Camera lucida

The first camera lucida was designed by William Hyde Wollaston in 1807. It was designed to aid drawing, perspective in particular, allowing the artist to draw the different parts of their landscape in proportion. It is similar to a camera obscura except no dark room is needed. Typically a camera lucida is made up of a prism (to direct the light from the artist's subject onto the page) and a mount that attachs onto the artist's page/ drawing table while holding the prism at eye height.

The camera lucida we have here has unfortunately no mount. John Herschel, like many men of science, was an enthusiatic user of this device using it to sketch landscapes, plants and flowers on his travels throughout Europe and South Africa. Some have suggested that it was his proficiency with this device that meant he missed out on the discovery of photography, whereas in contrast, Henry Fox Talbot had real trouble using this to produce adequate sketches and so put more effort into photography.

Object Details

ID: AST0794
Collection: Astronomical and navigational instruments
Type: Camera lucida
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Unknown
Date made: 19th century
People: Herschel, John Frederick William
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Herschel Collection
Measurements: Overall: 37 mm x 60 mm x 52 mm
Parts: Camera lucida

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.