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BRODART, CO. Cat. No. 23-221-003

Digitized by the Internet Archive in 2021




A History 1839 - Igo00







Simultaneously published with this edition of 500 copies in

conventional format are editions in the form of 35 mm. roll

microfilm, 3”x5” microfiche and 3”x5” microprint cards. The

micro editions will remain permanently in print and are available from the

FREDERIC LUTHER COMPANY 2803 East 56th Street - Indianapolis, Indiana



“Time and accident are committing daily havoc on the original (papers) deposited in our public offices. The late war has done the work of centuries in this business. The lost cannot be recovered; but let us save what remains: not by vaults and locks which fence them from the public eye and use in consigning them to the waste of time, but by such multiplication of copies as shall place them beyond the reach of accident.”

—Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Ebenezer Hazard, February 18, 1791

“It is my hope that the Society of American Archivists will do all that is possible to build up an American public opinion in favor of what might be called the only form of insurance that will stand the test of time. I am referring to the duplication of records by modern processes like the microfilm so that if in any part of the country original archives are destroyed a record of them will exist in some other place.”

—Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt before the Society of American Archivists, February 13, 1942

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THE LITERATURE of present day microfilming is highly frag- mented. There are few books devoted to the subject and details of equipment, processes, applications, achievements, ideas, per- sonalities and related matters are scattered in learned journals, house organs, popular magazines, trade papers and specialized publications, in newspapers, proceedings, transactions and simi- lar often obscure places. Many data are not published at ail but exist in reports, memoranda and surveys available only to limited audiences. The fields of application moreover range so widely that few individuals have more than a hazy idea of the scope of the industry. No one really knows the whole story.

For research in microfilming in the 19th century the docu- mentary picture is even worse if that could be possible. Before reading this book few people may have realized that micro- filming has a history extending back to the very dawn of photography as we know it. Through the genius and work of two men, Dancer the Englishman and Dagron the Frenchman, microfilms became a practical reality more than a hundred years ago. Reductions greater than those now in common use were employed to produce microfilms that could meet the rule- of-thumb test of quality, that is, be enlarged back to original size without substantial loss of definition or legibility. Several of these microfilms still preserved are of excellent quality and



are greatly admired today. They were not isolated laboratory triumphs but resulted from commercial applications which in their day were as successful as they were spectacular. Micro- film copying of manuscripts and historical documents for preservation and use was known and practiced. The begin- nings of microfilm in business and industry as well as in science are clearly evident. More perhaps in the way of reproducing scenes and pictures in this form was done then than at the present time. One of the most interesting applications and the best known today was the predecessor of the V-Mail of World War II, the transfer of letters and official dispatches on microfilm by air into Paris during the siege of 1870. The first air mail on any considerable organized scale, the “Pigeon Post” is a monument of postal history; it is as much a mon- ument to successful microfilming. The story is thrilling, com- plete with escape from Paris by balloon, pursuit by hard riding Prussian Uhlans, disguises and final escape. The subsequent account of work with makeshift equipment and supplies ordered by pigeon to be delivered by balloon, reads almost like a novel. It is here more fully described and documented than in any other single place in or out of print. The achievement, however, was only one culmination of a series of developments that made microfilming a practical tool.

If one had the incentive and drive, the patience, the knowledge or intuition of where to look and the spare time of about twenty years he might retrace the path of the author through the resources of many great libraries, museums and private collections. He could also conduct correspondence with individuals in many countries, translate from all current European languages and find here a scrap, there a fragment and somewhere else a nugget of information. All of these would serve to fill in the giant jig saw puzzle which hitherto has constituted the early history of microfilming. The author


has provided a clear guidebook in his chronology and biblio- graphical notes for supplemental research and by his trail blaz- ing has eased the path of future students. He would be the first to declare that the whole story has not yet been told, but the reader will be equally ready to believe that without his efforts it is unlikely that future productive research in this field would be immediately undertaken.

