Hillotype, landscape of Prattsville, New York

Hillotype, landscape of Prattsville, New York

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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. Included is this image of buildings in the town. This unique collection remains as evidence of the “Hillotypes” made and experiments conducted by Hill to produce photographs with natural colors. No greater controversy has ever appeared in the history of photography. Approximately 60 related articles appeared in journals between 1851 and 1856, as the photography community awaited the details on just how to produce a “Hillotype.”
Notable scientists and daguerreotypists such as Samuel F. B. Morse, Marcus A. Root, John A. Whipple, and Jeremiah Gurney wrote public testimonials to the importance of Hill’s work. But Hill refused to show his pictures immediately after his announcement of success in 1850, and would not disclose the process before it was patented. This caused impatience among fellow photographers. Hill was called an imposter. Journal articles pointed to daguerreotype photographers losing much business while patrons refrained from getting their photographic portraits made, waiting to be photographed in color.
Many photographers felt duped by Hill’s motives, advertising, and requests for more time to perfect his color process. Hillotypes were continually dismissed or denounced as fraudulent even long after Hill’s death. But x-ray and infrared studies of the Smithsonian’s unique collection of Hillotypes in 2007 proved that many of these images demonstrate true natural color photography.
Hill probably photographed this landscape view while overlooking Prattsville, New York, a Catskill Mountain town several miles from where he lived and served as minister of a Baptist church. Hudson River artist Asher B. Durand painted a similar view of Prattsville.
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
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Work and Industry: Photographic History
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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