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The correspondence discusses step-by-step the methods by which Niépce made his momentous discovery of the first photographic process represented by this unassuming little paper image.

Since the correspondence dates from 1825, over a year before Niépce’s other surviving images, this makes it the earliest recorded image created by photographic means. As a crucial document in the history of photography, this was a classic for institutional purchase and it was no surprise to see it listed as one of 13 lots in the Jammes sale that would not be allowed to leave France. At the auction the print sold for €450,000 (£276,075), just under low estimate, at which point it was immediately pre-empted by the Bibliothèque Nationale of France.

Discussing the purchase after the sale, the Bibliothèque’s curator Sylvie Aubenas said there had been some advance discussion about whether the Bibliothèque or the Niépce Museum in the photographer’s home town of Chalons sur Saône should seek to acquire the lot, but in the event it was decided that it should be the former because of the manuscript nature of the ensemble and because the Bibliothèque has the oldest photographic collection in the world.
“The essential thing is for it to be in a public collection,” she said.