Born in upstate New York, Frederic Luther was first attracted to academic life and specialized in the fields of history, archeology and cultural anthropology. In the process he developed both an intense interest in all branches of photog- raphy and professional skill as a photographer. His first micro- films in any quantity were made in 1934 when, in Mexico, he undertook to reproduce manuscripts, historical and anthropo- logical material using a Leica camera and accessory equipment of his own design. Five years later he left the academic field to specialize in commercial microfilm work, heading the Photo- record Department of Marks & Fuller, Inc. In 1941 Western Electric managed to interest him in heading a Department devoted to microfilm technology, the production and distri- bution of industrial motion pictures and the Company Lecture Bureau. In 1951 he decided to enter the microfilm business and established the Frederic Luther Company in Indianapolis, Indiana. For over 25 years he has pursued his avocation of the study of the history of photography and more specifically the history of microfilm. The present book clearly demonstrates the advantages of a scholarly research background tempered by the experience of a successful business man.

A long time member and supporter of the National Micro- film Association, Mr. Luther is now a member of the Board of Directors. He has been a frequent contributor to programs at Annual Meetings and to the Association’s news sheet, the National MICRO-NEWS. He has held important Committce


Chairmanships and assignments. When the theme ot the 1959 Annual Meeting was announced as “A Centennial of Micro- film Progress, 1859-1959”, to honor the centennial of the granting of the first microfilm patent to René Prudent Patrice Dagron, on June 21, 1859, it was hoped that Mr. Luther might release some part of the manuscript he was known to have pre- pared. At first he demurred in the belief that his close con- nection with the Association would make such publication undesirable. He was finally persuaded to complete a man- uscript and permit it to be published under the auspices of the National Microfilm Association in time for release at the forth- coming Washingon, D.C. Annual Meeting in April, 1959.

This edition is limited to 500 copies in conventional printed format but arrangements have been made to keep it permanently in print through the issuance simultaneously of copies in microfilm and microprint formats. The Association is both pleased and proud to assist to some degree in making this fundamental study available to its members and to the general public.


Annapolis, Md. December, 1958


THE NAMES of two men dominate the early days of microfilm- ing. To the English scientist, inventor and optical manufac- turer J. B. Dancer, whose talents and varied interests left their marks in many fields, belongs the credit for making the first microphotograph and for carrying on many of the experiments which made microfilming a practical medium for reproducing manuscripts, printed and pictorial records.

To the French chemist, portrait photographer and in- ventor, René Dagron, a man of ingenuity and single-minded purpose, we owe the establishment of microfilming on a com- mercial scale.

Other names appear in the story of microphotography during the three-score years covered by this History. Many were men of great capabilities and wide renown in other fields. Their talents were not, however, applied in any great degree toward microphotography. To an extent quite unusual in modern technology, current microfilm and micro-opaque tech- niques, equipment, and applications trace their ancestry directly to the work of the two pioneers, Dancer and Dagron. Many of today’s concepts in this burgeoning industry were first employed by one or the other of these men.



Of the two, John Benjamin Dancer was born first. He came into a world trembling under the weight of at least two bitter wars, adding his small voice to the din of the London of George III, on October 8, 1812. England, of course, was embroiled in its second war with its former colonists in Amer- ica; and the garrison at Fort Dearborn, where Chicago later was to rise, had shortly before been massacred by Britain's Indian allies. On the Continent the kulaks of Tsar Alexander were returning to the ashes of Moscow, and the half-million men of Napoleon were tramping the destiny of their leader into the endless snows of Russia.

The conquests of man over the stubborn allies of economic complacency and social stagnation were beginning to flower in the industrial revolution. A race of technological giants was abroad in the land: Davy, Ampere, Volta and Watt were stiil alive and active; Robert Fulton and Paul Revere had not yet been gathered to their fathers. Soon to burst upon the world with new and staggering concepts were Darwin, Morse, Wheatstone and McCormick.

