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Document number: 4391
Date: 13 Dec 1841
Postmark: 13 Dec 1841
Recipient: THOMPSON William
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: National Trust Collection, Fox Talbot Museum, Lacock
Collection number: 31932
Last updated: 5th April 2010

31 Sackville St <1>
Decr 1841


With respect to the photographs you have sent me, <2> No 1 is not the fault of the paper but the sensitive surface of gallo-nitrate of silver <3> has been partially removed by immersing it in water too soon. No 2 is not well fixed, <4> being partly changed already. No 3 seems done on right principles – The paper you mention, “Whatman” <5> is the best, it is good enough for all ordinary purposes – The pictures generally come out perfectly well on it, & the failures are rare. I enclose a portrait <6> not however one of my own doing. I am unable to give any other directions for success in this art than to follow exactly the directions contained in my specification which you will find printed in the No for September last of the Repertory <7> of patent inventions. You are of course aware that I have taken out a patent <8> for this process; however I do not wish it to interfere with amateurs practising the art for their own amusement.

I am Sir Yours truly
H. F. Talbot

Mr W. Thompson
At Mr Hitchman’s
Broad Row


1. 31 Sackville Street, London residence of the Feildings, often used as a London base by WHFT.

2. A number of Thompson's photographs were preserved in the Lacock Abbey collection and are now in private collections and in the National Media Museum, Bradford. Those that are dated are from October 1841, but none have a reference number on them.

3. WHFT's developing agent for the calotype/

4. Although Sir John Herschel's suggestion of hypo for fixing had been widely adopted, the chemical was problematic; that found in commerce was frequently impure, and unless it was washed out very thoroughly it could cause more damage than it prevented.

5. Whatman’s Turkey Mill paper, a hand-made writing-paper made in Maidstone, Kent, was favoured by WHFT for photographic use. Its woven surface provided a uniform base for prints and a patternless density for negatives, and it had good wet-strength, although small variations in texture and chemical content could cause problems when the paper was used in photography. The gelatin size suited photographic chemistry better than the rosin used in some other papers, particularly Continental ones. It was generally watermarked with the year of manufacture and certain years were sought after.

6. Possibly this portrait was taken by Henry Collen (1800–1879), miniature painter, calotypist & spiritualist, London, with whom WHFT had been working over the summer 1841; in August 1841 Collen was the first person to be licensed to practice calotype portraiture.

7. The Repertory of patent inventions: and other discoveries and improvements in arts, manufactures and agriculture; being a continuation, on an enlarged plan, of the Repertory of arts & manufactures (London: T. & G. Underwood, 1825–1862).

8. WHFT took a patent for the Calotype, entitled ‘Photographic Pictures’, U.K. number 8,8428, February 1841.

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