James Nasmyth

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James Hall Nasmyth (sometimes spelled Naesmyth, Nasmith, or Nesmyth) (19 August 1808 – 7 May 1890) was a Scottish engineer and inventor famous for his development of the steam hammer. He was the co-founder of Nasmyth, Gaskell and Company manufacturers of machine tools. He retired at the age of 48, and moved to Penshurst, Kent where he developed his hobbies of astronomy and photography.

James Nasmyth’s place in the history of photography lies in the area of scientific illustration. He was a successful inventor who was able to retire in 1856 to pursue his interests as an amateur astronomer. Nasmyth had built his first telescope in 1827 and began to study the surface of the moon in 1846. He made a series of draw- ings recording his observations as photography was not yet able to record images under these conditions. These drawings received a medal when they were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Nasmyth then constructed three dimensional models of the surface of the moon based on these drawings. These models were then photographed under conditions of bright sunlight to emphasis the contours of the terrain. These photographs were of the special type used in the Woodburytype process. In the process of developing these special photographs, the lighter areas were rinsed away, leaving intaglio matrices. Lead was pressed into these matrices to form a relief and this relief was used to print the illustration in the book. The result was an image that more faithfully reproduced the continuous value gradations within the emulsion of a photographic print than the hatching technique of engravings. These Woodburytypes were published in a book titled The Moon as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite in 1874 in collaboration with James Carpenter, Nasmyth’s friend and a professional astronomer associated with the Royal Observatory at Greenwich [1].