Between the birth of Dancer in 1812 and that of René Dagron on March 17, 1819, an entire age passed into the shadows of folklore. Names as familiar as the memories of childhood—names to conjure with—disappeared as the golden leaves of the maple before the onrushing winds of autumn. In 1813 died Benjamin Rush, Zebulon M. Pike, and the Indian Prophet Tecumseh. In 1815 and 1816 it was Frederick Mes- mer and Gouverneur Morris. In 1818 America saw Paul Revere slip into the pages of history at the age of eighty-three.

Eagerly receptive to new modes of life and the cultivation of a leisure until then restricted to the moneyed and landed classes, the common man saw his era begin to dawn. In 1819, the very year of Dagron’s birth, the first American-built steam- boat Savannah blazed a trail from Europe to America, a trail


which was to teem with migrating laborers, farmers, mech- anics and merchants within a few years. Indeed, while but a few thousand such persons made the westward trek in 1820, the migration swelled until more than five million migrants had followed the industrial rainbow within the next four decades.

Although we tend to think of the Nineteenth Century as one of ruthless economic exploitation of the workers, the long swing of the pendulum of social justice toward a more equitable form of class economy already had set in. It comes as some- what of a surprise to learn that the Philadelphia cobblers had been unionized as early as 1792. It is even more astounding to find the printers, machinists, hat makers, millwrights, fur- riers, loom weavers and plumbers organized within ten years after the abolition (on the Fourth of July, 1827) of slavery in the State of New York.

With technology and collective bargaining combining to create a new and powerful class proud to call itself bourgeois, a yearning for some of the luxuries of the aristocracy was quickly spread. Sentiment, and a desire to “keep up with the Joneses” made these people hunger for a means to provide portraits within range of each new genealogically-conscious family.

At the other end of the supply-and-demand channel were artists and technicians who long had sought a means of mech- anically recording what their eyes had seen. Indeed, there has been circulated for a number of years a cynical phrase, to the effect that all or most of the so-called discoverers of photo- graphy were “terrible painters”; the implication is, of course, that having failed to make the grade with a brush they inge- niously whipped up a clever substitute for their indifferent talents. As is common to many such deceptively simple Witticisms, it aside from the undeniable fact that Daguerre


and some other early experimenters were painters is a com- plete misrepresentation of fact.

This is no place to discourse on the relationship of photo- graphy to the fine arts. Any reader wishing to follow the argument through to its inevitably inconclusive results is invited to read the recurrent and exasperatingly dull articles which have been popping up in photographic journals for over a century. The rest of us may forget these bombastic gene- ralizations and judge for ourselves the artistic merits of such pioneers in photography as Leonardo da Vinci, David Octavius Hill, and the first American Professor of Fine Arts, Samuel F. B. Morse. We may also note how many of the names of the pioneers given in succeeding paragraphs belong to scientists, not painters.

Before the shopkeepers and the craftsmen of the Nine- teenth Century could secure their low-cost portraits the photo- graphic process had to be simplified. The evolution of photo- graphy is a fascinating but also a long and complex subject, and must be but briefly summarized here. As every person who ever loaded film into a box camera is well aware, the photographer’s camera consists of a track to hold the sensitive film in place, a lens to focus the image on that film, and a box to keep out stray light. This basic construction, with one exception, is found in the camera described by Aristotle, at a time when Alexander the Great was still a child in Macedonia. The exception was that in place of the lens was a tiny opening, acting precisely as does the pinhole aperture “lens” of today’s student of photography. This tiny aperture focused the image on a white screen in the back of the camera, while the box was large enough for a person to enter it and trace the image on the screen.

The pinhole aperture was replaced by lenses sometime about 1550; the lenses served to give both a sharper and a


brighter picture on the screen. As time went on the con- struction of lenses was improved and a translucent screen was substituted for the opaque one; in easily portable form, since the image now could be traced from outside the box, the camera became the tool of many painters. It was used for trac- ing in the outlines of a subject, leaving more time for the free- hand incorporation of detail, and proved invaluable to many explorer-artists who illustrated the popular travel books of the early Eighteen Hundreds. The engravings of Mayan ruins with which Frederic Catherwood illustrated John L. Stephens’ “Incidents of Travel in Central America” in 1839 were made with one of these camera-lucidas.

