British photographic history

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John Mercer - the local, unsung hero ?

John who?, I hear you ask, if you are as ignorant as I am on this one.

John Mercer (1791 - 1866) of Great Harwood is one of Lancashire's unsung heroes. A Victorian man of science, his interests in chemistry, printing and dyeing raised the game for the Lancashire textile industry. He was also fascinated with the new concept of photography, and worked long and hard at achieving colour photography. He was accustomed to work with dyes, so followed this route, and created single coloured photographs on cloth in a rainbow of different shades.

According to the Encylopedia of 19th century Photography, "As John Mercer discovered in the 1850s, the cyanotype process is also particularly well suited for printing photographs onto cotton textiles

He never achieved full colour, but at a meeting of the British Association in Leeds in 1858, he exhibited colour photos, some on paper, others on cambric.

If you are keen to learn more about this local hero, check out the exhibition here. Also, a box containing Mercer's experiment on chromatic photography can be found in the National Archives (Ref: UDCL/8?19 n.d.)

Photos: Probably on cambric, with the colours perfectly preserved. He also took photographs of friends, such as Frederick Steiner another calico printer. (Courtesy of the Lancashire Record Office)

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Comment by Michael Wong on August 1, 2010 at 19:05
Thanks, Mike. Your comments are always useful to an amateur like me!
Yes, hopefully Mercer will at last be recognised for his achievements through this travelling exhibition.
Comment by Mike Ware on August 1, 2010 at 18:00
There are several pages about Mercer and his work in my book 'Cyanotype' (1999), but his contributions to photography were first brought to light by Harry Milligan and Dr Stella Butler (1987), both quondam Curator of Photographs at the North West Museum of Science and Industry. See my references. Mercer nearly "pre-invented" the cyanotype process in 1828; he also invented the Obernetter process before Obernetter. An innovative chap, who deserves more credit.

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