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Archer, Frederick (Scott)

collodion plate process glass

(1813–57) British inventor of the wet collodion photographic process.

Orphaned early in life, Archer was apprenticed to a London silversmith. This led him first to study coins and then to design them and to work as a portrait sculptor. To obtain likenesses for this he began in 1847 to use the primitive photographic methods of the time. He experimented to improve them and tried collodion (a solution of nitrocellulose in ether), on paper and then on glass, as part of the sensitive material. In 1851 he published his method: collodion containing iodide was flowed over a glass plate. This was followed by silver nitrate solution. The moist plate was quickly exposed in the camera and then developed, fixed and washed to give a glass negative from which positive paper prints could be made. The moist plate was much more sensitive to light than its predecessors and allowed exposures to be reduced to 2–20 s.

Archer was diffident, poor, generous and unworldly. claimed (falsely) that the whole process was covered by his patents, but by 1854 his attempts to prevent the use of collodion by legal injunctions had failed and, as the daguerrotype patents had lapsed in 1853, the public could take up photography without restraint and did so enthusiastically. Despite the need to carry a tent and portable laboratory, the wet collodion process quickly supplanted all others and was widely used by amateurs and professionals until 1880, when the more convenient gelatine dry plate was introduced.

Archer died poor and unappreciated, and his family received niggardly provision from Government and professional photographers who had profited by use of his unpatented methods. Only after many years was his contribution recognized.

Archer(originally, Balestreri), Violet [next] [back] Archaeological Photography

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