Glasgow, Edinburgh and London: William Mackenzie, 1862-1863. Francis Frith. Deluxe Edition. Two volumes, folio (450 x 330mm). , 1344pp., 57 unnumbered leaves of albumin prints (230 x 160mm), mounted on card stock. Crimson morocco over wooden boards, elaborately tooled in gilt and blind; edges mounted in brass, double brass clasps with thistle motif; covers with a broad, blind-stamped border around a recessed central panel with the crowned cipher of Queen Victoria in gilt; gilt tooled spine with 5 raised bands; a.e.g., marbled endleaves with gilt dentelles. Covers with some mild traces of use; single crease in each marbled endleaf (partially detached in second volume); occasional light to moderate foxing, mostly confined to the plate mounts; albumin prints in fine condition (often with foxing extending about 5mm from the edges into the mount). Overall a very good set, with a fine series of photographs, notable for their technical achievment.
Deluxe edition, one of 170 copies, complete with all 57 albumen prints. Produced for the 1862 International Exhibition, and dedicated to Queen Victoria, then recently in mourning for the death of Prince Albert, this work appeared at a time when photography, though still a laborious and expensive process, was just beginning to become a popular activity. Victoria, herself, was an amateur photographer, and "[t]he royal couple had been enthusiastic supporters of photography in England from the beginning; in 1853, they became founding patrons of the Photographic Society Club" (K. Fiedorek). Francis Frith (1822-1898), the devout Quaker whose photographic images grace the present work, was one of the best-known photographers to work in the Near East, and the most commercially successful photographer of the nineteenth century. Finding his elementary studies tedious, Frith left school at the age of ten, apprenticed with a grocer, and eventually started his own business. He later went into printing, sold the grocery business to a competitor at a substantial profit, and went on to devote himself to photography. "The growing Victorian interest in the East and its exotic and historic attractions caught the attention of this astute businessman" (Perez). Between 1856 and 1860, Frith made three photographic expeditions to Egypt, Ethiopia, Sinai, and the Levant, accompanied by the engineer Francis Herbert Wenham who provided technical assistance in mechanics and optics. While Perez notes that Frith's "approach was always a strictly commercial one, and his concern was to make truthful and accurate views of the area" he readily concedes that "[t]he technical quality of Frith's photographs is superior." Frith employed the new wet collodion process in which glass plate negatives were sensitized, exposed, and developed while still wet. While technically demanding, the process yielded rich detail and broad tones. "Frith's were the first original wet-plate photographs of Jerusalem and the Holy Land to reach a wide English-speaking audience, and his pictures of the small Palestinian towns were most likely the first published anywhere" (Nir, p.66).
Perhaps the most novel aspect of this celebrated edition of the Bible, and certainly a harbinger of things to come, was the way in which the photographer "presented the radical possibility of seeing photographs of the biblical sites alongside related verses of scripture... he sought to defend and promote his faith by conscripting the veracity of science and materialism to his cause and considered photography to be the most effective medium for his campaign" (Foster et al.). This vision is manifest even in such details as the re-captioning of prints previously offered for sale, so that the new descriptions would more clearly reference the King James text. It should be noted that while the printing was still done by hand, this was one of the earliest books for which machinery was used for composing. Original publisher's price = 50 guineas. Another version of this work was published at London in 1860-1862 by Eyre & Spottiswoode; sometimes confused with the present work, it was issued in 20 parts, each containing a single photographic print by Frith.
K. Fiedorek, A Photographic Bible Fit for a Queen, NYPL Blog, 2014. Foster, Heiting and Stuhlman, Imagining Paradise, pp. 68-69. Gernsheim, Incunabula of British Photographic Literature, 1839-1875, p.36, no.184. Herbert, The English Bible, 1940 (1217). Y. Nir, The Bible and the Image, The History of Photography in the Holy Land, 1939-1899, esp. chap. 3: "Early Traveling Landscape Photographers". N. Perez, Focus East: Early Photography in the Near East 1838-1885, pp.163-165. Item #49952