The Anthotype is a quaint and charming process, developed by Sir John Herschel in the early 1840s, that employed nothing but the natural colors of flowers, a little alcohol, and sunlight… the primary ingredients necessary for a romantic vacation.

A decade earlier, in 1832, Herschel conducted several experiments in which he filled glass tubes with a solution called platinate of lime (also known as calcium chloroplatinite). He described his experimentation in a paper entitled “On the Action of Light in Determining the precipitation of Muriate of Platinum by Lime-Water.” in July of that year. Within the text of this paper he discussed the “remarkable action” confined to the violet end of the spectrum and how he had made a solution out of red rose leaves and then acidified them with a small amount of sulphuric acid (in order to better release the colors of the flower petals). He then filled the glass tubes with the liquid. He went on to describe how the tincture of red from the rose colored solution had prevented the platinum of lime-water from being completely influenced by UV light. Although Herschel made no mention of this in 1832, it suggests two possible avenues for future investigation; the selective filtering of light for purposes of manipulating exposures of light sensitive materials such as silver, and the use of the natural pigments of flowers to make images via the concept of bleaching those colors with sunlight. 

The word Anthotype is from the Greek word anthos for flower. In Herschel’s quest to explore the new science of photography, a word that he made up by the way, he distilled his current knowledge of light, color, and botany and set to work on a practical process of making images with natural flower pigmentation. Here’s how he described it in his paper to the Royal Society in 1842, On the Action of RaysIn operating on the colours of flowers I have usually proceeded as follows: - the petals of the fresh flowers, or rather such parts of them as possessed a uniform tint, were crushed to a pulp in a marble mortar, either alone, or with addition of alcohol, and the juice expressed by squeezing the pulp in a clean linen or cotton cloth. It was then spread on paper with a flat brush, and dried in the air without artificial heat, or at the most with a gentle warmth which rises in the ascending current of air from the Arnott stove.

That’s about all there is to this process. Collect your flowers, vegetables, or berries, mash them up, or blend them, with a little alcohol, squeeze the juice through cheesecloth and apply it to a piece of paper. When the paper is dry, place a positive negative or photogram material on the paper, enclose it in a contact printing frame, and expose it to sunlight until the UV action of the sun bleaches the plant pigments leaving you with a colored positive image.