when it all began

1973 facsimile of 1841 text with added material

Toronto. Collectors and photo enthusiasts seldom remember Robert Hunt, an enthusiastic amateur photographer. Other prominent folk at the beginning of photography like Daguerre, Talbot, and Herschel are all well known for various reasons.

Daguerre of course for his pre-eminent Daguerreotype process which was offered gratis everywhere but England after the French government gave him a pension later in 1839. The Daguerreotype was the major process for well over a decade and spread world wide.

Talbot was wealthy and offered his alternative negative-positive process.  Negative-positive processes eventually took over from the contrasty, high resolution, one-off Daguerreotype process and stayed on top for a century and a half before the digital era took hold (glass plate and film processes relied on the negative-positive principle).

Herschel was also well known for the precursor to blue prints and he offered a better fixing solution (hypo) than weak salt. Hypo remained the standard for decades.

In 1841 Hunt wrote , “A Popular Treatise on the Art of Photography” which was the first popular manual on the new art. A version was reproduced in 1973 in a facsimile edition with added material by James Tong for the Ohio University Press (I have a copy of Tong’s facsimile edition). About a decade later, in the late 1840s/early 1850s, Hunt published what was to be the first Manual of Photography. We can all read the 4th edition, first published in 1854, courtesy of Google Books.

You can read a bit more on Hunt’s older 1841 book at Walkabout Books, and Abebooks – check out the asking price for a copy of the original (the facsimile version is dirt cheap).

NB. Books printed before about 1850 used paper made from cotton rag fibres. Today, they are as crisp and bright as the day they were printed. After about 1850, most papers were made from wood fibers causing post 1850ish books to slowly burn and go yellow/brown and brittle in time as the moisture in the air combined with the sulphur in the paper creating sulphuric acid.  Coating the edges of the paper with paint or gold foil slowed the discolouration as did tight storage. Late last century, archivists tried interspersing sheets soaked with an alkaline solution to neutralize the ph factor of the pages.


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