Rijksmuseum buys copy of world’s oldest photo book for €450,000

Part of one of the 307 illustrations

Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum has bought a copy of what is said to be the oldest book of photography in the world – a study of British algae dating from 1843.

The photographs were taken by British female photographer Anna Atkins, a botanist whose husband John was a friend of Sir John Hershel, inventor of the cyanotype photographic process in 1842. A year later Atkins began to use the process to take photograms of seaweed by placing the dried algae directly on the cyanotype paper which was then exposed to light.

Atkins published the first edition of Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in October 1843.  At present, about 20 complete or incomplete editions of the book are known to be in existence. Each edition differs in composition and size.

The book acquired by the Rijksmuseum is a rare example because of the large number of photographs (307), the excellent condition of the photographs, and the 19th-century binding.

The Amsterdam museum bought the book at the beginning of this year from a New York artist named Michele Oka Doner for €450,000, making it the Rijksmuseum’s most expensive photography purchase.

The book will take centre stage at an exhibition on 19th century photography which opens on June 17.

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