Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Frederick Scott Archer

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Frederick Scott Archer (1813–1857) invented the photographic collodion process which preceded the modern gelatin emulsion.

He was born in Bishop's Stortford in the UK and is remembered mainly for this single achievement which greatly increased the accessibility of photography for the general public.

Scott Archer was the son of a butcher who went to London to take an apprenticeship as a silversmith. Later, he became a sculptor and found calotype photography (developed by William Fox Talbot) useful as a way of capturing images of his subjects. Dissatisfied with the poor definition and contrast of the calotype and the long exposures needed, Scott Archer invented the new process in 1848 and published it in 'The Chemist' in March 1851, enabling photographers to combine the fine detail of the daguerreotype with the ability to print multiple paper copies like the calotype.

He later developed the ambrotype jointly with Peter Fry.

He died impoverished, as he did not patent the collodion process and made very little money from it. An obituary described him as "a very inconspicuous gentleman, in poor health."

His family received a gift of £747 after his death, raised by public subscription, and a small pension was also provided to support his three children after the death of their mother.

The Royal Photographic Society has a small collection of Scott Archer's photographs.

Archer is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London W10 4RA

-- Note

  • Collodion was a solution of gun cotton in ether. Collodion was only sensitive when moist so collodion coated plates had to be kept wet, so the process was referred to as "wet plate" photography. It became the dominant photographic process for the following 30 years[1]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Biographical Dictionary of the History of Technology, edited by Lance Day and Ian McNeil, Routledge, 1996