With the perfection of the camera it was only natural that attempts be made to capture its image photographically. The alchemists of the dark ages were well aware that compounds ot silver darkened under certain conditions. In 1727, the year that Isaac Newton died, a versatile German chemist named Schulze proved that the darkening agency was light. By placing black stencils over paper coated with silver chloride he succeeded in making the first photograms, although they were of course, fugitive, for he had no way of preventing the black- ening of the rest of the silver sheet when he had removed the stencils.

Although numerous other chemists duplicated the results of Schulze in their experiments, it was not until a century and a half later that the next major advance in photography was made. Then, in 1819, an English astronomer, Sir John Herschel, discovered that a colorless salt compound named sodium thio- sulfate would dissolve away all silver compound not previously exposed to light while leaving the exposed and blackened grains of silver unharmed. Thus, with the use of this salt (identical to the “hypo” of the modern photographer), the future of


photography was assured. It now became primarily a job of adaptation and refinement.

Seldom has there been such an air of popular expectancy over an impending scientific development as there was over the prospect of every untaught draftsman becoming his own Leonardo. And yet, the experiments and plans of the photo- graphic pioneers of the Eighteen Twenties and Thirties were shrouded in the heaviest secrecy. This secrecy cost the world’s first photographer, Joseph Nicéphore Niepce, his legitimate claim to that title for over 125 years; not until the 1950’s did Helmut and Alison Gernsheim discover and publish the historic first photograph, and the process by which is was produced never was in common use.

Finally, in 1839, when Dancer and Dagron both were in their twenties, photography officially was introduced to the waiting world. And when the announcement came it turned out that not one but two basic processes were involved. One of these was the daguerreotype, invented by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, a successful French painter of dramatic canvases in which concealed lights caused the scenes to move and change before the very eyes of the audience.

The second process was the Talbotype, invented by Wil- liam Henry Fox-Talbot, an English gentleman and a former member of Parliament. These two methods, each vigorousiy championed on both sides of the Channel, were to share the photographic field for well over a decade, until both were rendered obsolete by the long popular “wet plate.”

Without delving too deeply into its mysterious workings, we may note here that the daguerreotype was a metal plate, either silver or silver-coated copper, which was subjected to iodine fumes to make it more highly sensitive to light. After receiving the image produced by the camera lens the plate was developed by being subjected to the action of mercury fumes.


The resulting photograph, a positive or correct reproduction of light and shade in the original, remained on the surface of the original plate. Duplication was possible only by making a number of original snapshots of the scene; later, it became possible to duplicate the daguerreotype by re-photographing the plate itself.

This was the process by which the first microphotographs were made.



“We find miniatures of printed books (holding out the promise of future publications in miniature), or that of condensing in volume for preservation in Museums, etc., the enormous mass of documentary matter which datly more and more defies collection from the mere impossibility of stowage, but which will one day become matter of history.”

—Report by the Jury on Photography (1851 London World’s Fair)

JosEPH SIDEBOTHAM started the whole controversy.

Sidebotham was a well-to-do printer of calico cloth in Bowdon, England. In his spare time he was an enthusiastic microscopist and amateur photographer, travelling to nearby Manchester to meet and talk with other gentlemen of like inte- rests. Out of these talks grew, in 1858, the Microscopical Sec- tion of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, in whose founding he was a prime mover.

Sidebotham also was a member of the Manchester Photo- graphic Society, and in 1859 was acting as its vice president. When the vice president arose to speak or to read a paper the assembled members knew that they were in for a lively time.

