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HomeContents > People > Photographers > John A. Spencer

Dates:  1827 - 1878
Active:  UK

Preparing biographies

Approved biography for John A. Spencer
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Spencer succeeded his father in the family’s chemical business in London and in 1851 received a bronze medal at the Great Exhibition. This award led to an appointment as demonstrator of applied chemistry at the Royal Panopticon of Science and Art, an exhibition palace designed to highlight the universality of knowledge. With this background, it is not surprising that he entered photographs in the 1852 Society of Arts exhibition. They were predominantly collodion but included a calotype street view. Whereas plain salted paper had generally been made by the individual photographer, the newly introduced albumen paper was a much more complex product and demanded professional manufacture. Spencer moved quickly to capture this market. Starting from his base in London, he built the business into a dedicated manufactory, where, the firm advertised, quality Rives and Saxe papers were “prepared with Pure and Fresh Albumen Only,” and “Rolled exclusively upon Plates of Silver.” In the 1850s it was not unusual for photographers to take pride in making their negatives but to have no talent or interest in making prints. Spencer printed many of the plates for the Photographic Club albums and routinely provided printing services to Photographic Society members. Spencer opened outlets in Glasgow, Dublin, and Paris, and his firm’s consumption of fresh eggs for the albumen prints must have been enormous. Although commercially successful, Spencer recognized that albumen silver prints would one day be overtaken by photo-mechanical printing. Much of his later life was devoted to making carbon tissues for the Autotype Company. He died from esophageal cancer in 1878. 
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. 
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