Hillotype, print of woman holding basket

Description (Brief)
The Photographic History Collection at the National Museum of American History holds an extraordinary series of early color photographs: sixty-two color daguerreotype plates made by Rev. Levi L. Hill in the early 1850s in Westkill, Greene County, New York. This is the largest collection in the world of Heliochromy, a rare early color photographic process based on silver chloride.
Hill’s color process was extremely complex, consisting of coating a daguerreotype plate with multiple layers of a compound of different metals that reacted to the different colors in the spectrum. The achievement of inventing a color photographic process in 1850 was even more remarkable considering that Hill was not trained as a scientist and lived in a very remote area of New York State. Yet, Hill was indisputedly an important figure in early history of American photography, an entrepreneur, and an enthusiastic innovator. He wrote the first, and one of the best, manuals on daguerreotypy, "A Treatise on Daguerreotype" in 1850; and in 1856 he wrote the first manual on color photography, "Treatise on Heliochromy", which includes a description of his experiments and an overview of all the means of chemically producing pictures in natural colors with light.
Among the important works by Hill are many daguerreotype photographs of European color prints, and art reproductions such as this Hillotype copying a print of a woman holding a basket. X-ray analysis of this Hillotype plate shows traces of bismuth pigment and Prussian blue organic dye in blue areas.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Date made
ca 1850s-1860s
Hill, Levi
Physical Description
copper plate (overall material)
photographic emulsion (overall material)
chemicals (overall material)
overall: 8 1/2 in x 6 1/2 in; 21.59 cm x 16.51 cm
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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