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HomeContents > People > Photographers > Frederick Scott Archer

Dates:  1813 - 1857, 2 May
Born:  Great Britain, Hertfordshire, Bishop's Stortford
Died:  Great Britain, London
Active:  Great Briain
In March 1851 he published his invention of the wet collodion process that became the dominant method used until the 1870s. Rather than patent the process, he made a gift of it to the nation and died in impecunious circumstances.

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Approved biography for Frederick Scott Archer
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

A sculptor by profession and possessed of an active imagination on practical matters, Archer is best known for his invention of the wet-collodion negative on glass, the very process that displaced the paper negative (especially quickly in the commercial world). Archer’s interest in photography dated back to its earliest days. He was a daguerreotypist and invented an economical water-filled lens. This, like most of his ventures, proved unsuccessful commercially. One of Archer’s trades in the 1840s was as a Talbotype portraitist. In 1875 the British Journal of Photography described such works as “portraits possessing great vigour and undoubted merit, although devoid of delicacy.” While his daguerreotypes “fulfilled the highest requirements of sharpness and delicacy,” Archer was keenly aware of the advantage of Talbot’s negatives, from which multiple prints could be obtained. Perhaps for his portrait work, or perhaps to achieve smooth and full-toned prints of his sculptures, Archer worked to combine the merits of the two processes and succeeded with glass negatives using collodion. He published the wet-collodion method freely, continuing to work as a photographer and inventor. Archer died in great poverty not long afterward. In a belated effort spearheaded by M. Digby Wyatt, architect and secretary to the executive committee of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and widely supported by a grateful photographic community, a subscription was raised to support his widow and children. 
Roger Taylor & Larry J. Schaaf Impressed by Light: British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2007) 
This biography is courtesy and copyright of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is included here with permission. 
Date last updated: 4 Nov 2012. 
We welcome institutions and scholars willing to test the sharing of biographies for the benefit of the photo-history community. The biography above is a part of this trial.
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Further research

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Frederick Scott Archer
Frederick Scott Archer 
1855 (ca)
Family history 
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Visual indexes

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Visual indexes for this photographer are available for subscribers.There is so much more to explore when you subscribe. 

Internet biographies

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Getty Research, Los Angeles, USA has an ULAN (Union List of Artists Names Online) entry for this photographer. This is useful for checking names and they frequently provide a brief biography. Go to website
The International Photographers Hall of Fame has provided a biography. Go to website

Printed biographies

The following books are useful starting points to obtain brief biographies but they are not substitutes for the monographs on individual photographers.

• Auer, Michele & Michel 1985 Encyclopedie Internationale Des Photographes de 1839 a Nos Jours / Photographers Encylopaedia International 1839 to the present (Hermance, Editions Camera Obscura) 2 volumes [A classic reference work for biographical information on photographers.] 
• Capa, Cornell (ed.) 1984 The International Center of Photography: Encyclopedia of Photography (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc. - A Pound Press Book) p.36 
• Lenman, Robin (ed.) 2005 The Oxford Companion to the Photograph (Oxford: Oxford University Press)  [Includes a short biography on Frederick Scott Archer.] 
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