On the first Wednesday in April, 1859, Mr. Sidebotham arose, addressed the Chair, and immediately launched into his



current paper, entitled “On Micro-Photography.” He was annoyed, it soon appeared, by certain claims made in the cur- rent newspapers. The guilty articles referred to a marvelous new invention, the making of tiny photographs which were to be viewed through a microscope. New invention, indeed! Why, his friend John Dancer had made such novelties for nearly twenty years. Not only did he, Joseph Sidebotham, have in his possession two of the Dancer microphotos which were over six years old, but he understood that Queen Victoria had long ago been given a set of microscopic portraits of the royal family. “Mr. Dancer’s modesty will not allow him to speak of his own discoveries,” continued the speaker, “but I am sure you all join in the annoyance I have felt in seeing persons coolly claim as their own new discoveries what our respected townsman has accomplished so many years ago”’.

The publication of Mr. Sidebotham’s paper came as a distinct shock to the editor of the Photographic Journal, a Lon- doner named George Shadbolt, who had started making and selling microphotos as novelties in 1854, considering himself the originator of the process. In an editorial he called upon Sidebotham to substantiate his claims.

In his reply, dated May 4, 1859, Sidebotham not only reiterated his earlier claims for Dancer, but included letters from Dancer and from E. W. Binney, a well-known and re- spected geologist of Manchester. The whole formed a body of evidence so overwhelming that a downcast Shadbolt published as an introduction to the letters, a retraction of his own claims to priority.

If the controversy had shattered the illusions of George Shadbolt, it at the same time established, once and for all, John Benjamin Dancer of Manchester as the world’s first microfilm technician. This priority is often overlooked today by many writers on the subject usually in favor of the founder of


commercial microfilm, the Frenchman, René Dagron but since 1859, the fact of Dancer’s claim to priority never has been seriously disputed.

John Benjamin Dancer was the only son of Josiah Dancer, a versatile and popular English optical craftsman and lecturer. He was born, as mentioned previously, in London on October 8, 1812. At an early age he became an apprentice in his father’s business. This was not a natural course to take, for Josiah (his father) had served an apprenticeship in the optical work shop of his father, Michael Dancer, and later had been placed under the tutelage of a Mr. Troughton, founder of the firm of Cooke, Troughton and Simms, telescope makers in the city of York; Cooke, Troughton and Simms today is a well-known firm manufacturing engineering and scientific instruments, and is a subsidiary of Vickers, Ltd.

Young John Benjamin Dancer was about five years old when his grandfather died in 1817. About a year later Josiah moved the family business and his five children to Liverpool. Omnivorous in his reading, pedantic in his relations with his fellow man, Josiah Dancer become well known among the bluestockings of Liverpool as a popular lecturer in physics and astronomy. His abundant energy and social graces (he played the pianoforte and the organ) found some measure of addi- tional expression when he helped to found the Liverpool Lite- rary and Philosophical Society and the Liverpool Mechanics’ Institute. Proficient in reading the Western classics in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, he also found application for his unusual ability to read the world’s most ancient mathematical treatises in their original Arabic and Egyptian texts. What he learned he passed on to others, and it is recorded that the lecture-hungry members of the Literary and Philosophical Society were more accustomed to seeing Josiah Dancer on the rostrum than any other member. Josiah himself taught the classics and the sci-


ences to his son, leaving only the French lessons to a professional tutor. Following the family tradition he soon took John into the business, and the boy soon proved invaluable as an assistant at his father’s frequent lectures.

In 1835 Josiah died, and John was left alone to carry on the business. Although he still was in his early twenties, his father’s lessons had given him a decided versatility in the sci- ences, and he continued Josiah’s lecture program; it is not at all improbable that the Dancers had found their science lec- tures to be a profitable form of public relations activity. John also continued the laboratory experiments which he had been conducting throughout his adolescent years. He long had been interested in the optical projector, or the “magic lantern” as it then was called. To increase the brilliance of the screen image, he in 1837 replaced the oil lamp illuminant behind the transparent art slide with a lump of lime made incandescent in a flame of oxygen and hydrogen; this “‘lime-light”’ projector was popular throughout the rest of the century and, through its application to theatrical spotlights, has given us such current phrases as “a craving for the lime-light.”

A year later, in 1838, Dancer discovered a means for depo- siting copper electrolytically; at about the same time he in- vented the rapid action spring make-break contact which made possible such devices as the electric door buzzer. In neither case did he patent his invention. A man of many talents, he was experimenting at this same time with the production of ozone anticipating Schénbein, who identified and named the gas in 1840.

