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France gave the daguerreotype photographic process as a free gift to the world except to Britain. They had to pay

Tijana Radeska
The daguerreotype

The daguerreotype was the first commercially successful photographic process in the history of photography, and it was introduced worldwide in 1839. Named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, each daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate.

Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Daguerreotype of Louis Daguerre in 1844 by Jean-Baptiste Sabatier-Blot. Wikipedia/Public Domain

In contrast to photographic paper, a daguerreotype is not flexible and is rather heavy. The daguerreotype is accurate, detailed and sharp. It has a mirror-like surface and is very fragile. Since the metal plate is extremely vulnerable, most daguerreotypes are presented in a special housing. Different types of casings existed: an open model, a folding case, jewelry, and many others.

Graphic representation of the steps involved in making a daguerreotype. By This image has been created during "DensityDesign Integrated Course Final Synthesis Studio" at Polytechnic University of Milan, organized by DensityDesign Research Lab in 2015. Image is released under CC-BY-SA licence. Attribution goes to "Susanna Celeste Castelli, DensityDesign Research Lab". - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37081386

Graphic representation of the steps involved in making a daguerreotype. Source: This image has been created during “DensityDesign Integrated Course Final Synthesis Studio.”

Unbeknownst to either inventor, Daguerre’s developmental work in the mid-1830s coincided with photographic experiments being conducted by Henry Fox Talbot in England. Talbot had succeeded in producing a “sensitive paper” impregnated with silver chloride and capturing small camera images on it in the summer of 1835, though he did not publicly reveal this until January 1839.

William Henry Fox Talbot, May 1864. Wikipedia/Public Domain

William Henry Fox Talbot, May 1864. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Talbot was unaware that Daguerre’s late partner Niépce had obtained similar small camera images on silver-chloride-coated paper nearly twenty years earlier.

Niépce could find no way to keep them from darkening all over when exposed to light for viewing and had therefore turned away from silver salts to experiment with other substances such as bitumen. Talbot chemically stabilized his images to withstand subsequent inspection in daylight by treating them with a strong solution of common salt.

Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Frères in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Daguerreotype camera built by La Maison Susse Frères in 1839, with a lens by Charles Chevalier. Wikipedia/Public Domain

When the first reports of the French Academy of Sciences announcement of Daguerre’s invention reached Talbot, with no details about the exact nature of the images or the process itself, he assumed that methods similar to his own must have been used, and promptly wrote an open letter to the Academy claiming priority of invention. Although it soon became apparent that Daguerre’s process was very unlike his own, Talbot had been stimulated to resume his long-discontinued photographic experiments.

The earliest reliably dated photograph of people, taken by Daguerre one spring morning in 1838 from the window of the Diorama, where he lived and worked. It bears the caption huit heure du matin (8 a.m.). Though it shows the busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the bootblack and his customer at lower left remained still long enough to be distinctly visible. The building signage at the upper left shows that the image is laterally (left-right) reversed, as were most daguerreotypes. Daguerre presented this daguerreotype together with two others: a still-life and a view from the same window labelled midi (noon) to King Ludwig I of Bavaria (The Munich Triptych) in order to publicise his invention. All three daguerreotypes were destroyed by cleaning in 1974 but they are preserved in reproduction. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The earliest reliably dated photograph of people, taken by Daguerre one spring morning in 1838 from the window of the Diorama, where he lived and worked. It bears the caption huit heure du matin (8 a.m.). Though it shows the busy Boulevard du Temple, the long exposure time (about ten or twelve minutes) meant that moving traffic cannot be seen; however, the bootblack and his customer at lower left remained still long enough to be distinctly visible. The building signage at the upper left shows that the image is laterally (left-right) reversed, as were most daguerreotypes. Daguerre presented this daguerreotype together with two others: a still-life and a view from the same window labeled midi (noon) to King Ludwig I of Bavaria (The Munich Triptych) to publicize his invention. All three daguerreotypes were destroyed by cleaning in 1974, but they are preserved in reproduction. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The “developed out” daguerreotype process only required an exposure sufficient to create a very faint or completely invisible latent image which was then chemically developed to full visibility. Talbot’s earlier “sensitive paper” (now known as “salted paper”) process was a “printed out” process that required prolonged exposure in the camera until the image was fully formed. However, his later calotype paper negative process (also known as Talbotype), introduced in 1841, also used latent image development, significantly reducing the exposure needed, and making it competitive with the daguerreotype.

The first authenticated image of Abraham Lincoln was this daguerreotype of him as U.S. Congressman-elect in 1846, attributed to Nicholas H. Shepard of Springfield, Illinois. Wikipedia/Public Domain

The first authenticated image of Abraham Lincoln was this daguerreotype of him as U.S. Congressman-elect in 1846, attributed to Nicholas H. Shepard of Springfield, Illinois. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Daguerre’s agent Miles Berry applied for a British patent just days before France declared the invention “free to the world.” Great Britain was thereby uniquely denied France’s gift and became the only country where the payment of license fees was required. This had the effect of inhibiting the spread of the process there, to the eventual advantage of competing processes which were subsequently introduced.

Portrait of a Daguerreotypist Displaying Daguerreotypes and Cases. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Portrait of a Daguerreotypist Displaying Daguerreotypes and Cases. Wikipedia/Public Domain

Antoine Claudet was one of the few people legally licensed to make daguerreotypes in Britain. Daguerre’s pension was relatively modest — barely enough to support a middle-class existence — and apparently this British “irregularity” was allowed to pass without adverse consequences or much comment outside of the UK.