link to Talbot Project home page link to De Montfort University home page link to Glasgow University home page
Project Director: Professor Larry J Schaaf

Back to the letter search >

Document number: 6513
Date: 14 Nov 1851
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: COLE Henry
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Collection number historic: LA51-82
Last updated: 25th April 2012

[This letter is also summarised, in context, in WHFT's manuscript notes on his continuing correspondence with the Executive Committee - see Doc. No: 15000]

Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851.
President, His Royal Highness Prince Albert, K.G. &c. &c. &c.
Office for the Executive Committee,
Exhibition Building,
Kensington Road, London.
14 Nov: 1851.

The Hon H. F. Talbot
Dear Sir,

The Executive Committee have received your letter of 9th Nov. <1> on the same day that they received a letter from your Solicitors and they therefore feel themselves under the obligation of refraining from discussing the points you raise.

As an individual and not in my official capacity I would venture to make a few remarks on your letter. You instance the prices charged by retail Tradesmen in selling Photographs with the view, it is presumed of showing that Her Majesty’s Commissioners ought to pay the same prices.

I apprehend it will be found that in most respects there is little or no analogy between the two cases. The dealers in Photographs, Mr Henneman, <2> Mr Martens <3> & Mr Hill, <4> in producing them incur the risk and loss of capital as Tradesmen for the purpose of obtaining by the sale a profit in return.

Her Majesty’s Commissioners on the other hand pay the whole cost amounting to many hundred pounds for the original production of the negatives and do not seek to act as Tradesmen and obtain a profit by the sale of the Photographic impressions.

I cannot therefore understand why they should be called upon to pay any other than a fair but moderate price for the actual labour and materials necessary to produce them. And I would further remind you that after the production of the necessary quantity of impressions for presentation to Foreign Governments &c,

5. the sale was to rest wholly with your Licencees, and that all profits thereon would accrue not indeed to the Commissioners who took the whole original risk and outlay, but only to yourself and your Licencees.

In fact by thus producing and circulating many thousand Photographs throughout the world it must be admitted that Her Majesty’s Commisioners are conferring the greatest benefit on an Art the usefulness of which has hitherto been circumscribed, and of which the Patentee and his agents will ultimately derive the whole and sole pecuniary advantage.

I am happy to hear that you have waived all claim for royalty or patent dues either from the Commissioners or from your Licencees, because I have always hitherto understood from Mr Henneman that the actual charge of £3.3 for each negative and the proposed charge of 2/6 for each impression were fixed at that high price chiefly on account of the royalty which had to be paid you.

I may mention to you that it was the failure of Mr Henneman first in taking satisfactory Paper negatives and next in producing good Positives that have been the immediate causes which led the Executive Committee to ascertain the means by which they could dispense with his services and in making this enquiry they learnt [sic] that the Positives could be produced at a much cheaper rate than Mr Henneman proposed.

In fact at no price whatever would it be worth while having Mr Henneman’s Printing. They are too dark, not at all Artistic, and already show serious defects.

I remain Dear Sir Your faithful Sert
Henry Cole

The Hon H. F. Talbot

The Hon: Fox Talbot
&c &c
Lacock Abbey


1. See Doc. No: 06512.

2. Nicolaas Henneman (1813–1898), Dutch, active in England; WHFT’s valet, then assistant; photographer.

3. Friedrich von Martens (1809–1875), German inventor & photographer, active in Paris.

4. David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer.

5. Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851: Reports by the Juries. Four volumes, illustrated by original photographic prints from negatives by Hugh Owen and Claude Marie Ferrier. In the copies given to WHFT, a dedicatory sheet was inserted (most likely printed up by him): 'This Work, on the Results of the Great Exhibition of 1851, Illustrated with Photographic Plates, being One of Fifteen Copies Given by the Royal Commissioners to H.F. Talbot, Esq. of Lacock Abbey, as The Inventor of this Branch of the Photographic Art, was by him presented to _____'. This publication caused WHFT considerable consternation at the time, for he felt that the Commissioners had stealthily and unfairly taken the job of printing the plates away from Nicolaas Henneman. For a summary of this complex situation, see Nancy B Keeler, 'Illustrating the "Reports by the Juries" of the Great Exhibition of 1851; Talbot, Henneman, and Their Failed Commission,' History of Photography, v. 6 no. 3, July 1982, pp. 257-272.