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MICROPHOTOGRAPHY

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A fascinating collection of 8 mid-19th Century microphotographs, 3 by John Benjamin Dancer, the pioneer of the medium; scare curiosities from the early age of photography. 

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A Collection of 8 microphotographs (each circa 0.18 cm x 0.9 cm), each mounted under a circular glass slip upon a glass slide (each circa 2.5 x 7.6), with one or two printed labels to each slide (Please see listing of the individual slides following for condition reports).

Present here is a collection of eight mid-19th century microphotographs mounted on glass slides with original paper labels.  Microphotography was a technique pioneered by John Benjamin Dancer (1812-87), a prolific English inventor of photographic and optical devices, who started creating examples shortly after the Daguerreotype method was first publicized in 1839.  The miniature photographs, approximately 1 x 1 millimetres in size, were meant to be viewed by microscopes.  Dancer’s microphotography quickly became all the rage in England, and other photographers soon duplicated his process, bringing their own works to market.

Many of the microphotographs of the mid-19th Century depicted portraits of important historical or contemporary personages, city scenes, as well as famous objects or documents.  For many years, microphotographs were considered curiosities for the amusement of the public and the commercial gain of photographers and their agents.  However, during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1), the espionage value of microphotography was recognized, and for that point onwards the medium became a preferred route for smuggling top secret diagrams and letters across enemy lines.

The present collection includes three microphotographs by Dancer, as indicated by his initials ‘J.B.D.’ on the labels, while the five others are by different photographers.
The 8 Microphotographs in the Collection are as follows:

1.       The Holy Family. After Raphael. 66. J. B. D. [John Benjamin Dancer].
Printed title on a yellow label on the left-hand side, oval seller’s label of ‘Newton & Co. 3 Fleet St. Temple Bar. London’ on right-hand side (Condition: slight chipping to slide glass on far right not affecting photograph or labels).

2.       155 Portraits of Eminent Persons. 150. J. B. D. [John Benjamin Dancer]. Printed title on a yellow label on the left-hand side, small oval label with mss. numeration on the righthand side (Condition: Very Good, save for transparent tape repair overlaying title label).

3.       Photograph. Major Dickson’s Tablet. In Rostherne Church, Cheshire. Size of Original, 5 feet. J. B. D. [John Benjamin Dancer]. Printed title on a yellow label on the left-hand side, small oval label with mss. numeration on the righthand side (Condition: photograph scraped and damaged).

4.       Her Majesty the Queen. A Photographic Curiosity for the Microscope. J. S.  Printed title on a pink label on the left-hand side (Condition: Slide glass broken in the area of the label with an old reparation obscuring part of the label).

5.       His Royal Highness Prince Albert Photographic Curiosity for the Microscope. J. S.  Printed title on a pink label on the left-hand side (Condition: Slide glass broken in the area of the label with 2 old reparations obscuring part of the label; right-hand side of slide glass missing but not affecting photograph).

6.       Portrait of [Illegible]. White paper label with manuscript in black ink to left-hand side (Condition: Very Good, mss. label slightly chipped).

7.       Photograph. Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross. A. R.  Printed title on a white label on left-hand side, oval seller’s label of ‘Newton & Co. 3 Fleet St. Temple Bar. London’ on right-hand side (Condition: Very Good, slight abrasion to title label).

8.       The Spanish Letter Letter. Printed title on a green label to left-hand side (Condition: Very Good).

References: Cf. Brian BRACEGIRDLE & James B. MCCORMICK, The Microscopic Photographs of J.B. Dancer (London: Science Heritage Limited, 1993); Michael HALLETT, ‘John Benjamin Dancer 1812–1887: a perspective’, History of Photography, an international quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3 (July – September 1986), pp. 237– 255.

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