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Dollonds and Photography

Dollonds and Photography

The Dollond family and firm had an inevitable involvement in early photography, as one of the chief manufacturers of lenses and optical instruments. On the first day of his photographic experiments, January 29, 1839, it was natural for Sir John Herschel to use a Dollond lens (from a telescope) to make a camera image. The size and circular format of further experimental images later in the year (11879, 21527, 32127, 85037, and see 13193) suggest they were made with the same lens. Along with other manufacturing opticians like Ross and Lerebours (see 89963), the Dollonds took an immediate interest in photography and entered the market for supplying photographic materials, lenses, and cameras. A good many of the traditional camera obscuras and camera lucidas (see 95918) that had inspired the invention had also been made by them.

George Dollond (1774-1852) is known to have played a part in spreading knowledge of the invention. It was he who first introduced Nevil Story-Maskelyne to the activity, the young scientist going on to become one of the most interesting early practitioners of the calotype process (see 32782). So far as we are aware, the only surviving specimen of Dollond's own photographic endeavours is the photogenic drawing in the Hartwell House commonplace book (11892). John Lee, of Hartwell House, near Aylesbury, was a wealthy amateur scientist and the centre of a large circle of acquaintances; those partaking of his renowned hospitality at Hartwell were encouraged to contribute something to this glorified visitors' book, which in consequence is now a treasure trove of rare autographs, manuscripts, drawings, and other material. On his visit of April 25, 1840, Dollond wrote a brief note (about the history of optics), and contributed the unusual photogenic drawing which is pasted below it.

It is a long strip of paper showing silhouettes, white on the usual sepia ground, of three different birds in flight, or at least fluttering their wings. Presumably they are cut-out paper silhouettes, copied by laying them directly on the photographic paper and exposing in sunlight. He could have brought the specimen with him, but perhaps it is more likely that he brought the chemicals and demonstrated the making of photogenic drawings for the entertainment of his hosts and fellow guests. It is the kind of activity that went on at Hartwell House, and would have been very interesting and novel in 1840, when the invention was barely a year old. It was later the same year, on a visit to another country house, that Dollond demonstrated the same process to Nevil Story-Maskelyne.

Dollond died in 1852 and his nephew inherited the business, changing his name, as the uncle had, from Huggins to Dollond. 1852 is thus one likely date - since sitting for a photographic portrait was still something of a special event - for the photograph of George Dollond junior (1797-1866) in the Dollond family scrapbook (11898). It is an early albumen print, the new process invented in 1850 which was soon to replace the salted paper print as the normal type of photograph on paper, and to remain so for most of the 19th century. The Dollond photograph is untrimmed - perhaps it was a proof copy from which he could order mounted or framed copies for his family and the wall of his office - so that the edges of the negative from which it was contact printed can be seen, including the photographer's inscription 'Mr Geo Dollond'. More importantly, this allows us to see that it was printed from a glass negative, which again will have been an early example of the wet collodion negative invented in 1851. The two new processes took hold more or less simultaneously in the early 1850s.

As so often, the photographer is not recorded. It has more the appearance of the work of a calotypist or skilled amateur, with its plain back-cloth and slightly awkward pose, the studio professionals having established, through the daguerreotype, a very recognisable style of composing and posing portraits, in a plush environment of props, furniture, curtains, and painted backdrops (see for example 94483). It is an excellent photograph though, and having been kept from the light in its scrapbook retains the strength of the original brown and sepia tones that has so often faded in surviving albumen prints. It is one of the earliest photographic images of a famous scientific instrument maker. For other early albumen print portraits of scientific men see for instance 11899 (Liebig), 12071 (Andrew Ross), 12708 (George Rolleston), 30607 (John Phillips, 1860), 69029 (William Harvey, 1861), 23533 (Bunsen and Kirchhoff, 1862); and for cartes de visite see narrative to 36187.

The Dollond family archive includes a later albumen print of two ladies on a tandem tricycle, though unfortunately who they are is not recorded (11911). Otherwise there are hardly any photographs, in spite of the family's long association with the subject. After the firm had passed out of family ownership, Alfred Walter Dollond (1861-1925) made a career as a photographic expert and teacher of photography, for instance for the London City and Guilds Institute, which provided technical training for the profession. The archive includes various papers, publications, and patents relating to his photographic work, and even the MBE medal he was awarded in 1920 in recognition of it (11912), but unfortunately no examples of his photographs.

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