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Document number: 7332
Date: Wed 17 Dec 1856
Dating: 1856 confirmed by calendar
Recipient: GROVE William Robert
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: Royal Society, London
Last updated: 13th July 2010

Athenæum <1>
Wedny Dec. 17

Dear Grove

I had not time to mention to You, when I met You accidentally on Tuesday evening, that some troublesome business had brought me to Town for a few days; in short, that I am again Compelled to contemplate taking legal proceedings against certain persons who are infringing a patent belonging to me <2> – I have little doubt that on perusing this, your first impulse will be to advise me to abandon the patent in question, to whatever subject it may relate – I am aware of your strong opinions upon this subject, and they have had Considerable weight with me in coming to a decision upon this question – I was until lately the possessor of two patents, which have not been hitherto the subject of any legal proceedings whatever, and which have not been brought under your notice, although you are perhaps acquainted with one of them, viewed as a matter of Scientific discovery – When the time came for paying the fee to government on these patents (at the end of the 3d year) I resolved to abandon one of these patents and retain the other. This may be viewed as a Compromise of opinion – I did not go entirely to the lengths you appeared to advise, but I adopted Your opinion to a great extent – The patent which I have retained, relates to improvements in Engraving – This invention cost me a good deal of time & trouble, (but I do not complain of that, for that is generally the case with all inventns that are worth anything) – and I took a patent for it in October 1852. <3> When I had done so (it is the old story over again) other parties Came forward resolved to profit by my invention; and they have formed a Company & taken out a patent – their specificatn is published and has been sent to me. It contains the Chief part of my own invention, from which it is evidently borrowed – It takes about half of my patented process, and then conducts the rest of the engraving very differently. I first consulted Carpmael <4> about this matter who informed me without hesitation that it was a clear Case of infringement. <5> I then wrote a friendly letter of remonstrance to the patentee <6> (knowing a little of him previously) He replied very civilly, <7> but decidedly, that he felt sure he had a right to employ my invention, provided he did so for a different purpose.

I am assured that such is not the law – Moreover, the purpose is substantially the same, viz. to procure beautiful engravings of Complicated objects.

According to the best judgement we can form the patent right is a valuable one – I trust therefore that You approve of my intention of vindicating my right to it – I will not trouble You further on the subject at present, as I shall have other opportunities

Believe me to remain Yours very truly
H. F. Talbot


1. The Athenæum, Talbot's club, was in Pall Mall, London.

2. In 1854 Talbot had had a bruising experience in the law courts – Talbot v. Laroche. Talbot found himself having to defend his right to his patents and even his claim to the invention of photography on paper. Grove, a leading patents lawyer, was one of his counsel. The Patent Photo-Galvanographic Company (commonly, The Photogalvanographic Company) was based on the work of Paul Pretsch (1808–1873), Austrian photographer & inventor and former Manager of the Imperial Printing Establishment in Vienna. Located in Holloway Road, Islington, London, from 1856-1857, Pretsch took over as manager and Roger Fenton (1819–1869), photographer & lawyer, was a partner and their chief photographer. Starting in late 1856, they published a serial portfolio, Photographic Art Treasures, or Nature and Art Illustrated by Art and Nature, illustratated with photogalvanographs derived from several photographer's works. Photogalvanography was uncomfortably closely based on elements of WHFT’s patented 1852 Photographic Engraving but, unlike Talbot, the plates were heavily retouched by hand. Compounding the legal objections of Talbot, their former manager, Duncan Campbell Dallas, set up a competing company to produce the Dallastype. The company collapsed and near the end of 1860 Pretsch, out of money, allowed his patent to lapse. A public appeal was launched in 1861 to assist him but he returned to Vienna in 1863 in ill health, going back to the Imperial Printing Establishment, but finally succumbing to cholera.

3. In October 1852 Talbot had taken out a patent [no 565, 29 October 1852; detailed specifications filed 29 April 1853] for Improvements in the Art of Engraving. This was a contact process using gelatine sensitised by potassium bichromate, on a steel plate, the resultant image then being etched into the steel. For a detailed description, see H. J. P. Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of Photography and Man of Science (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1977), pp. 273–275. It was not the same as photoglyphic engraving, a later process.

4. William Carpmael (1804–1867), patent agent & engineer, London.

5. See Doc. No: 07256.

6. Paul Pretsch (1808–1873), Austrian photographer & inventor; founder of the Photogalvanographic Company.

7. Letter not located.

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