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Document number: 3969
Date: 03 Nov 1839
Recipient: LUBBOCK John William
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: Royal Society, London
Collection number: LUB 38 T25
Last updated: 2nd May 2015

Lacock Abbey
Nov. 3. 1839

Dear Sir

I have not yet received the silver plates but trust that I shall find them in a package which I expect from London tomorrow. You do not say whether Cooper <1> made a picture in 3 minutes with the oxyhdydrogen blowpipe on silver or on paper: I presume on silver.<2> What was the amount of magnifying power? for that is a very essential point, the greater the power, the longer the time required – I can make a very perfect picture with the Solar microscope in 3 minutes on paper, & from that original any number of copies. I believe I told you my paper is sensitive to moonlight, it takes 10 minutes to obtain a visible impression –

Nothing is easier than to obtain the lights & shadows in their right places, by one operation, on paper. Dr Fyfe has already described the way in Jamieson’s [sic] Edinburgh Journal <3> so long ago as April or May last. But the objection is the time required, at least 20 times as long as with my photographic papers.

Do you know anything of a pretended discovery by M. Schafheutl <4> of Munich which is mentioned by several of the papers as infinitely transcending Daguerre? <5> And as to Donne’s engravings, <6> has he described his modus operandi? and have the Academy expressed any opinion as to the goodness of his engravings? and how did Niepce <7> engrave those plates 12 years ago? he must have known more than he ever communicated. Several weeks ago I discovered 3 methods of fixing a photogenic drawing on silver plate, <8> one of which gives the lights in their right places, & is in my opinion very beautiful in effect; the other 2 ways give lights for shades.

Believe me Yours very truly
H. F. Talbot


1. John Thomas Cooper (1790–1854), chemist.

2. The pipe, invented in 1801 by Robert Hare (1781–1858), enabled a researcher to create a hot flame with oxyhydrogen gas obtained by the electrolysis of water. Here the term is used interchangeably with a microscope lit by such an apparatus. By 'silver', WHFT meant the silver-plated copper sheet used in the Daguerreotype.

3. Andrew Fyfe (1792–1861), ‘On Photography’, Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, v. 26 no. 53, July 1839, pp. 144–155.

4. A misspelling for Dr Karl Emil von Schafhäutl (1803–1890), photographer, music theorist & geologist, who claimed the invention of a very sensitive direct positive process. It was, however, exceedingly difficult to manipulate. [See The Times, 29 October 1839, p. 3].

5. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor.

6. Alfred Donné (1801–1878), microscopist, who developed a method of engraving daguerreotype plates.

7. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833), photographic inventor.

8. WHFT developed what he termed ‘iotypes’, that is, photographic images printed by contact on a silver plate, and noted this in his Notebook P from 11–16 September - see Larry J Schaaf, Records of the Dawn of Photography: Talbot's Notebooks P & Q (Cambridge; Cambridge University Press, 1996), P105–P115. The silver plate was halogenized to give a coherent deposit of silver halide then printed-out by heavy exposure. It was then then fixed without the mercury development (and concomitant speed) of the daguerreotype. WHFT tended to halogenize the plates using solutions (such as iodine dissolved in ethyl alcohol or in potassium iodide solution) rather than the vapours that Daguerre employed. For fixing, the first case describes the effect given by heating a plate over a spirit lamp - see Records, P109-P113 and Doc. No: 03971. This retained the tonality, and “the lights are normal”. In the second case, WHFT fixed the plate using Ammonia, and in the third, using Hydrogen sulphide gas, both of which reversed the tonality.

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