World exclusive: British Library snaps up historic Fox Talbot archive

May 11, 2006

We can exclusively reveal that the British Library has acquired the historic Fox Talbot photography archive in a move expected to give the public greater access to his work than ever before.

For the past 30 years the precious collection was held by the National Trust but – because it was housed in small area above the Fox Talbot Museum at Lacock in Wiltshire – access to researchers and the general public there was very limited.

It is understood that members of the Fox Talbot family wanted the public and researchers to be given better access to the collection and – because the National Trust did not have the necessary resources – turned to the British Library, which is based in Euston Road, London NW1.

?The gift of the collection to the British Library will – for the first time – allow full access to many hitherto little-studied aspects of the work of one of the most creative scientific minds of the Victorian period,? according to the British Library who confirmed the acquisition this morning.

British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot is considered to be one of the founding fathers of modern photography. He had investigated the action of light on paper, treated at first with nitrate of silver and later with chloride of silver, after using the camera lucida on a trip to Italy in 1833. His experiments led him to produce a picture of his home, Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire and he presented his findings to the world in 1839.

Reacting to the news a spokesman for the National Trust told us: ?This is good news for photography fans and people interested in photography. There has been [public] access before but not to the degree that the British Library is able to offer.?

The collection includes original prints, negatives and other photographic material use by Fox Talbot who was the inventor of the negative/positive process. The British Library spokesperson added: ?Less generally known, but equally important, much of Talbot?s researches were directed towards photomechanical printing processes and the archive also includes unique documentation (early prints, correspondence and research notes) relating to this aspect of his career.?

Clive Field, director of Scholarship and Collections at the British Library, described the archive as a ?hugely important? acquisition, adding: ?Talbot?s connections and correspondence with many of the major scientists and scholars of his time include several figures whose papers are already held by the library. And fuller accessibility to this wealth of primary source material can be expected to stimulate research in the future.?

Stephen Ponder, National Trust Curator at Lacock added: ?We are delighted that the collection?s new home, the British Library, will be able to offer increased access to this marvellous collection.?

The Fox Talbot Museum in Lacock will continue to show some items from the collection under a long-term loan agreement between the British Library and the National Trust that will ensure that Lacock?s Talbot link ?remains unbroken?.

It is understood that the British Library is preparing to show a small display of Fox Talbot images from next Tuesday before opening up more of the collection for larger exhibitions over the next few years.

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