Frederick Scott Archer

(1813—1857) inventor of the collodion process in photography

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(1813–57), English photographer and inventor. Born the second son of a butcher, the man generally credited with the invention of the wet-plate process began his creative life as a silversmith's apprentice and later became a sculptor. Gustave Le Gray, R. J. Bingham, and Archer all had the idea of coating glass-plate negatives with a layer of collodion at about the same time. Of the three, Archer was the first to publish practical directions for the process, in The Chemist in March 1851. His method was to mix collodion with potassium iodide, coat it on a glass plate, and sensitize it with a solution of silver nitrate. When exposed still wet it had a light sensitivity some twenty times that of daguerreotype or calotype materials, and with the advantage of being on clear glass. The improvement was to have a revolutionary impact on the practice of photography, not only for its improved sensitivity and practicability, but because the free and widespread use of collodion led directly to several patent lawsuits that ended, in 1854, Henry Talbot's claims against professional photographers employing paper processes. The collodion process was deemed to differ from the calotype, and, as Archer had not patented the process, it was available to all who could buy chemicals and a manual. In 1852 Archer opened a photographic business at 105 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, where he photographed and invented until his death. He died very poor, and a subscription was taken up for his wife Fannie and their surviving children.

From The Oxford Companion to the Photograph in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Photography and Photographs.

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