Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Art & Architecture > 65. David Octavius Hill

65.  David Octavius Hill (1802-1870).  A Series of Calotype Views of St. Andrews. Edinburgh: D. O. Hill and R. Adamson, 1846. Avery Library, Classics Collection

This volume of twenty-two mounted calotypes is the third book of photographic illustrations to be published and the first such to be devoted to the monuments and scenery of just one city, St. Andrews, Scotland. David Octavius Hill was a painter and illustrator and learned the art of calotype photography from Robert Adamson (1821-1848), with whom he first teamed in 1843, to tackle a daunting group portrait project. Adamson had been trained by his brother, John, who had learned the process from Sir David Brewster, a friend of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877), the inventor of negative-to-positive paper photography.

The Views of St. Andrews has a printed title-page but no table of contents. There are fewer than ten copies recorded, and each differs in assortment and number of images. The calotypes in the Avery copy have faded, as is usual. Alas, the ephemeral medium eerily seems to suit the medieval ruins, nineteenth-century fisher folk, and top-hatted gentlemen depicted. Too fragile for exhibition, the book is preserved and made available through study prints.

Avery acquired this volume early on from a London bookseller. For years it sat on the open shelves, classed with other books on Scotland's cities, more a novelty, perhaps, than a "treasure." Today, as photomechanical processes in book illustration give way to digital ones, the significance of this volume is obvious.

Purchase, 1896

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /