British photographic history

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Hello all

I am often sent privately-owned ambrotypes to work on. Most of them are dateable from dress to the mid-late 1850s or early 1860s but occasionally there is a query as to whether they could possibly be pre- 1854, the year when I understand (from Audrey Linkman's The Victorians: Photographic Portraits) that restrictions to the use of the wet collodian process were finally removed.

I can't seem to find out much more about its early history betweeen 1851 and the end of 1854. Does anyone know for sure whether any commercial photographers were likely to have been using the process and producing ambrotype portraits during these years?

If anyone can suggest any answer to this query I'd be very interested and grateful!

Thank you,

Jayne

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There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
By the way collodian is spelt collodion. :)
Thank you John. According to A. Linkman it wasn't Frederick Scott Archer who had a problem but Fox Talbot who delayed its widespread use by claiming that Archer's process was covered by his (Talbot's) own patent, threatening to prosecute any photographer selling a collodion (spelt with an o) portrait without obtaining a license from himself. A test case involving a London photographer, Martin Sylvester Laroche, found against Talbot in December 1854, thereby resolving this issue.

Since this statement is all that I've been able to discover about the earliest British ambrotypes, I had hoped that other members may have come across firm evidence that other photographers were in fact using the process for portraits prior to 1854/5. I can only asssume that some did, though I haven't seen any dated examples.

Jayne



John Brewer said:
There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
Hi Jayne,

I take your point. I wonder why Fox Talbot didn't take on Archer in the courts or Horne, Thornthwaite, and Wood who were selling 'Archer's Prepared Collodion', with directions for use in 1851. It seems there were at least two other photographers who Fox Talbot threatened, unsuccessfully, before the Laroche test case. I wonder if he realised he was on thin ice.

Regards,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Thank you John. According to A. Linkman it wasn't Frederick Scott Archer who had a problem but Fox Talbot who delayed its widespread use by claiming that Archer's process was covered by his (Talbot's) own patent, threatening to prosecute any photographer selling a collodion (spelt with an o) portrait without obtaining a license from himself. A test case involving a London photographer, Martin Sylvester Laroche, found against Talbot in December 1854, thereby resolving this issue.

Since this statement is all that I've been able to discover about the earliest British ambrotypes, I had hoped that other members may have come across firm evidence that other photographers were in fact using the process for portraits prior to 1854/5. I can only asssume that some did, though I haven't seen any dated examples.

Jayne



John Brewer said:
There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
Hello again John

Yes, I had wondered too about why Fox Talbot didn't direct his concerns towards Archer in the first place. Your mention of Horne et al apparently getting away with it and yet other photographers being threatened by Fox Talbot is interesting. Perhaps the situation was more complex back then than it appears to us now - maybe a degree of personal rivalry as well as commercial interest? As you say, he must have realised that he wasn't really getting anywhere, but I wonder if the potentially difficult situation did deter some photographers in the early days of the ambrotype: the rapid rise in the number of portrait photography studios during the second half of the 1850s may be significant.
I was wondering whether you have made many discoveries by investigating individual photographers' records, or have you found that much has been published? Audrey Linkman seems to have used used some original sources and also some 1980s articles in her book but that was in 1993: it would be good to know whether more progress has been made recently. For my purposes (dating portrait photographs in different formats) I would like to see a concise list of who was doing what when, and where but I expect that's asking too much!

Regards

Jayne

John Brewer said:
Hi Jayne,

I take your point. I wonder why Fox Talbot didn't take on Archer in the courts or Horne, Thornthwaite, and Wood who were selling 'Archer's Prepared Collodion', with directions for use in 1851. It seems there were at least two other photographers who Fox Talbot threatened, unsuccessfully, before the Laroche test case. I wonder if he realised he was on thin ice.

Regards,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Thank you John. According to A. Linkman it wasn't Frederick Scott Archer who had a problem but Fox Talbot who delayed its widespread use by claiming that Archer's process was covered by his (Talbot's) own patent, threatening to prosecute any photographer selling a collodion (spelt with an o) portrait without obtaining a license from himself. A test case involving a London photographer, Martin Sylvester Laroche, found against Talbot in December 1854, thereby resolving this issue.

Since this statement is all that I've been able to discover about the earliest British ambrotypes, I had hoped that other members may have come across firm evidence that other photographers were in fact using the process for portraits prior to 1854/5. I can only asssume that some did, though I haven't seen any dated examples.

Jayne



John Brewer said:
There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
Hi Jayne,

I am, and have been doing research on Archer for some time. I've just found in my notes a photocopy from a modern text but I think it's a quote from an historical text, although I'm not sure which one without digging about. I think you may find it interesting:

'In 1851, after the collodion process of Frederick Scott Archer, Talbot discovered a method by which instantaneous pictures could be taken, and in 1852 a method of photographic engraving. About 1854 he secured a gloss on photographic prints by means of albumen. All these inventions were patented; but in 1852, at the solicitations of the presidents of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy, he consented to throw open his discoveries, with the sole exception of 'portrait-taking for sale to the public.'

