18th December 1854. Conflict in Early Photography.

In 1841 a Patent (8842) for 14 years, was sealed by William Fox Talbot (1800-1877) for his revolutionary photographic ‘Calotype’ or ‘Talbotype’, on paper, Process.

However Talbot pursued through litigation all those he regarded as infringing his Patent, the most memorable example being Today in 1854 when Talbot sued Martin Laroche for £5,000 for his use of the competing glass sheet, ‘Collodion Process’.(1)

Talbot, though allowing amateurs free use of his licence, insisted that his patent applied to all aspects of the new art of photography, which even covered Archer’s Collodion Process (1851).(2)

In 1854 Talbot applied to the Privy Council for extension to his patent, but Laroche, who advertised his Collodian Procedure in The Times, opposed this and orchestrated Photographic Society opposition to any extension, which he also took to the Privy Council.

Laroche’s argument was that he used Pyrogallic Acid as a developer, and Collodian, not paper, in contrast to Talbot’s Silver Nitrate, Acetic and Gallic Acid.(3)

Furthermore there was ‘prior art’ (previous work) legal argument, in that the Calotype Process, using Gallic Acid had been used by the Rev. James Bancroft Reade in photographic experiments in 1839, two years before Talbot’s Patent.(4)


Cullodion Process.

Another involved in developments was Sir John Herschel son of the famous astronomer and inventor of the word ’photography’ who used Gallic Acid as a photographic developer prior to Talbot’s discovery, but ceded the field in 1839 acknowledging, ‘your process is simple and complete’. (5)

In the ‘battle of the chemicals’ however Talbot lost his 1854 court case against Laroche, but continued his legal actions ignoring Newton’s 1686 message to Edmund Halley: ‘Philosophy is an impertinently litigious lady’.

(1)  Heard before the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir James Jervis at the Guildhall, London.The jury (used in civil cases until 1930.s).

(2) This added silver iodide to colloid (cellulose nitrate) and coated glass with the mixture to produce a negative.

(3) Pyrogallol is an organic compound C6 H3 (OH)3 a white solid used as black and white photographic developer.

(4) Gallic Acid ( from oak galls) a colourless crystalline organic powder. It is a type of Phenolic Acid and Gallinates are found in witch-hazel, tea leaves and oak bark. C6 H2  (OH)3 COOH. Historically used to prepare Tannic Acid. The salts and esters are Gallates.

Gallic Acid is found in all plants including grapes, tea, hops and oak-bark and is anti fungal/viral and anti-oxidant.

(5a) Herschel had hopes of ‘Gallate of Silver’ (silver nitrate plus Gallic Acid), which is affected by light very differently from other salts.

(5b) Letter to Talbot of 28th February 1839 and mentioned at a reading on Photography at the Royal Society 14.3.1839.


The light sensitive  Silver Halides (silver salts)-Calotype is coated with Silver Iodide- one of compounds of Silver and one of the Halogens, such as Silver Bromide (Ag Br) are typical components of photographic emulsions which dissolve upon treatment with aqueous Silver Thiosulfate (Hypo), a process discovered by Herschel and used for both film and photographic paper as a fixer.

The Fixer stabilises images by removing unexposed Silver Halide which remains, leaving a silver image.

Ref: masterofstuff.com/Pic of Collodion.

Ref: wikimedia.Commons/Calotype Pic.

Ref: midley.co.uk/laroche-talbot.

Ref: phytochemicals/info/gallic-acid.

Ref: enc.britannica/herschel/talbot.

Ref: Talbot v Laroche/Gallic acid/tannic acid.

Ref:Talbot v Henderson 1854. Photography Patent Case. (Annals of Science) vol. 27 No 3. Sept. 1971, p.239-264.


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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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