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probably made in Birmingham

Postcard of Iron.
© National Museums Scotland


This domestic box iron was used by the English photographic pioneer, William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-70). It was made around 1840, probably in Birmingham. Talbot had evolved his negative-positive process from about 1835, using paper. This meant that any number of positive images could be produced from a single negative.

Talbot used an ordinary domestic iron of the period to apply wax to calotype negatives to make them more transparent, and also to help dry the positives. The back plate lifts up to allow a heated triangle of lead to be placed within. The back plate is stamped 'W. BULLOCK & CO'. William S. Bullock, an iron and steel merchant, is recorded in the Birmingham directories from 1817 to 1850.

Talbot heard about Louis Daguerre's (1789-1851) experiments and rushed into print, fearing that his experiments had been preempted. However, the two processes, although both producing images from light and chemicals, could not have been more different. It was Talbot's process, capable of producing many images from a single exposure, which was to prove to be the ancestor of modern photographic processes.

Record details

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Online ID: 000-180-001-215-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0504: National Museums Scotland Part 2
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1936.96
Date: Around 1840
c. 1840
Material: Iron
Dimensions: 4.50" L; 3.25" (heel)
What: Specimen / photographic process / iron
Subject: 21. PHOTOGRAPHY (Departmental Classification)
Who: Fox Talbot (Owner)
W. Bullock and Co., Birmingham (Maker)
Where: England, Warwickshire, Birmingham
Description: Iron fitted with a bolt, used by Fox Talbot in the photographic process
  • Described in A.D. Morrison-Low and J.R.R. Christie (eds.), 'Martyr of Science': Sir David Brewster 1781-1868 (Edinburgh, 1984), pp 95-6 
  • For Talbot, see H.J.P. Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of Photography and Man of Science (London, 1977); and Larry J. Schaaf, Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot and the Invention of Photography (New Haven, 1992). 
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