When the news of Talbot’s and Daguerre’s success in pro- ducing permanent photographs was announced, Dancer imme- diately began his own experiments with the newly published formulae. Since Talbot effectively discouraged the use of his process by attempting to retain control through patents,


Dancer in common with many other enthusiasts took up daguerreotypy. He became England’s first commercial photo- grapher located outside London.

Late in 1839, having worked until now entirely from pub- lished accounts of the Daguerre process, he set out for London to examine the first exhibit in England of Daguerre’s own pho- tographs. It was quite an undertaking, this trip to London, for instead of being a train ride of but a few hours it was a stage- coach journey over rough and rutted post-roads, requiring three whole days. The trip ended in complete satisfaction for Dancer, however, since he quickly realized that his own daguerreotype plates were fully equal in quality to those of the inventor himself.

After his return to Liverpool Dancer began the manu- facture of daguerreotype cameras and added them to his already impressive line of optical products. To promote the sale of these cameras he offered to process the plates exposed by the users of his equipment. This item is of interest, for it estab- lishes him as the first commercial practitioner of ‘““D & P” work (developing and printing) in all England, the prototype in fact of the modern drug store’s photographic department.

Active as he was with microscope and camera, it seems only natural that Dancer should have attempted to combine the features of the two techniques. And so in 1839 he installed a microscope lens (of one-and-a-half inch focal length) in a camera and succeeded in making a microphotograph. The photograph so obtained was examined under a microscope, and many were the o/’s and ah’s emanating from the friends of Dancer who saw it. This, the earliest example of microphoto- graphy on record, had for its subject a document twenty inches long; at the 160:1 reduction used by Dancer the image was one- eighth of an inch in length, yet the writing on the document was described as perfectly legible under a 100x microscope.


This ancestor of all microfilm documents has long since disappeared, and we have no other samples of Dancer’s 1839 work along these lines. We do know, however, that he conti- nued to make such photographic novelties for a time, and even produced some experimental microphotos with lenses made from the eyeballs of freshly-killed animals.

At about the same time as his microphotographic experi- ments, he began making photomicrographs, or larger-than- life-size photographs of microscopic subjects. Here Dancer cannot be credited with the first such successful photographs, but it is of passing interest to note that about a year after the introducion of daguerreotypy he was able to exhibit before an assemblage of 1500 persons a daguerreotype of a flea which covered a 642 x 8% inch plate. All of his photomicrographs also have disappeared.

Some months afterwards, in 1841, Dancer and his family (for he had married shortly after the death of his father) moved from Liverpool to Manchester. As a business partner he took along a fellow technician, and the new shop was adver- tised as “Abraham and Dancer, Opticians and Philosophical Instrument Makers.” Dancer’s first home in Manchester was in suburban Cheetham Hill; in the rear of the house he built a private astronomical observatory. Continuing his interest in the popular lecture series, he became a member of the Manches- ter Literary and Philosophical Society in 1842, and there made many influential friends, some of whom were even then achieving more than local renown.

One of these was Dr. James Prescott Joule, a twenty-three year old physicist who was engaged in research on mechanical- thermal relationships research which was to result in the law known to every student of physics as Joule’s Equivalent. Dr. Joule was a faithful customer of the Dancer shops, and in 1843 he requested the optician to build several


thermometers for laboratory use; upon their completion the physicist pronounced them the first scientific thermometers with any pretense to accuracy ever made in England.

Abraham soon tired of the partnership; it was dissolved in 1845, after which Dancer continued alone. At about the same time he moved his home and business to a large house in suburban Ardwick, there continuing his flourishing trade in telescopes, sextants, transits, and microscopes. One of his earliest microscope purchasers in Manchester was the noted chemist John Dalton, originator of modern atomic theory; the microscope he built for Dalton was displayed (with appro- priate comments on its high quality) before the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society some 80 years later.

