Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Archer, Frederick Scott

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ARCHER, FREDERICK SCOTT (1813–1857), inventor of the collodion process in photography, was the second son of a butcher at Bishop Stortford, and was, as a young man, assistant to a silversmith, Massey, in Leadenhall Street. Showing some talent for sculpture, he was enabled, by the kindness of friends, to start in business as a sculptor, and it was a desire to obtain reproductions of his works that led him to take up the then recently discovered art of photography. Like many other photographers of the time, he made experiments with the view of obtaining a more suitable vehicle for the sensitive silver salt than the waxed paper principally employed. In 1846 Schönbein discovered gun-cotton; in 1847, Maynard, of Boston, prepared collodion, an ethereal solution of gun-cotton, for surgical purposes. In 1850 Archer successfully applied collodion to photography by adding an iodide to the collodion and immersing the glass plate with the film upon it while wet in the solution of nitrate of silver. The first account of the process was published in the 'Chemist,' March 1851. Archer does not seem to have been the first to suggest this application of collodion, but there appears no doubt whatever that he was the first to carry it into effect. He did not patent the invention, possibly because he did not realise its value, though he patented a development of no practical value in 1855 (Patent No. 1914). The process was at first only employed for producing 'positives,' and it was not for some time that it was found to be even more suitable for making 'negatives' from which any number of positive pictures can be obtained. Archer's original process, with certain improvements in the method of 'development' suggested by others soon after its publication, remained until quite recently without a rival, and it is only within the last two or three years that it has given way to the modern 'gelatine' process. Archer himself, soon after his discovery, left his house in Henrietta Street, and went to live in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, where he practised, with no great success, as a photographer. Here he produced several other inventions. Of these the more important were a camera, in which the various processes for producing a photographic picture could be carried on; and a 'liquid lens,' that is a lens with glass surfaces of suitable shape, and filled with liquid; though with regard to this invention he can make no claim to originality, such lenses having been patented for telescopes, as long ago as 1785, by a naval officer named Robert Blair. He is also said to have been the first to use a 'triplet' lens, a form of lens very popular until it was superseded by recent improvements. He died in May 1857, and was buried in Kensal Green. A subscription was started for his widow, but as she died in the following year the amount (over 600l.) was devoted to the benefit of his children. A pension of 50l. was also granted them by the crown, on the ground that their father had reaped no benefit from an invention which had been a source of large profits to others.

[Descriptions of Archer's invention in the various photographic text-books, of which the best is in the Report of the Jurors on Class xiv, (Photography) of the 1862 Exhibition; evidence as to his claims of priority in Notes and Queries (first series), vi. 396, 426, vii. 218; information furnished by Dr. Diamond, F.S.A.]

H. T. W.