Camera Lucida

Camera Lucida

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William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828) was an English chemist who, in 1806, applied for a British patent (#2993) for “An Instrument whereby any person may draw in Perspective, or may Copy of Reduce any Print or Drawing.” In 1807, he dubbed this instrument a camera lucida.
Spencer Fullerton Baird (1823-1887), the naturalist who served as the second Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, wrote to his brother William in January 1844: “I wish you could feel rich enough to buy a Camera Lucida. I am full of the idea of making drawings of the Bills, feet, wings & tails of all our birds & it cannot be done accurately without a camera. M’Allister has an excellent one second hand which he offers for 7 dollars. It is the most complete one I ever saw, being fixed for magnified drawing. If you will buy it, I will pay you as I get the money.” In a letter to John James Audubon two years later, Baird noted that “I have got a Camera Lucida now and intend trying to draw with it.” The camera lucida mentioned in these Baird letters may this one in our collections. It is a Wollaston-type instrument with two extra lenses. The “ACKERMANN & Co / Repository of Arts / THE STRAND” label in the box is that of Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834), a German businessman who settled in London and, in 1795, established a print shop and drawing school. Ackermann’s monthly journal, the Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, began publication in 1809.
Ref: William Hyde Wollaston, “Description of the Camera Lucida,” Philosophical Magazine 27 (1807): 343-347.
Spencer F. Baird to William M. Baird, Jan. 31, 1844, in William Healey Dall, Spencer Fullerton Baird (Philadelphia, 1915), pp. 108-109.
Ruthven Deane, ed., “Unpublished Letters of John James Audubon and Spencer F. Baird,” The Auk 24 (1907): 53-70, on 65.
Currently not on view
Object Name
Camera Lucida
Physical Description
brass (overall material)
glass (overall material)
overall: 1 3/16 in x 9 in x 3 in; 3.048 cm x 22.86 cm x 7.62 cm
overall: 1 1/4 in x 9 in x 2 7/8 in; 3.175 cm x 22.86 cm x 7.3025 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Science & Scientific Instruments
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Physical Sciences
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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