British photographic history

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Looking for maker references about daguerreotype correcting prisms and mirrors

I recently acquired a daguerrian era correcting prism. I made a felt adapter and it fits on my c.1850s American Chamfered daguerreotype camera's lens hood. Although conceptually easy to understand, I am interesting in learning detailed information about makers and design variations. I found there is practically no online information; just generic comments ... no details. At this time I am working with the George Eastman House museum. Their collection includes a couple prisms and mirrors. Do any members of this forum have daguerrian era references?

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Your prism was cutting edge tech in 1852:

Hi, David. Thank you for replying with the 1852 reference. "Non Inverted Collodion Portraits" is referring to a glass plate [maybe ambrotype] process which can be laterally reversed. Yet it's a marvelous advert touting the benefits of collodion "without Metallic Glare" as opposed to "hard" metal-based imagery on daguerreotypes and tintypes. A 14 August 1852 article, also appearing in the Norwich Chronicle about Villiers, mentions "The new process by which portraits can be taken on glass is now being adopted in this city. ..."

I am making slow progress and found copies of an 1839 drawing of a Giroux with a lens mounted correcting mirror, and an 1847 French reference having an illustration of a correcting mirror assembly with exposure flap that would mount on the front of a lens barrel. The English translation of the French reference says: "Accessories and utensils used in daguerreotype experiments." 

Hello Rob

Glad you like the ad. As an aside I wonder if you or any reader could offer advice, my query is inversion related.

I have a small collection of wet plate collodians  Ambrotypes - (all 1/6th) - and upon examination - having removed the frame, some gentle cleaning and scanning it is apparent some of the images are developed on the front on the plate and some on the back. In each instance the image has been blackened on the 'back' wether the image is there or not.

There is an issue with inversion as well. There does not appear to be a systematic process to explain why the image is inverted or not. There can be several combinations of placement of image on the plate, blackening and inversion. Any input much appreciated as I am unable to easily catalogue the images according to type and subtype.

The Ambrotypes when developed with a deft hand produce the most subtle depth of field that has to be seen to be believed.

Above is one such Ambrotype scanned from my collection. It is a family on Brighton Beach near the newly opened shelter - I understand the date to be around if not exactly 1888. Judging by the horse crop and the young woman's attire it looks like they've spent the day at the races.

The large .tiff is available (over 13MB). Please request through private message.

My interest is in beach photographers especially those that traded on the sands at Great Yarmouth. The problem of the mirror image continued into the Tintype era when some beach photographers were using painted head-through boards known as “cartoons”. These often had a written text on the board and I had wondered if any beach photographer had considered painting the board with a mirror image. The attached two images were marketed as a view card by Boots the Chemist and show the Britannia Pier Pavilion that burned down in 1909 and a photographer’s pitch with a cartoon board and photographer’s  hut. The board has been painted with the text as a mirror image and when reversed it reads “Playmates”. An interesting solution to the problem.


Hi, Paul. We corresponded back in 2013 and you sent me your well-written article entitled "The Vicar and the Beach Photographer." The Boots image is terrific and reverse writing on head-through boards is clever. I recently rephotographed my Quta camera (now shown with an unopened box of Quta ferrotypes) and uploaded the image. 

For those interested in Paul Godfrey's comment and this reply, here is a bit of background: Paul and I discussed a small ferrotype field camera called the Quta which was designed with in-body developing tanks. It was invented by Herbert Wilcox of Great Yarmouth. He and a collaborator submitted an English provisional patent that was accepted on 13 Feb. 1902. On his own, Wilcox also applied for a U.S. patent which was approved 15 April 1902. Quta variations were sold in U.S. (Quta Photo-Machine), England (Popular Automatic Ferrotype Camera), and Europe. English versions of the camera appeared in Fallowfield catalogues.

Quta advertising suggested using the camera as a way to earn money for resort and beach photography. Quta did not offer a correcting mirror or prism to make laterally correct tintype images. Accessory correcting prisms were offered for larger format cameras (and reproduction equipment) through the early 1900s. The later prisms are updated designs from those made during the daguerreian era. I have 1890s references illustrating these later prisms.

I am fascinated that many cameras in my collection were made and sold for itinerant (non-studio) photographers to earn a living making pictures. IMO, resort and beach photography is especially interesting. (FWIW, my specialty is collecting early wood cameras and understanding their use.


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