Revolutionizing Manuscript Reproduction

Photozincography, sometimes referred to as Heliozincography but essentially the same process, known commercially as zinco, is the photographic process developed by Sir Henry James FRS (1803–1877) in the mid-nineteenth century.

This method enabled the accurate reproduction of images, manuscript text and outline engravings, which proved invaluable when originally used to create maps during the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain during the 1850s, carried out by the government’s Topographical Department, headed by Colonel Sir Henry James.

While the Ordnance Survey’s Directory General Henry James (Ordnance Survey) claimed to have invented the process, a similar system of document copying had been developed in Australia. John Walter Osborne (1828–1902) developed a similar process for use in Australia and for the same reasons as Sir Henry, to avoid using the tracing system of the pantagraph.[4] While developed at the same time Sir Henry’s process, however as Sir Henry explained to a representative of Mr. Osborne in the quote below, he publicized it first.

I therefore handed this gentleman a copy of my Report, and desired him to read the account given of our process at page 6 of that Report, and to examine the copy of the Deed bound up with it, and not to show me the description of Mr. Osborne’s process if it was differed from ours. After reading it, he said at once it was the same process, and I then told him it was useless for him to attempt to take out a patent as my printed Report had everywhere been circulated.

Sir Henry, despite being the person who oversaw and set up the photography department, was not the actual inventor. The head of the photography department at Southampton, Captain A. de. Scott, did much of the ground work and basic development on photozincography. Sir Henry did acknowledge the work of Captain A. de. Scott in the development and use of the system in the introduction to the photozincographied Domesday Book. Despite this it was Sir Henry who gained most of the public attention through his pamphlet on photozincography. He was knighted in 1861 for services to science. (Source: Wikipedia)

Ordnance Survey Photography Building

Ordnance Survey Photography Building

Newspapers in the 19th century carried announcements and pronouncements about advancements in science. This was a period of rapid growth in scientific discoveries and newspapers were the primary way ordinary citizens learned of new advancements. It was up to the newspaper writers and publishers to communicate the advancements in a way that non-scientifically educated readers could understand and appreciate like in this article from The Christian Recorder below.  This article and others like it are available to Accessible Archives subscribers in the African American Newspapers Collection.


More than once we have suggested the reproduction of rare old books – such as “Shakspeare’s Sonnets” – by the new process of photo-zincography.

By this process, which Sir Henry James has applied to a reproduction of “Domesday Book,” every beauty, every flaw in the type, every peculiarity of punctuation or division in the arrangement of letters, is preserved.

How important such trifles may become, has been recently shown by M. Philarete Chasles, in his letter on the publication of “Shakspeare’s Sonnets.” The idea has been taken up by Mr. Lovell Reeve, who is about to issue a fac simile of the first edition of the “Sonnets,” taken by this new process from the famous copy in the Bridgewater Collection.

This fac simile we have now before us, and we cannot imagine a more perfect or more interesting present to a book-collector, or even to a reader of Shakspeare. The dedication of the Sonnet will enable every one to judge of the value of M. Philarete Chasles’ discovery.

Lord Ellesmere deserves every credit for allowing this fac simile to be made.

Mr. Reeve, we are glad to say, proposes to issue other important books in the same style. “Much Ado About Nothing” is already in hand.

Collection: African American Newspapers
Date: October 4, 1862
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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