The Father of Microphotography

J. B. Dancer, the celebrated Manchester optician and instrument maker, was born in London, the son of Josiah Dancer, also an optician and manufacturer of optical, philosophical and nautical instruments. At an early age he became an apprentice in his father's business and in 1835 J. B. took over his father's optical work shop. He then moved to Manchester from Liverpool in 1841 when he was aged 29.

Dancer was an orthodox optician supplying spectacles, as well as being an inventor and instrument maker of outstanding ability. At a young age he had acquired the art of grinding microscope and other types of lenses. During his lifetime he made substantial contributions to microscopy, photography and science. Dancer also began the manufacture of daguerrotype cameras and added them to his already impressive line of optical products. He was established as the first commercial practitioner of developing and printing in all England, the prototype in fact of the modern drug store's photographic department.

Active as he was with the microscope and camera, it seems only natural that Dancer should have attempted to combine the two techniques. In 1839 Dancer pioneered the making of microphotographs mounted on slides for microscope viewing, but the system he first used, the Daguerro process, was not satisfactory. The photographs were on an opaque background and consequently the quality of the enlarged microphotograph under the microscope was poor and could not be viewed with magnification exceeding x20. In 1851 Frederick Scott Archer of Manchester introduced the collodion process which involved a very fine grain image on glass with a sensitized covering of collodion. This process, by which images in very fine detail could be recorded, was used by Dancer to start producing vastly improved microphotograph slides.

So to the English scientist J.B. Dancer, belongs the credit for making the first microphotograph and for creating the microfilming process for photo- graphically preserving manuscripts, printed materials, business records and pictures.