James Arthur Update

Today I’m happy to inform you that while I still can’t tell you how much your James Arthur prints are worth, I can at least tell you a little more about him. I recently requested an interlibrary loan from the Library of Congress on a book about the life of suffragist Clara B. Arthur written by one of her descendants, Juliette C Reineker. I was hoping for some juicy tidbits on the life of a certain mysterious photographer husband of hers, and I wasn’t disappointed.

A little bit of background on Clara first:

Clara was born to a loyalist family who had fled to Canada after the Revolutionary War. They settled in St John, New Brunswick. Clara was feisty, something that is evident even in the story of how she met James:

 When she and her older sister Evelyn decided to take dance lessons, her father found out about their plans and forbade them to go. Evelyn obeyed her father, but Clara, determined to have the lessons, said “it’s my money to do with as I want” and went to the classes. It was there that she met James Arthur (Reineker).

Arthur himself was orphaned at an early age. His father was a shipper who was lost at sea in 1866 and his mother died shortly after. Arthur was then raised in an orphanage.

But, James continued to excel even under the circumstances. After meeting Clara, they decided to become citizens of the United States and moved to Detroit. Whether it was luck, skill, or a mixture of both, both Clara and James became prominent business and political figures in early Detroit.  Arthur made a large portion of his money selling images for calendars to Brown and Bigelow.

In fact, they were successful enough to have their house fully staffed with a cook, laundress, cleaning woman, and a nursemaid for the children.

Sadly, that all came to an unexpected halt on January 11, 1912. James told Clara that he was not feeling well. He had not been feeling well most of the day. After taking a moment to rest, James suffered a fatal heart attack.

Arthur’s son Kenneth was left to take care of the photography business after his death. Kenneth was young and inexperienced, preferring to drink, have parties, and otherwise continue to rely on the wealth and status of his parents. He lacked the talent or drive to continue the business and it quickly collapsed.


Now, I’m sure a lot of people are just as curious as I was to see what James looked like or find some  scans of his photography. Sadly, this book did little to appease my curiosity. All pictures in the book were terrible photocopies with very little detail, and few pertained to Arthur. But, I’m including them below for those curious. I apologize for the fact that they are pictures of the pages instead of scans, but my camera produced better quality than my local library’s scanner, so I did the best I could with what I had.


A dapper young James Arthur, sporting a moustache we can still envy today.


James and Clara, enjoying a picnic.


Clara and James, no date.


Arthur in middle age.


Now, as I have exhausted all possible printed material and I have no further leads to pursue on the life of James Arthur, I’m going to take a break from my research to pursue other projects. But, I’m still taking tips! If you have any information, leads, or questions, feel free to email me at info@emilypennington.com

If you or someone you know lives in the Detroit area and is willing to check out their local library for some local history, is a descendant of James Arthur, or can otherwise help, it would be much Also, if you have titles/images of any of Arthur’s work, drop me a line. It’s much appreciated!

Emily P


5 thoughts on “James Arthur Update

  1. Joyce Hill

    Thank you for sharing your investigation on James Arthur. We have a sepia photograph from 1903 which we purchased at an antique place in Ottawa Ontario in 1978. It is an old man with his forehead on a book. The original frame was ornate plaster but it had deteriorated beyond repair.

  2. Jessica Jackson

    I have a original photo print off a man and two young children a bit and girl and I’m not sure if it is related to this but would love to know more about this

  3. Mike Dundon

    I have a James Arthur piece. It’s dated Copyright 1897. It’s in an incredible custom gold frame. I will try to send you a picture. If you could possibly tell me anything about it well that certainly would be appreciated


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