While Dancer continued to make microphotographs on daguerreotype plates, he considered them primarily as novelties, of no great commercial value. The image was weak and re- quired an expensive microscope for viewing, which in turn meant careful control of the light used to illuminate the tiny image. Although he continued to make them for his friends, and customers, his activities in the field were designed to show his technical skill and the high quality of his camera lenses and microscopes. He had about exhausted the possibilities of the medium as long as it was restricted to the metal plate of the daguerreotype.

Meanwhile, several inventors had been working with vari- ous materials which would have a greater degree of sensitivity to light than the Daguerre plate, while holding the fineness of detail of that process, yet with a transparency far surpassing that of the Talbot paper negative. The most successful of these processes was introduced by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851, in which collodion nitrate (guncotton) , dissolved in ether and alcohol, was coated on a glass plate, which was next sensi- tized by immersion in a bath of silver nitrate. This was the


long-popular wet plate, which must be collodionized, sensi- tized, and loaded into a light-proof plate holder, all in very weak light; next placed in the camera and exposed; and finally developed and fixed (again in darkness) before the collodion solvents have had a chance to evaporate.

Dancer, as usual, was quick to grasp the potentialities of the Archer wet-plate, realizing that here was an answer to the drawbacks of the daguerreotype microphotograph. There is no direct evidence to date his first experiments with collodion, but in February 1852, less than a year after the introduction of the process, he made the first collodion microfilm.

Dancer’s many-faceted mind was busy with other matters in 1852, and he did not immediately capitalize upon his novel product. At about this time he invented the photographically produced lantern slide, which replaced the hand-drawn slides so popular with Early Victorian owners of magic lanterns. Also during 1852 he made another important contribution to photo- graphic history: the first twin-lens stereoscopic camera. Where the pictures for the stereoscope in Grandmother’s parlor hitherto had been made with twin cameras or by making successive exposures with a single camera, Dancer’s camera focused the paired images in a single three-pound box on a 3% x 6% inch plate. He determined the correct spacing of the two lenses (called the interocular distance) to be no greater than three inches, a dimension not materially different from that recommended for similar equipment today.

Dancer’s original stereoscopic camera, built of mahogany and equipped with the original matched 4% inch, F/5.3 lenses, is in the collection of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. His attempts to patent it were unsuccessful because he had sold such a camera to one of his customers, thus throw- ing the design into the public domain. Later, however, he did patent an improved model on September 5, 1856.


His interest in microphotos had not flagged during these experiments, although he apparently made relatively few sam- ples. Then, in the spring of 1853, another milestone in the history of microfilm was passed. William Sturgeon, famed for his electrical experiments, had recently died, and three of his friends (including Dr. Joule) had commissioned a_ local sculptor to carve a memorial tablet in his memory. Edward William Binney, a Manchester geologist of some note and one of the sponsors of the tablet, took Dancer to the sculptor’s studios to view the tablet; while there the geologist requested Dancer to photograph the inscription before it was sent to the place of installation, the church at Kirby Lonsdale.

On the same day as Dancer’s visit, April 23, 1853, the sculptor delivered the tablet to the photographer’s home in Ard- wick. Here, two days later, Dancer photographed the tablet on a standard size negative, which he then copied with his microfilm camera, producing a positive image in which 680 letters of the inscription filled a frame but a sixteenth of an inch in length. ‘Within a month of the last-named date”’, Binney later wrote him, “in the end of May, 1853, you pre- sented me with a microphotograph of the tablet, which I received with much gratification and surprise, having expected only a common, and not a microphotograph from you.”

In addition to the one he gave to Binney, Dancer made several other microfilm copies of the Sturgeon inscription, mounting them with Canada balsam on standard 3 x 1 inch microscope slides for use with 100 power microscopes; these he gave to his friends among the scientists of Manchester, includ- ing our old acquaintance, Joseph Sidebotham. These were the microphotographs which, six years later, were to be the evi- dence which earned for Dancer acknowledgment as the inventor of microphotography.