Best,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Hello again John

Yes, I had wondered too about why Fox Talbot didn't direct his concerns towards Archer in the first place. Your mention of Horne et al apparently getting away with it and yet other photographers being threatened by Fox Talbot is interesting. Perhaps the situation was more complex back then than it appears to us now - maybe a degree of personal rivalry as well as commercial interest? As you say, he must have realised that he wasn't really getting anywhere, but I wonder if the potentially difficult situation did deter some photographers in the early days of the ambrotype: the rapid rise in the number of portrait photography studios during the second half of the 1850s may be significant.
I was wondering whether you have made many discoveries by investigating individual photographers' records, or have you found that much has been published? Audrey Linkman seems to have used used some original sources and also some 1980s articles in her book but that was in 1993: it would be good to know whether more progress has been made recently. For my purposes (dating portrait photographs in different formats) I would like to see a concise list of who was doing what when, and where but I expect that's asking too much!

Regards

Jayne

John Brewer said:
Hi Jayne,

I take your point. I wonder why Fox Talbot didn't take on Archer in the courts or Horne, Thornthwaite, and Wood who were selling 'Archer's Prepared Collodion', with directions for use in 1851. It seems there were at least two other photographers who Fox Talbot threatened, unsuccessfully, before the Laroche test case. I wonder if he realised he was on thin ice.

Regards,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Thank you John. According to A. Linkman it wasn't Frederick Scott Archer who had a problem but Fox Talbot who delayed its widespread use by claiming that Archer's process was covered by his (Talbot's) own patent, threatening to prosecute any photographer selling a collodion (spelt with an o) portrait without obtaining a license from himself. A test case involving a London photographer, Martin Sylvester Laroche, found against Talbot in December 1854, thereby resolving this issue.

Since this statement is all that I've been able to discover about the earliest British ambrotypes, I had hoped that other members may have come across firm evidence that other photographers were in fact using the process for portraits prior to 1854/5. I can only asssume that some did, though I haven't seen any dated examples.

Jayne



John Brewer said:
There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
Hi again John

I'm pleased that you're actively researching all this as clearly someone has to. From what you've discovered so far it was all very complicated, with new developments occurring almost annually.

I have to admit that I didn't really understand the concept of photographic engraving and looked this up online, learning that refined versions of the process later became significant in printing. From there I also followed various links, as you do, and found a whole section on Wikipedia under Fox Talbot concerning the patenting controversy. For example it cites a letter in The Times in 1852 from the Presidents of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy who requested that Fox Talbot relieve the pressure on his patent as it was perceived to be stifling the development of photography. This ties in exactly what the notes which you have found. It goes on to say that in response, Fox Talbot agreed to waive licensing fees for amateurs but continued to pursue professional portrait photographers until eventually, following the pivotal Laroche test case in December 1854, he chose not to renew his 14 year patent, which expired in 1855.

I appreciate that not everything on Wikipedia is 100% accurate but notes and external links make it possible to trace the sources of information. Maybe some of these would be of help with your research.

Thank you for helping with my queries - I now understand a little of the early progress (or otherwise) of the ambrotype/collodion positive and why most surviving examples seem to date from 1855 or later. I hope you plan to publishing your research once complete!

Regards
Jayne


John Brewer said:
Hi Jayne,

I am, and have been doing research on Archer for some time. I've just found in my notes a photocopy from a modern text but I think it's a quote from an historical text, although I'm not sure which one without digging about. I think you may find it interesting:

'In 1851, after the collodion process of Frederick Scott Archer, Talbot discovered a method by which instantaneous pictures could be taken, and in 1852 a method of photographic engraving. About 1854 he secured a gloss on photographic prints by means of albumen. All these inventions were patented; but in 1852, at the solicitations of the presidents of the Royal Society and the Royal Academy, he consented to throw open his discoveries, with the sole exception of 'portrait-taking for sale to the public.'

Best,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Hello again John

Yes, I had wondered too about why Fox Talbot didn't direct his concerns towards Archer in the first place. Your mention of Horne et al apparently getting away with it and yet other photographers being threatened by Fox Talbot is interesting. Perhaps the situation was more complex back then than it appears to us now - maybe a degree of personal rivalry as well as commercial interest? As you say, he must have realised that he wasn't really getting anywhere, but I wonder if the potentially difficult situation did deter some photographers in the early days of the ambrotype: the rapid rise in the number of portrait photography studios during the second half of the 1850s may be significant.
I was wondering whether you have made many discoveries by investigating individual photographers' records, or have you found that much has been published? Audrey Linkman seems to have used used some original sources and also some 1980s articles in her book but that was in 1993: it would be good to know whether more progress has been made recently. For my purposes (dating portrait photographs in different formats) I would like to see a concise list of who was doing what when, and where but I expect that's asking too much!

