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Document number: 07059
Date: 13 Nov 1854
Recipient: STORY-MASKELYNE Nevil
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Last updated: 23rd February 2010

Mr Maskelyne

13 Nov 54

Dr Sir

Thanks for your very friendly letter <1> – I shall not be able to call at Oxford <2> in my way to Town, being pressed for time at present, but I will write again from London and arrange for meeting either there or at Oxfd.

I have been furnished with the particulars of the objections which will be made to my patent, on the trial. <3> Among other things I find that the Revd Mr Reade claims to have invented the Calotype process and published it 2 years prior to the date of the patent. The evidence for this, consists in a letter from Mr Reade to Mr Brayley <4> which the latter read at a public lecture on the (then new) art of Photography in 18 439

This was 2 or 3 months after I had published my first photographic process. <5> And Mr Brayley’s lecture <6> was upon that process, with suggestions for improving it. Among these was Mr Reade’s, which divested of superfluous words amounted to this – Let common writing paper (in its ordinary state) be wash’d with gallonitrate of silver (he uses the substances separately but they are better combined) then, says Mr Reade, a paper is obtain’d that is very sensitive to light.

This he claims as being identical with my calotype process. In the first place his letter, orally delivered in a lecture, was never published before the date of my patent nor until 6 years & a half afterward. In the next place my Calotype process consists in washing iodised paper (iodide of silver) with the gallonitrate, and then (which is most essential) developing the latent image with a 2d application of the gallonitrate aided by warmth. The existence of the latent image was unknown to Mr Reade. <7>

These details are doubtless perfectly well known to you, and I have no doubt you consider as I do, that Mr Reade’s process was only an approximation toward a true system of photography – a step in the right direction, no more. But on receiving notice that this claim would be urged it occurred to me to try Mr Reades process, and I found upon trial that it failed entirely. A piece of common paper, & a piece of iodised paper, were excited with the same gallonitrate of silver & exposed in a camera to receive the photographic image of a marble bust. for After the usual number of seconds had elapsed the two papers were withdrawn when the iodised paper was found to have received a good image, while Mr Reades paper was perfectly blank.

I know not whether you have got your photographic apparatus with you at Oxford, if you have, perhaps you will try the little experiment above described as I should be very glad to have corroborative evidence of the fact to place before the judge and jury – Last summer I noted down several observations of yours on the Collodion process &c &c. I will send you a copy of these notes to know if they are correct, but will take another opportunity of doing so, in order not to make this letter too long

Believe me Dr Sir Yours vy Truly
H. F. Talbot

My address is the Athenæum <8>


1. Doc. No: 07996.

2. Story-Maskelyne lectured on mineralogy and chemistry at the University of Oxford.

3. Story-Maskelyne had been asked to be a witness for WHFT [see Doc. No: 06991] in the trial concerning his patent, in which he sought to prove that he had invented the Calotype process and that the collodion process was covered by the Calotype patent, and thus not a new invention. The trial took place from Monday 18 to Wednesday 20 December 1854. In 1852 WHFT had thrown open his photographic patents as far as amateur photography was concerned, though he retained them regarding professional portraiture. He won several injunctions against professional portrait photographers who infringed them, and in 1854 he sought to obtain one against Martin Laroche, a professional photographer who took portraits using the collodion process, who, he claimed, had infringed two important elements of his patents. He then found himself having to defend his right to his patents and even his claim to the invention of photography on paper.

4. A letter dated 9 April 1839 from Rev Joseph Bancroft Reade (1801–1870), microscopist & photographer, to Edward William Brayley, jnr (1801–1870), librarian & lecturer. For legal purposes this letter was copied and annotated ‘Examined with the original. E. W. Brayley Jun. London Institution. June 17, 1854’, [see Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, 33094]. See also Doc. No: 07004.

5. Photogenic drawing. WHFT’s formal announcement of the process was made to the Royal Society of London on 31 January 1839.

6. Brayley lectured twice in 1839, at the London Institution on the 10th of April, and at Walthamstow on the 2nd of May. See R. Derek Wood, ‘J. B. Reade’s Early Photographic Experiments: recent further evidence on the legend’, British Journal of Photography, v. 119 no. 5845, 28 July 1972, pp.644–646, 643.

7. In 1859 Reade admitted as much, writing, “I did not realise the master fact that the latent image which had been developed was the basis of photographic manipulation”, [see J.B. Reade to Lyndon Smith, 16 December 1859, as published in British Journal of Photography, 1 March 1862, pp.79–80].

8. The Athenæum and (London) Literary Chronicle, London.