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Document number: 5104
Date: 17 Oct 1844
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: SMYTH W
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4942
Last updated: 7th February 2011


I trust you will excuse the liberty I take as a Stranger in addressing you & hope I commit no further indiscretion in doing so, being under the belief that you do not seek to withhold the knowledge of your methods of operating from the public. I have amused myself some time en amateur with the Daguerreotype & seeing lately a notice your new work the Pencil of Nature<1> - in the Post - I have just been enabled to receive it by the opportunity of a friend. I was somewhat disappointed at its giving me no insight into your present way of operating & I wish to ask you if there is any work published which will enable me to make attempts myself. I have been some time in possession of a German Pamphlet, professing to give your directions with sundry ameliorations<2> but I felt I had rather trust myself to you & cast it aside for the ‘Pencil of Nature’ which leaves me pretty much where I was.

To occupy your time as little as possible, may I ask you will the No’s of your work be at long Intervals & in the mean time whether you can recommend me any other works.

The ordinary chambre noire I conceived may be used, but I feel at a loss how the Paper is to lay flat if put in damp, & also as to the means of obtaining a positive from a negative Picture.<3>

Should you excuse my applying to the fountain head, being in a foreign country & [illegible deletion] not knowing where else I would address myself for information I shall feel much [illegible deletion] indebted to your courtesy for any reply. Should I be successful & are any views in this country acceptable to you I should have much pleasure in sending views to you -

I have the honor to remain Sir, very faithfully yours
W Smyth

Bohn Am Rhein
October 17h 1844 -

A Line addressed to me care of J. L. Bicknell Esq. 25 Abingdon St. Westminster, will save you the expense of a foreign postage.<4>


1. WHFT, The Pencil of Nature (London: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longmans, June 1844–April 1846 [issued in six fascicles]) - only No. 1 had been issued by the time of this letter. WHFT had not intended for it be be a manual of instruction - quite the contrary - but rather as a way to promote the use of photography in book illustration.

2. This might have been Lichtbilder (Portraits) auf Papier in ein bis zwei Minuten darzustellen: Die Daguerreotypie ohne Quecksilberdämpfe nach Gaudin und E. Becquerel ([aking photographic portraits on paper in one to two minutes: The Daguerreotype without Mercury vapors by Gaudin and E. Becquerel], ostensibly authored by WHFT and published in Aachan in 1841. He had no known connection with this publication.

3. Chambre noire = camera obscura. The calotype negative paper was more sensitive if exposed whilst damp. It could be secured by a frame and some workers held it under a sheet of glass. Securing good prints from negatives remained a problem well into the 1850s, and far more photographers succeeded in producing great negatives than those who could consistently make great prints.

4. John Laurens Bicknell, solicitor, of the firm of Bicknell & Lethbridge.