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  Désiré van Monckhoven

Désiré Carolus Emanuel van Monckhoven was born to an unwed mother in Ghent, Belgium on September 25, 1834. The only child was discovered to be a prodigy in chemistry and physics at an early age. His Handbook of Chemistry was published in 1852, which was followed the next year by Elements of Physics. After briefly working as a bank clerk, Mr. van Monckhoven’s scientific knowledge ignited a passion to learn photographic processes. He apprenticed under respected Belgian photographer Charles D’Hoy, and by 1853, his local views had been published by renowned French photographer Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard.

However, Mr. van Monckoven’s great love was for photographic research and development, and by the age of 20, he published his Treatise on Collodium Photography. Its surprising success prompted a follow-up General Treatise on Photography in 1856, which also enjoyed impressive critical and commercial success. Though recognized for his scientific expertise, Mr. van Monckhoven chose to solidify his professional status by earning a doctorate degree in natural science at the University of Ghent in 1862. After graduation, he engaged in extensive photographic optics research, and applied for a patent in 1863 for a solar ray device “intended for enlarging by projection.” Four years’ later, Mr. van Monckhoven was awarded a bronze medal for the apparatus at the Paris International Exhibition. In the interim, he wrote A Popular Treatise on Photography, in which he discussed nineteenth-century photographic methods, with particular attention paid to collodion processes and preparation (such as the distilation of ether, a popular method employed in wet-plate preparation); and Photographic Optics was published in 1867.

By 1867, with his scientific reputation secure, Mr. van Monckhoven relocated to Vienna, where he partnered with portraitist Emil Rabending to open a studio at Favoritenstrasse 3. However, within three years, he was restless to return to research and ended the partnership. He opened a specialty factory in Ghent, at Boulevard d’Akkergem 74, to produce carbon paper (later expanded to include products for dry-plate emulsion) and penned the texts History of the Carbon Process and Practical Treatise on Carbon Photography. Mr. van Monckhoven married Hortense Tackels in 1872, with whom he had two daughters. During this period, he focused primarily upon sensitizing dry plates, and by 1879, his factory was the first in Belgium to mass produce dry plates. His various techniques were incorporated into the four-volume Introduction to the Silver Gelatine Bromide Process. By 1880, his workforce expansion included 30 female plate coaters.

Désiré van Monckhoven died of a sudden heart attack on September 25, 1882, his 48th birthday. His widow continued operating the factory, which by this time focused exclusively on dry-plate production, until 1908. Mr. van Monckhoven’s original dialytic solar device as well as his manuscripts and publications reside in the Museum of the History of Science while his telescope and several of his letters are currently on display in the University of Ghent.

2003 Albumen Photographs (URL:

2006 Election of the Greatest Professor of Ghent University Désiré Van Monckhoven (URL:

2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 1438-1439.

1867 Photographic Optics by Désiré van Monckhoven (London: Robert Hardwicke), p. 14.

2017 Variétés Photographiques (URL:

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