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Colin Axon collection of early colour photography donated to the V&A Museum

An important collection of early colour photography has been donated to the V&A Museum where it will join significant bodies of similar material, notably within the RPS Collection, held at the museum. The V&A has recently announced a PhD studentship in partnership with the University of Liverpool to examine early colour and contexts in Britain from the 1890s to 1935.

The collection was formed by Colin Axon and covers the period c1895 to 1940. It consists of some 1000 items and includes colour work from such luminaries as the Lumière brothers, Otto Pfenninger, Helen Messinger Murdoch, Olive Edis, Arthur Grenier, Hugh C. Knowles, Vero Charles Driffield, Arthur E. Morton,  Arthur Clive Banfield and others. Many of these add to bodies of work already held within the RPS Collection, making the V&A one of the most important centres for the study of early colour photography. 

The collection has examples of many colour processes including Dufay Dioptichrome, Dufay, Lippmann, Paget, Baker Duplex, Thames, Ducos du Hauron Mélanochromoscope and Sanger Shepherd.

Of special note is the photographic archive Dr Kurt von Holleben, the head of Agfa's colour screen development for the Agfa-Farbenplatte, Agfacolor and Agfacolor Ultra processes. This consists of some six hundred 9 x12cm Agfa glass plates from 1924 to 1938 covering the whole of Germany and his travels in Europe and Scandinavia.

Speaking to BPH, Colin Axon explained that "I started out collecting daguerreotypes but switched to early colour about 15 to 20 years ago. Before I started I read Brian Coe’s book Colour Photography: The First Hundred Years, 1840-1940 from cover to cover. I used it as the guide for my collection and I tried to find as many of the different colour processes as I could. I believe that the items I found will sit well alongside the V&A’s other holdings."

The catalyst for the donation was to find a home for the collection where it would be properly stored, in the right conditions, and made available. His initial contact was with the former V&A curator Catlin Langford who was working on a book of autochromes in the V&A collection.  The collection finally arrived at the museum in February. 

See: and

Catlin Langford, Color Mania: Photographing the World in Autochrome (Thames and Hudson, due December 2022) 

With thanks to Colin Axon and Ron Callender. 


Top: Otto Pfenninger, Children in the water', Brighton, 6 August 1906. Davidson & Jumeaux Colour Process, lantern slide. 

Left: Autochrome, 13x18cm. Sold as 'one of the little daughters of the Lumière brothers'. Both images courtesy of Colin Axon. 

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