The extreme interest aroused locally by his microphotos


indicated a lucrative market to Dancer, and some time later he began supplying similar slides to Manchester novelty dealers. The popularity of the slides grew until their manufacture formed a considerable part of Dancer’s business.

A description of Dancer’s microfilm camera and method of operation has come down to us through his son:

“An ordinary microscope was not used. A bat’s wing burner furnished the light (behind a conventional large-size negative) and this was placed inside an optical lantern, the image passing through a lens and condensing system giving a convergent beam of light, the latter finally entering the micro-objective (in this case a 14”) from the back. The whole thing was horizontal, and the entire apparatus was enclosed in a canvas-covered tent, a sort of improvised dark room. As a matter of fact, the apparatus was a double one, the same light source serving for two lens systems, one on each side, so that when the work was in progress two people were kept busy changing the negatives and slides, developing, finishing, etc. In this way large numbers could be turned out with little loss of time.”

Meanwhile, other photographers had begun experimenting with high-reduction photography, entirely unaware of Dancer’s work. That several independent discoveries of the technique should occur contemporaneously is not extraordinary; George Shadbolt, editor of The Photographic Journal (forerunner of the British Journal of Photography) and one of the claimants to its invention, wrote:

“The production of very small photographs is so obvious a possibility as to suggest itself to many photographers without its even calling forth a

remark; and having produced them, those possessed of a microscope would as naturally view them by its aid. We know many who did so”.

Although Shadbolt later withdrew his claim in favor of Dancer as the first to make microfilms, he did engage in com- mercial production of microfilms during 1854. He was the first to use the term “‘microphotograph” for his high-reduction


films mounted on glass, “for examination only by aid of the microscope, as indeed is a necessity, for they cannot be distin- guished without’’.

“The very word ‘micro-photograph’ we also coined to describe them, upon the occasion of our supplying Messrs. Smith and Beck, the noted micro- scope makers of Coleman Street (London), with some which they desired to have for sale. We find an entry made in our pocket book at the time, dated March 29, 1854, when we furnished them with twenty-four speci- mens...

“The dimensions of these portraits and landscapes ranged from the 1/40 to the 1/20 of an inch square, that is the one-sixteen hundredth to the fowr-hundredth part of a superficial inch, one of them being a pretty extensive view of Paris. . .

“The lens employed by us was an achromatic miscroscope objective glass of 2/3 of an inch equivalent focus, manufactured by Messrs. Smith and Beck, and the negative was placed at a distance of about threet feet from it.”

Another worker at this time was the treasurer of the Pho- tographic Society of London (now the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain). This gentleman, Mr. A. Rosling, exhibited his results to the Society on March 3, 1853. The Rosling microphotos, being copies of a page from the I/lus- trated London News, are the first newspaper microfilms on record. The photographer, however, had used the printed page not as a means merely of compressing the information con- tained within it, but as a focusing target for lens-testing pur- poses.

The best description of these photographs is supplied by Rosling himself:

“In every instance I have found the definition very perfect; and the one now on the table is the eight-hundredth part of the original size: the length of the lines composing the lens is the seven-hundred-and-fiftieth part of an inch, and about half the thickness of the human hair. The thing, by being looked at, will speak for itself as to definition”;

whereupon another member, Sir Thomas Wilson, placed in the record: “You can read it quite perfectly”.



“The microscopic uses of the photograph have merely been hinted at, never tried more than as interesting experiments. The recent burning of the (New York) City Hall, though no great loss has been sustained in docu- ments, shows the liability to greater danger... Let us imagine the number of wills, or worse because more are generally interested of mortgages liable to be destroyed, which ... would cause boundless litigation... A microscopic negative of which, carefully stowed away... would give a docu- ment as reliable as the original, by which the vexed question of the right of property might be fixed. And yet hundreds of thousands of such negatives might be put away in suitable boxes, in a fireproof vault underground, to be resuscitated upon the loss of the objects from which they were taken ,

I trust the press will agitate it until it is the custom to make microscopic negatives of all valuable public documents.”