughter of Harriet and William Greenfield, a Brighton baker. Charles Donovan and his new wife set up home in the Preston District of Brighton. Over the next eight years, Charles's wife gave birth to at least three children - Frank Henry (born 1892, Brighton), Grace Ellen (born 1893, Brighton) and Arthur Thomas Donovan (born 1899, Brighton). At the time of the 1901 census, Charles Donovan, his wife Ellen, fourteen year old Edward Donovan ( Charles's son from his first marriage), Frank, aged nine, Grace, aged seven and two year old Arthur, were all living at 48 Chester Terrace, Brighton, not far from Brighton's Blaker's Park. On the 1901 census return, Charles Donovan is described as a "Photographer (worker)" and was presumably still employed at Thomas Donovan's photographic studio in Brighton.
[ABOVE] A carte-de-visite portrait of a member of the Donovan family. Traditionally, this photograph was thought to be an early portrait of the photographer Charles Donovan (born 1864), but the estimated date for the photograph and mount suggests it could be Charles Donovan's eldest son Edward Charles Dawson (born 1886). [PHOTO: Courtesy of David Cryer]
The Wedding Photograph of Charles & Ellen Donovan (1891)
[ABOVE] A Wedding Group Photograph by Donovan of James Street marking the marriage of the Brighton photographer's son Charles Donovan and Ellen Greenfield (1891). [PHOTO: Courtesy of David Cryer]
|[LEFT TO RIGHT] : Minnie Donovan (born 1869), seated bridesmaid holding basket of flowers; Ellen Greenfield (born 1871), bride seated at front left holding bouquet ; Charles Donovan (born 1864), the groom standing on left; Florence Donovan (born 1873), bridesmaid standing on right holding basket of flowers; Unknown woman, Maid of Honour seated on the right; Unknown Man, Best Man seated on right.|
|Charles Donovan's Studios in Brighton|
[ABOVE] The elaborately designed back on the reverse of a carte-de-visite photograph by Charles Donovan, 49 Edward Street, Brighton.(c1904). Charles Donovan's publicity mentions his speciality of "Portrait Group & Architectural Photography". When he worked for his father, Thomas Donovan, Charles Donovan was in "special charge of the outdoor work."
[ABOVE] Portrait of a Bearded Man , a carte-de-visite photograph by Charles Donovan, Day & Electric Light Studio, 49 Edward Street, Brighton. (c1904). Charles Donovan had established his own studio at 11 George Street, Brighton in 1902, but moved to Edward Street two years later.
|Charles Donovan worked for his
father, Thomas Donovan, at the St James's Street studio, for at least
twenty years ; first as a photographer's assistant, then as a
"photographic printer", and finally as the studio's main photographer,
with special responsibility for outdoor photography. It appears that
many of Donovan's photographic views of Brighton and the photographs
taken on location in the 1890s were the work of Charles Donovan. The
author of the article on Donovan's St James's Street photographic studio
( published in "Views and Reviews : Brighton & Hove" around
1897), made it clear that Charles Donovan took "special charge of the
outdoor work, in which he is a specialist of acknowledged ability".
The "Views and Reviews" article also made special mention
of Charles Donovan's teaching qualifications, stating that he was "a
Registered Teacher and Honoursman of the City and Guilds of London
Institute, and also a teacher of photography at the Brighton Municipal
By 1902, Charles Donovan had established his own studio at 11 George Street, Brighton. (Charles Donovan's George Street studio was listed in the 1902 edition of Towner's Brighton and Suburban Directory). In 1904, Charles Donovan relocated to 49 Edward Street, Brighton, where he remained for about 12 months. This new studio was equipped with electricity, being described as a "Day & Electric Light Studio" in Charles Donovan's publicity. During this time, Thomas Donovan was running his St. James's Street studio under the name of "T. Donovan & Son" and had presumably brought his youngest son, thirty-three year old Frank Herbert Donovan into his photography business.
Around 1905, a year after he had opened his "Day & Electric Light Studio", Charles Donovan closed the studio at 49 Edward Street. Charles Donovan was not listed again as a studio proprietor in Brighton in local trade directories. It is possible that Charles Donovan returned to his father's studio in St. James's Street, but between 1905 and 1909 the studio at 1c St. James's Street went under the name of "T. Donovan & Son Ltd.", which indicates that only one of his sons was actively involved in the business.
Donovan's Photographic Studio in St James Street after the death of Thomas Donovan in 1909
[ABOVE] Portrait of a young woman holding flowers (c1912). A studio portrait postcard produced by Donovan's Studios of 1c St. James's Street, Brighton.
Donovan's Studios at 1c St. James's Street, 1910-1922
After Thomas Donovan's death in 1909, the photographic studio in St. James's Street, which in the first decade of the 20th century was usually listed as T. Donovan & Son Ltd., became known as simply Donovan's Studios. It is likely that after Thomas Donovan's death, his sons Charles Donovan and Frank Donovan, took over the running of the St James' Street studio. It was during this period that Donovan's studio began to produce photographic portraits in the popular postcard format. Thomas Donovan's original studio was primarily a portrait studio and for the first twenty years it went under the name of The St. James' Art Portrait Studio. The advertisements for Thomas Donovan's studio in St James's Street produced between 1878 and 1900, emphasised his expertise in portrait photography and included testimonials from his more famous sitters, such as George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) the well-known Victorian artist. In this period, most of Thomas Donovan's photographic portraits were produced in the standard carte-de-visite and cabinet formats [ See the section on The Photographic Portrait Work of Thomas Donovan - link below]. By 1910, both these formats of portrait photography were obsolete and Donovan's Studios were producing portraits in a wide range of sizes and formats, from the humble portrait postcard to hand-coloured, life-size portraits in elaborate frames.
Donovan's Studios continued at 1c St James's Street, Brighton, until the early 1920s. Donovan's Studios is last listed at the St James's Street address in a trade directory of 1922. By this date, Donovan's St James's Street studio had been in business for forty-four years. By 1925, the long-established studio at 1c St James's Street no longer appeared under "PHOTOGRAPHERS" in the trade and commercial sections of Brighton and Sussex trade directories.
Click on the link below to view examples of the photographic work of Thomas Donovan
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Thanks to Jean Donovan of Havant, Hampshire, for supplying details of Thomas Donovan's early life in Bristol. Thanks also to Philippe Garner, author of "A Seaside Album : Photographs and Memory", a history of photography in Brighton, which includes a section on Thomas Donovan. Philippe Garner also kindly gave permission for me to use the portrait of Thomas Donovan and other images from his own private collection of Brighton photographs. Thanks also to David Cryer, the great, great grandson of Thomas Donovan for providing copies of the Donovan Family photographs.
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