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Document number: 07004
Date: 24 Jun 1854
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: READE Joseph Bancroft
Last updated: 2nd September 2012

[The original letter has not been located; it was considered so important that it was printed on the outside wrappers of The Journal of the Photographic Society, v. 1 no. 19, 30 June 1854.]


Rev. J. B. Reade, on Mr. H. Fox Talbot's Claim to the Priority of Discovery of the Use of Gallic Acid in Photography,

[The following letter has been sent by the Rev. Mr. Reade to Mr. H. Fox Talbot. The author having furnished us with a copy, its interest at this time induces us to print it on the Wrapper, in anticipation of our next Number, when it will appear in the regular way. - Ed. Ph. J.]

Stone Vicarge, Aylesbury,
June 24th, 1854.

Dear Sir, - On my return home after some days' absence, I find my attention called to an extract from your Affidavit referring to my use of infusion of galls as a photogenic agent. I feel it due to you to state without delay, that there, is abundant proof of my use of infusion of galls for the purposes mentioned in your specification, and of my publication of it as forming "a very sensitive argentine preparation" two years before your patent was sealed. Ever since the publication of an extract from my letter to Mr. Brayley in the 'North British Review' for August 1847, which, from the tenor of your Affidavit, I conclude that you never saw, my claim has been fully recognized in several of the popular manuals. The following is a quotation from one published by Willats: "The Calotype or Talbotype is, as we have already mentioned, the invention of Mr. Fox Talbot, or it is claimed by him." To this the editor adds the following note:- "So early as April 1839 the Rev. J.B. Reade made a sensitive paper by using infusion of galls after nitrate of silver; by this process Mr. Reade obtained several drawings of microscopic objects by means of the solar microscope; the drawings were taken before the paper was dry. In a communication to Mr. Brayley, Mr. Reade proposed the use of gallate or tannate of silver,and Mr. Brayley in his public lectures in April and May explained the process and exhibited the chemical combinations which Mr. Reade proposed to use."

You may perhaps have forgotten that, at the Meeting of the British Association at Oxford, I had a short conversation with you on your own coloured photographs. I introduced myself to you as a relative of your friend and neighbour. Sir John Awdry, and I informed you that I had used infusion of galls for microscopic photographs and fixed with hyposulphite of soda, before you took out your patent.

The effect of gallic acid or the infusion of galls in developing an invisible image was discovered accidentally by me, as I believe it was also by yourself, and it is certain that no one could use this photogenic agent as we have done without discovering one of its chief properties. I may state that I have often been asked to oppose your patent; but I had no wish to meddle with law, or to interfere with the high reputation which your discovery of a process, named after yourself, secured to you, by which "paper could be made so sensitive that it was darkened in five or six seconds when held close to a wax candle, and gave impressions of leaves by the light of the moon." This however was both subsequent to my own use of gallate of silver, of which you appear never to have heard, and also essentially dependent upon it. My nitro-gallate paper which I used successfully with the solar microscope, the camera, and an Argand lamp, was far more sensitive than any which preceded it; and I considered the important question of fixation to he set at rest by the use of hyposulphite of soda, which I have no doubt you employ yourself in preference to your own fixer, the bromide of potassium. In fact, by my process, which, as I state in my letter to Mr. Brayley, was the result of numberless experiments, the important problem was solved, inasmuch as good pictures could be rapidly taken and permanently fixed. My principal instrument was the solar microscope; and while you failed, as you state in your first paper at the Royal Society, to obtain even an impression after an hour's exposure, and were disposed to give up this experiment in despair, though you afterwards obtained small pictures in about a quarter of an hour, I had succeeded in producing and developing at one operation of less, and sometimes much less than five minutes' duration, the beautiful Solar Mezzotints, as I termed them, varying in size from 50 to 150 diameters, which were exhibited in 1839 at the Marquis of Northampton's, and at the London and Walthamstow Institutions; and some in the spring of that year were even sold at a Bazaar in Leeds in support of a charitable fund. The process was explained to my friends in Yorkshire, and I find from a Leeds manuscript that I proposed the nitro-gallate paper "for immediate use and diffused daylight;" The ammonio-nitrate process also, which does not seem to have any definite parentage, though I believe included in your second patent of June 1843, was among the first which I employed, and probably I was the first to suggest it. At all events I may give you as a matter of history the following extract from a letter to my brother in Leeds, dated April 20, 1839:- "Dissolve 6 grains of nitrate in 3j of water and add liquor ammoni©¡, which will throw down the brown oxide of salver, but on the addition of a little more will take it up and form a clear solution. Wash the paper and dry it. Then put ¬¿j of common salt in half a pint of distilled water. Wash the paper with this mixture, &c." I also proposed to dissolve 2 grains of gelatine in 1 ounce of distilled water as an accelerator for the nitrate, as well as to fix with hyposulphite of soda. Had Mr. Brayley's lectures been printed, you would probably have become acquainted with my processes, as well as with those of other photographers, which were explained and illustrated hy him. At all events I have never ceased most emphatically to make the claims which in your Affidavit you deny to me, and therefore, for the sake of furnishing a correct history of the progress of the art, I must be allowed to print this letter, as the only means left to me of meeting the case.

I am sure that the art now so far advanced and still advancing has our best wishes. Mr. Grove would present to you in my name a copy of my letter to Mr. Hunt, which was written before I had heard a syllable of your present actions.

Believe me to be, Dear Sir, Yours faithfully,
J.B. Reade

Henry Fox Talbot, Esq.