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William Henry Fox Talbot Issues the First Photographically Illustrated Book Commercially Published.

6/1844 to 4/1846

From June 1844 to April 1846 British inventor William Henry Fox Talbot published The Pencil of Nature in six fascicules in London through the firm of Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans. This work was illustrated with 24 calotypes or talbotypes, a photographic process invented by Fox Talbot in 1841, in which salted paper prints were made from paper negatives. It was the "first photographically illustrated book to be commercially published," or "the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs."  

Because the work was a complete novelty to the book-buying public Fox Tablot published a brief "Notice to the Reader" explaining the nature of the images:

"The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone without any aid whatever from the artist's pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation."

Fox Talbot originally intended to publish additional fascicules but discontinued publication after six because the work was a commercial failure. "The numbers of issues produced were not great in comparison to printed works for obvious reasons of technical difficulty, but were still considerable for such a pioneering endeavour. There is slight variance in the numbers quoted in different sources but it is certain over a thousand booklets of the six parts were manufactured. It is beyond dispute that 285 copies of the first pamphlet were created and, with encouraging sales figures 150 copies were produced of the second part. It seems probable that 150 copies of each of the final parts were manufactured. Fox Talbot himself sold the parts for 7/6d, 12/- and 21/-. Additionally, some of the completed series were bound together and a subscription list raised headed by Queen Victoria, while Fox Talbot also gifted a few to his family and close friends. A very few of these bound volumes still exist today" (, accessed 01-14-2015). Approximately 40 copies of original edition of The Pencil of Nature have survived.

Two facsimiles were published in print in the 20th century, one in the 21st. The text and images are also available online. 

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

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