Frederick Scott Archer

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If there is anybody in photography history to be called the earliest inspiration for creating a free web encyclopedia about cameras in the 21st century, it must have been the sculptor and photographer Frederick Scott Archer ( born 1813, Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, died May 1857). In 1849 he started work on the collodion process; publishing in 1851 he revolutionized photography, overcoming the established processes that were still the ones of the pioneers William Henry Fox Talbot and Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre.

Collodion, a material "made by dissolving a form of gun-cotton in ether" [Coe], and potassium iodide gave the first kind of a photographic emulsion for making sharp photographic negatives efficiently. The emulsion was poured onto clean glass plates, and after the ether was almost evaporated the plates were given into a silver nitrate bath to sensitize them. The moistened plates had to be exposed while they were still wet, and immediately after exposure they had to be developed. "The collodion negative could record fine detail and subtle tones" [Coe]. That was a clear step forward, especially compared to earlier negative-positive processes like Talbot's calotype process. Processing was easier, without needing to handle toxic quicksilver for development like in the Daguerreotype process. The Collodion Photographic Process was published in March 1851 by Archer in The Chemist. In 1852 he published a method to whiten the collodion negative with mercuric bichloride. Backed with black paper the whitened glass negative became a collodion positive, a method which became popular in portraiture, marketed as Ambrotype process especially in the USA.

In August 1855, Archer was granted a patent on a method of removing the collodion negatives from the glass by coating with rubber solution - later used to print onto metal for etching [Eder].

The French photographer Adolphe Martin was the first to use black enamelled tinplates instead of glass plates for the collodion positive process. That method was called ferrotype. In the USA it was called tintype. The tintypes stayed popular in the USA until the late 1940s. Thus Frederick Scott Archer was much more influential on portrait photography than preceding photography pioneers. Archer's method lasted in the market for 95 years. And all for free: Archer just published his processes and didn't apply for patents on them. Thus he couldn't become rich in his time. He was a real avant-garde man in the field of public domain developments. "He died penniless in 1857" [Coe].


Archer designed a camera which included a complete darkroom, or better "a portable darkroom which, when mounted on a tripod, served also as camera" [Smith]. The cameras were made or marketed by J. Griffin & Co., J. Ottewill, and J.B. Hockin & Co. . Archer's camera design can be seen as predecessor of the instant cameras' ancestor, the Appareil Dubroni No 1 which was also a camera for the wet-collodion process.


  • Coe, Brian: The Birth of Photography, 1976
  • Collodion Journal: about Frederick Scott Archer at anvil homepage [1] (archived)
  • Eder, Josef Maria, History of Photography, 4th ed., 1932; English translation by Edward Epstean
  • Smith, R.C.: Antique Cameras, London 1975