Regards

Jayne

John Brewer said:
Hi Jayne,

I take your point. I wonder why Fox Talbot didn't take on Archer in the courts or Horne, Thornthwaite, and Wood who were selling 'Archer's Prepared Collodion', with directions for use in 1851. It seems there were at least two other photographers who Fox Talbot threatened, unsuccessfully, before the Laroche test case. I wonder if he realised he was on thin ice.

Regards,

John.

Jayne Shrimpton said:
Thank you John. According to A. Linkman it wasn't Frederick Scott Archer who had a problem but Fox Talbot who delayed its widespread use by claiming that Archer's process was covered by his (Talbot's) own patent, threatening to prosecute any photographer selling a collodion (spelt with an o) portrait without obtaining a license from himself. A test case involving a London photographer, Martin Sylvester Laroche, found against Talbot in December 1854, thereby resolving this issue.

Since this statement is all that I've been able to discover about the earliest British ambrotypes, I had hoped that other members may have come across firm evidence that other photographers were in fact using the process for portraits prior to 1854/5. I can only asssume that some did, though I haven't seen any dated examples.

Jayne



John Brewer said:
There were no restrictions, Frederick Scott Archer did not patent the collodion process.

Regards,

John.
Hi Jayne

Yes, I do hope to publish my findings but information is difficult to find. A shame he didn't keep a diary, or if he did I guess it's long gone.

I wonder if you don't see many ambrotypes because they were one off images. If people had portraits taken they might want several copies and get better value for money for the cost of the sitting. I've only seen one positive image made by Archer in the national collection in Bradford, and that was when he was experimenting with collodion, all the rest were albumen prints.

Regards,

John.
Hi John

Yes I expect you're right about the limited market for one-off images. Ambrotypes were apparently much cheaper for people to buy than daguerrotypes but they still don't appear to have had anything approaching mass appeal. I have seen some interesting later 1850s ambrotypes including portraits of an elderly lady straw plaiter, a young Englishman who made money in the Australian gold rush of 1851, and some of children and of women in mourning, but altogether I've only come across a few dozen out of many thousands of Victorian photographs. As delicate objects, framed or cased daguerrotypes and ambrotypes had more in common with conventional painted portraits (which were usually reserved for the moneyed classes) suggesting that they had a special status and were perceived as having only a limited function. As you say, photographic prints, which allowed multiple copies, offered better value for money. They also fitted in with public demand for collectible images.
I'll let you know if ever I come across any references to Archer and his work but I doubt if I'll find anything you don't already know.
Regards
Jayne


John Brewer said:
Hi Jayne

Yes, I do hope to publish my findings but information is difficult to find. A shame he didn't keep a diary, or if he did I guess it's long gone.

I wonder if you don't see many ambrotypes because they were one off images. If people had portraits taken they might want several copies and get better value for money for the cost of the sitting. I've only seen one positive image made by Archer in the national collection in Bradford, and that was when he was experimenting with collodion, all the rest were albumen prints.

Regards,

John.
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton
Gael Newton said:
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton
Hello Gael

Thank you for getting in touch. Yes, I agree, it would be a useful exercise to look through early-1850s advertisements: perhaps this is the only way to be sure whether many photographers were producing them at that stage.
I have to admit I don't know a great deal about ambrotype portraits outside Britain, although one cased example I have seen, depicting an Englishman who emigrated to Australia in 1852 and did well in the Gold Rush, was taken in Victoria (photographer not named) and sent back home to his family in England in about 1855 or so. I'd be interested to know how long ambrotypes remained fashionable in Australia and elsewhere. I wonder if the vogue in late-19th century Japan was unique?
In Britain, it does seem as though their main period of popularity was very brief, which perhaps explains how few, relatively speaking, seem to survive. Most of the few dozen that I have seen are c.1855-61 in date (one or two possibly earlier), although I've come across one firmly dated to 1870 and recently, an outdoor wedding ambrotype dating from 1890 - very late indeed! Of course, some of those produced must have broken over the years, being fragile. But in general it seems they rapidly become unfashionable after the introduction of printed cartes de visite. Cartes were ideal for exchanging, collecting and displaying in albums whereas the framed or cased glass ambrotypes may have been regarded as less convenient. As you say, though, one-off daguerrotypes were popular in America for longer...

Thank you for the link - the Picture Paradise website is interesting!

Regards
Jayne


Gael Newton said:
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton

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