The Daguerreian Society


On this day (October 12) in the year 1852, the following article appeared 
on the front page of the "Boston Daily Evening Transcript":
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THE HILLOTYPE DISCOVERY.  [To the editors of the National Intelligencer.] 
 Gentlemen:  I have just read in a letter of your Paris correspondent some 
remarks on the subject of "Colored Daguerreotypes," in which allusion is 
made to Mr. Hill, of Westkill, New York, and in which it is stated that Mr. 
Hill has as yet exhibited no specimens of his discovery, while "M. Niepce 
St. Victor, nephew of the celebrated discoverer of photography in France, 
has made the grand discovery, and showed his pictures to the world."  It 
was also stated that "M. Becquerel had produced colored pictures, but he 
was never able to fasten the colors."  On this subject allow me a few 
remarks in justice to the American discoverer of colored photographs.  I 
received a letter from Mr. Hill a few days since, desiring to see me.  He  
 was under the apprehension that he could not live long, having suffered 
from a violent hemorrhage, which he supposed was from the lungs, and 
brought on by his untiring devotion to the perfection of his discovery.  On 
the 1st inst. I visited him, some sixty miles from this place.  I found him 
so far recovered as to be again able to resume his labors, and I am happy 
to say to induce the belief that the hemorrhage was not from the lungs.
   On a previous visit, a year since, he showed me no specimens of his 
discovery, but, from the character of the man, and his manner, I then 
believed him to be strictly truthful and honest, and I was satisfied either 
that he had made the discovery which he claimed, or was under an honest 
delusion in respect to it; but I could not then testify to its actuality 
from personal knowledge.  On the evening of the 1st and morning of the 2d 
inst, however, all doubt of the substantial fact that a great discovery in 
photography had been made by Mr. Hill was dispelled, by his showing me some 
twenty specimens of his results.  The most of these were like all those of 
M. St. Victor, "copies of colored engravings."  They were taken by the 
camera, and not, as has been reported, "mere transfers of colored prints;" 
but all were not "copies of colored engravings."  Two were exquisitely 
beautiful portrait heads from life, and one a full-length of a child from 
life.  One a landscape view from nature, principally buildings, which, 
although imperfect in parts, served, from that very circumstance, to verify 
to me the geniuneness of the discovery.  The conclusions to which I came, 
from what I say, are these:
     First.  Mr. Hill has made the discovery of a process for fixing the 
colors of the camera image, and, although not so perfected in all its 
complicated parts as to be equally true in the color of the various 
objects, is sufficiently developed in its results to give assurance of its 
ultimate perfection.
    Second.  Mr. Hill, in delaying hitherto to impart to the public a 
discovery of such importance, while he has any hope of making it more 
perfect, has acted with a wisdom and propriety which will be appreciated by 
the public, and by none more than by the most distinguished and honorable 
of the Daguerreotype professors.
   Third.  None by the most skilful and taste-endowed practitioners of the 
present photography may expect to succeed in developing the full excellence 
of Mr. Hill's discovery.  It must be in the hands of no ordinary man, but 
will require for the production of a perfect picture the taste, the skill, 
the feeling of thorough and accomplished artists.
   Fourth.  Mr. Hill's process cannot be like M. Becquerel's, for it is 
stated that M. Becquerel "was never able to fix the colors," while the 
colors in Mr. Hill's process are so fixed that the most severe rubbing with 
a puffer only increases their brilliancy, and no exposure to light has as 
yet been found to impair their brightness.  Nor can it be like M. Niepce 
St. Victor's; for "fifteen minutes," it seems, is the least time in which 
some of results were obtained, while ordinarily "it takes two hours of 
exposure," to produce them.  Mr. Hill's, on the contrary, are produced in 
twenty seconds at most, and the most brilliant and most beautiful specimens 
he showed me were obtained in TWO SECONDS!  I also learn that the specimens 
exhibited by M. Niepce at the Great Exhibition were so evanescent that they 
perished before the exhibition closed.
   Fifth.  I could not but reflect on the different positions of those who 
are engaged in Europe and American in unfolding this great scientific 
mystery.  The experiments of Europe have around them, and at command, all 
the appliances of art, all the compounds, the products of the chemical 
labors of the world's best scientific minds, with ample pecuniary means to 
pursue their researches; they are further encouraged by the sympathy of 
 the world of art, and a national patriotism further rallies to the 
protection of their country's claim to the honor of such a discovery.  But 
how is it with the American experimenter?  Shut up in a sequestered valley 
of the Catskill Mountains, with no appliances of art at his command, and 
purchasing and transporting at an expense almost ruinous to him the scanty 
stock of chemicals with which he is to operate, with comparatively few 
about him to sympathize with him in his labors but a devoted wife, 
willingly sharing in his privations; with feeble health and most limited 
means, he untiringly pursues his researches at the hazard of all he has in 
the world, even of life itself, that he may be give to the world his 
perfected discovery.  But at least such a man has the sympathy of those to 
whom his discovery will be of the deepest interest?  The professors of the 
Daguerreotype art will hail it with delight, and award to the discoverer 
the highest meed of honor?  Americans, too, will feel a pride in sustaining 
their country's claim to the discovery?
   What shall I say in answer to these questions?  Yes, it is true; the 
most skilful, the most honorable of the Daguerreotype professors do hail 
Mr. Hill's discovery with enthusiasm, and honor the discoverer.  But, alas! 
it is also true that there are in the Daguerreotype profession some who are 
not only a disgrace to their profession, but to human nature itself.  Some 
of these have been the most prominent in intruding on his privacy, in 
throwing before the public insulting innuendoes as well as positive 
falsehoods, harrassing him with diabolical threats, &c.  But I forbear at 
present.  There is a chapter in the history of this discovery which, for 
the honor of humanity, I will hope may not be required to be given, but, if 
necessary, shall be given, for the purpose at least of showing the nature 
of the trials to which our American discoverer has been subject.  Mr. Hill 
has made a great discovery.  It is not perfected.  There is much yet to be 
done to make it perfect, but he is in advance of all others, and has within 
the year successfully overcome two of his difficulties.  Both yellow and 
white were defective in quality and truth a year ago, both are now 
comparatively obtained.  There are other colors which, in order to make 
them so true as to satisfy an artist's mind, will require yet further 
experimenting.  Is not this reason enough for not at present giving his 
process to the public?  Who has a right to demand him to reveal it to the 
public now?  Who, indeed, has a right to demand it at any time?  I trust 
his life will be spared, not only to perfect his process, but that he may 
reap some reward, both in honor and in profit, for his labors before death 
shall take him from us.
                                With respect, gentlemen,
                                     Your most obedient servant,
                                          SAM'L F. B. MORSE.
 Poughkeepsie, New York, Oct. 4, 1852

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Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       
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10-12-96


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