Gassendi Nasmyth, James  (Scottish, 1808-1890)

One of the earliest, most influential, and still-startling collections of lunar imagery – The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite – was published in 1874. With three decades of “assiduous observation” behind them, British scientists James Nasmyth and James Carpenter not only summed up lunar knowledge to date, but cleverly exploited photography’s descriptive powers to work around the medium’s late nineteenth century technical limitations. While highly detailed close-ups of the moon’s surface were yet to be taken, based upon notes and drawings they made while looking through telescopes, Nasmyth and Carpenter crafted accurate plaster models of the moon’s surface, which when placed in the sun’s rays, would faithfully reproduce the lunar effects of light and shadow, and once photographed would produce most faithful representations of the original.

The book is interesting from a photo-mechanical point of view as over the three editions, multiple processes were used – perhaps as an experiment in itself. Specifically, the frontispiece and plates XII, XIII XVI, and XX are photogravures in the first edition, woodburytypes in second edition; plates II, XIX, XXI, XXIII in first edition are heliotypes, woodburytypes in second edition; plate XIX in first edition has one illustration (glass globe cracked) and two illustrations in second edition (adding the full moon); plate III is woodburytype in both editions, but larger in first edition; plate XIV is woodburytype in both editions, but smaller in the first edition. Our copy, the third edition contains 24 Woodburytypes. [1] [2] [3]


[1] Jennifer Blessing, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection (Guggenheim Foundation, 2004), pp. 23 and 236

[2] James Nasmyth and the Durable Image Posted by Julie L. Mellby on August 21, 2012

[3] Goldschmidt Lucien Weston J Naef and Grolier Club. 1980. The Truthful Lens : A Survey of the Photographically Illustrated Book 1844-1914. 1st ed. New York: Grolier Club The Truthful Lens no 125