Talbot Collection

An oak tree in winter
William Henry Fox Talbot, An oak tree in winter, c 1842-43 Calotype negative and salted paper print Talbot Photo 1 (97) and Talbot Photo 2 (757)

The British Library’s Talbot Collection comprises a major archive of correspondence, notebooks, photographs and other material relating to the life and work of the British inventor of photography William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877).

About the collection

The British Library’s Talbot Collection comprises a major archive of correspondence, notebooks, photographs and other material relating to the life and work of the British inventor of photography William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877). This was formerly held at Talbot’s family home at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire and was presented to the British Library in 2006 by Petronella and Janet Burnett-Brown. These collections illustrate the breadth of Talbot’s cultural and scientific interests and achievements, in fields as diverse as mathematics, botany, astronomy and the decipherment of Assyrian cuneiform.

The photographic component of the collection comprises approximately 1,500 papers negatives and prints by Talbot and his circle made between 1839 and the mid-1840s. In addition to Talbot’s own photographs, the collection includes important work from the 1840s by contemporaries such as Rev Calvert Richard Jones (1804-1877) and Rev George Wilson Bridges (1788-1863). There is also a small collection of daguerreotypes which includes portraits of Talbot, his children and his manservant and assistant Nicolaas Henneman (1813-1898). This material is complemented by albums of drawings and prints by members of Talbot’s family.

What is available online?

Catalogues of the collection can be found in the Archives and Manuscripts catalogue.

Transcriptions of the bulk of Talbot’s surviving correspondence, including material held in the British Library, are available online in The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot. The Bodleian Library’s Catalogue Raisonné of the work of William Henry Fox Talbot, directed by Professor Larry Schaaf, will in due course include the British Library’s collection of Talbot photographs, alongside those held in other collections worldwide.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Talbot’s papers, correspondence and notebooks can be ordered for study in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Photographs from the Talbot Collection can be seen in the Print Room, located in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Please note that some material is unavailable for viewing owing to its continued sensitivity to light. Viewing is by appointment only, Monday-Friday. For an appointment, please email apac-prints@bl.uk

Further information

For further reference works, see:

Fox Talbot and the invention of photography, by Gail Buckland (Boston, 1980)

Impressed by Light. British Photographs from Paper Negatives, 1840-1860, by Roger Taylor (New York, 2007)

Out of the Shadows. Herschel, Talbot and the Invention of Photography, by Larry J. Schaaf (New Haven and London, 1992)

The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot, by Larry J. Schaaf (Princeton and Oxford, 2000)

William Henry Fox Talbot. Beyond Photography, edited by Mirjam Brusius, Katrina Dean and Chitra Ramalingam (New Haven and London, 2013)

William Henry Fox Talbot. Pioneer of Photography and Man of Science, by H. J. P. Arnold (London, 1977)

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