Rare Copy of World’s most Sought after Photography Book Goes under Hammer
Restored albumen print of the Suez Canal at Ismailia, c. 1860 creative commons

A rare copy of one of the largest and most sought after books of photographs ever published was sold at Bonhams Book, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs sale in London. It had been estimated at £50,000-70,000.

The book is made up of 20 photographic views of Egypt, Sinai and Jerusalem by Francis Frith each print measuring an enormous 30 inches x 21 (77cms x 55).

"This is the largest book with the biggest, un-enlarged prints ever published," the photographer and photo historian Helmut Gernsheim wrote.

A successful grocer, and later, printer, Frith fostered an interest in photography, becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853. Frith sold his companies in 1855 in order to dedicate himself entirely to photography.

According to Bonhams, Francis Frith made his first trip to the Middle East in 1856 and published his book of views of Egypt in 1858 with text by his friends, Mr and Mrs Reginald Stuart Poole. He took with him huge cameras, a mountain of other equipment and a mobile darkroom. His chosen method of photography the wet collodion process required the plates to be coated with light sensitive emulsions immediately before exposure took place which meant he also had to carry dangerous chemicals with him.

When he had finished his travels in the Middle East in 1859, he opened the firm of Francis Frith & Co in Reigate, Surrey, as the world's first specialist photographic publisher.

Initially he took the photographs himself, but as success came, he hired people to help him and set about establishing his postcard company, a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. In addition to photography, he also kept a journal during his travels elaborating on the difficulties of the trip.

On his return from the Middle East, Frith turned his attention to home and set about photographing every town and village in the United Kingdom. His extensive archive is still publically available through the Francis Frith Collection and his work was featured in a recent BBC series, Britain's First Photo Album.