A Manual of Photography 4th Ed Robert Hunt 1854

Fig. 1 – Frontispiece and title page to 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography. This book was contributed to Archive.org by Ryerson University.

Students of photography can read iconic works from the earliest years of photography on Archive.org. This is a huge resource for anyone looking for old formulas or to research the arc of approaches to photography over time. As an example, I’ve posted the Table of Contents from Robert Hunt’s 1854 edition of A Manual to Photography just below (which I found here on Archive.org). When you consider that this book (it’s fourth edition!) was published just 15 years after the first practical discoveries of photographic processes, I think you will agree that this approach provides historic insights that cannot be gleaned from second- and third-generation histories of photography.

Figs. 2-5 – Table of Contents from 1854 (4th) edition of Robert Hunt’s A Manual of Photography.

Archive.org is an amazing resource provides free access to millions of titles and other types of media from collections around the world. Older books, those either out of copyright or published before the era of copyright, are available for download as a PDF (see below) and in formats specific to many eReaders. More recent titles, especially those from the mid-20th century on, can be “checked out” via download for 14 days without charge.

Fig 6 – The original membership list for the Photo-Secession from Alfred Stieglitz’s 1904 catalog “A collection of American pictorial photographs as arranged by the Photo-Secession and exhibited under the auspices of the Camera Club of Pittsburg, at the Art Galleries of the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburg, February MDCCCCIV.” (here on Archive.org)


Tips for Searching on Archive.org

Fig. 7 – Search results for "colour photography"

Fig. 7 – eBooks and Texts search results for “colour photography” (here on Archive.org). Tip 1: on a search results page, scroll to the bottom and bounce to see more search results. Tip 2: right-click on any cover to open the Full Catalog Record for that specific scan.

It should be no surprise that I’ve spent considerable time on Archive.org researching and downloading antiquarian books on color photography. Here are several tips that I’ve discovered along the way:

  • To search on books (and not films, audio, etc.): click on the book icon near the upper left corner of the screen to head to the “eBooks and Texts” search page
  • Start with the generic “Search” box on the left rather than searching within a specific collection (such as the Getty Research Institute).
  • Search on alternate spellings: “color” and “colour” provide different sets of results
  • Scroll down and bounce the bottom of the search page (Fig. 7 above) to see more results. Do this several times to assure that you have exhausted your options.
  • Look for different editions: these can provide insights on changes in technology over time
  • Look at several sources of the same edition: the quality of scans can vary widely
  • When you are looking at a specific title, scroll to the bottom of the page and check out the Similar Items (shown in Fig. 8 below). These suggestions will include alternate scans of the same edition, scans of different editions, and scans of books with similar titles. By right-clicking you can open each of these other scans in separate windows, which makes it easy to jump between them.
  • Copy (or bookmark) the link next to “Full catalog record” so that you do not have to return to the search page to find the book again
Similar Items list

Fig. 8 – Be sure to scroll to the bottom of an individual book page to see Similar Items.


 How To Download A Book From Archive.org

PDF is one of the many file formats available in the Download Options box on Archive.org

Fig. 9 – Clicking on the cover of a title on the search results page will take you to the Full Catalog Record for that specific scan. PDF is one of the many file formats available in the Download Options box .

Downloading a book scan from Archive.org that is no longer covered by a copyright is easy. In the Download Options box (Fig. 9 above) you will see several options, including options specifically for the Kindle and other eReaders. Here are the steps for downloading and saving a PDF to your computer (in Chrome):

  • Hover over the PDF icon and the download button will appear
  • Click on the download link
  • The PDF will open in the browser window (This is where you can check the quality of the scan. If it is poor, try another source in the search results window.)
  • To save the PDF to your computer, choose “Save Page As” in Chrome’s File menu.

How To Cite An Online Book

If you’re a student who wants to cite a book from Archive.org as a source, remember that you need to cite it as an online asset. Here are a few helpful guides from the Purdue OWL (Online Writing Lab):

APA—Reference List: Electronic Sources

MLA—Works Cited: Electronic Sources

Chicago—Web Sources



One Response to Researching Antiquarian Photo Books on Archive.org

  1. Cooper Neill says:

    Well here’s how I’m spending my afternoon – thanks!

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