Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home


H.H. Snelling, "The Hillotype"
Photographic Art-Journal, June 1851

In accordance with our promise, given in the May number of the a true and impartial statement of the present position of Mr. Hill's new discovery, reviewing carefully his published letters, and the various rumors that have been current for the last four or five months, and candidly express our convictions respecting every feature of the case.

For the last six years, or more, we have been anxiously, and confidently looking forward to the time when daguerreotypes would be taken in all the brilliance and beauty of the natural colors. We were not singular in this respect; equally hopeful on this point were many of the first philosophers of Europe, among them Daguerre himself.

In a former article on this subject we gave a brief history of the attempts made by European savans to arrive at the consummation of this sublime, deeply interesting, and important point in the Daguerrean art, and expressed the deep and lively interest we felt in all the attempts made for its development. It can not, therefore, appear strange, that we should seize the first positive announcement that this great desideratum had been gained, to congratulate the public and our Daguerrean friends. And we were the more elated at the result on account of a natural feeling of national pride. It was not only that the secret was discovered, for this—as we said before—we looked forward to with the utmost confidence, but that the skill of a fellow-countryman had made it, that gave us most pleasure.

We had no reason to doubt Mr. Hill's veracity, and the manner in which he was presenting the fact of his having made the discovery to the Daguerrean artists of the United States would have given us confidence in his assertions, had we positively known him to be wanting in veracity. It is due to him to say that he did not seek for public notoriety in the matter, but that he was quietly presenting the facts of the case to his brother artists personally, or by letter, and that it was not until after the announcement in our first number—which we felt it our duty, as a journalist, to make—having promised in our prospectus to keep our readers advised of every thing new in the art—that Mr. Hill made the fact known to the public over his own signature.

We first hear of the discovery in a very indefinite manner through Mr. Root, of New York, and afterwards was shown a private letter of Mr. Hill's to a distinguished Daguerreotypist of the same city. It was the contents of this letter—which asserted the fact of the discovery in the most positive terms—that induced us to make the announcement in our January issue, which called forth Mr. Hill's first published letter, to be found in our February number.

It will not be necessary for us to go into detail in regard to the probable causes which should develop the secret of daguerreotyping colors, and upon which we founded our belief in the practicability of producing them, as we have already done so in our March number. We shall therefore confine ourselves, as we have before intimated, to a review of Mr. Hill's statements and course in the matter, and present the views we have arrived at from their tenor.

We find that it is the general impression among Daguerrean artists at the South and West, that the announcement of this discovery is nothing more nor less than a scheme, got up by the author to sell his book, and which being accomplished, the matter will be suffered to fall into oblivion as silently as possible.

Now we have some confidence in human self-esteem, if not in integrity, and we are not one of those who judge a man harshly by his acts until we have proof quite positive that he deserves our censure, and we cannot conceive how it is possible for any man respectably situated in society, and claiming to be honest—not to say pious—so carried away by cupidity, as to practice such a swindle upon any community, as this would be were the surmises of some our friends correct. Such a swindle would certainly come under the act for obtaining money under false pretences, for false inducements—if no discovery has really been made—have been held out to Daguerreotypists in order to secure the sale of a work, the actual value of which—comparing it with others of a like nature—is not worth the money charged, although we doubt not that very many operators derive assistance from its perusal, worth more to them than its price. But the fact that a large number have been induced, by the representations of Mr. Hill to purchase several copies, in order that he might be enabled the more speedily to bring before them his alleged discovery, would, in the event of his failure to make his representations and assertions good, in fact, brand him as a swindler, and we do not see how he could escape, were any of those from who he has thus obtained money to prosecute him for it under the act, already alluded to, of this state.

There are very few men—except the professional gambler and pickpocket—who would dare brave such a contingency, even with far less chances of discovery. In a case like the one under discussion it is not relatively merely man to man, but the world is more or less effected by and interested in the affair, and if it be proved to be conspiracy for self-aggrandizement, it is not an isolated community who will be called upon to punish the offender, but the whole world, and his fall would be so low, that no other act could ever again advance him one step in the estimation of his former friends and abettors.

This we conceive to be a fair view of the risk Mr. Hill has run in asserting his discovery for taking Daguerreotypes in the natural colors, unless he has something more than a passing accidental colored impression.


Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home