The collections of Dr William Thomas Corlett (1854–1948)

From 1884 to c. 1920 William Thomas Corlett created a collection of photographs, lantern slides and negatives that comprises over one thousand items. The collections are organized by disease categories, each of which is represented by a variety of cases, making it an important source for comparative dermatology. The range of diseases reflects Corlett’s research interests, as well as serving those of the medical curriculum. The handwritten notes on the verso of the boards on which the photographs are mounted, coupled with associated publications, provides contextual and social information about the patients.

Although the majority of images in Corlett’s photographs and lantern slides are monochrome, special cases were selected for hand coloring. Corlett, like many contemporary dermatologists, embraced hand coloring. Three distinctive phases of hand coloring are evident in his collection. The earliest large format prints were colored by a variety of different but unidentified hands. Usually, only details of the patient’s pathology are colored. The second phase of hand coloring is represented by Felix Méheux’s painterly “life-like” photographs. The amount of paint employed by Méheux left little trace of the original photograph, making them more “life-like” to Corlett, even though he was unhappy with the quality of the lithographs in his Treatize. The final phase of hand coloring is represented by the work of W.H. Leman, who employed photographic dyes to subtly color the patient’s pathological lesions, clothing, and backdrops, etc.

Corlett’s collections of photographs, lantern slides and negatives gave him status amongst his peers. Corlett’s collections provide a fascinating insight into the history of dermatology, photography and hand coloring. For such a comprehensive and interrelated collection of photographs, lantern slides, and negatives to survive, makes this an invaluable resource for current and future dermatologists and historians.

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