First Photograph Display Case

About the Project

An hermetically sealed oxygen-free storage and display case was designed and built by The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) to house the world's First Photograph, taken by Joseph Nicephore Niepce of France in 1826. On permanent display at the Harry Ransom Center located at the University of Texas at Austin, the photograph sits in a protective inert gas atmosphere (argon), sheltered from the direct and indirect effects of oxygen-induced deterioration. This oxygen-free storage and display system was originally designed at the GCI in 1989 for housing environmentally-sensitive objects and has since been used to preserve the Royal Mummy Collection at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt and the original manuscripts of the Constitution of India at the Parliament Library in New Delhi, India.

The interior of the First Photograph case encompasses a volume of approximately 22 liters - external dimensions are 440 mm (width) by 411 mm (height) by 129 mm (depth). Laboratory measurements prior to installation established an oxygen leak rate of only 3 to 5 parts per million (ppm) per day. After placement of relative humidity buffer, activated charcoal, oxygen absorber, and the First Photograph (in its original wooden frame) inside the case, its internal space was filled with humidified (40% RH) argon gas. The First Photograph, housed in its oxygen-free display case, was returned to exhibition on September 3, 2004. The performance of the display case is measured by the use of oxygen, pressure, relative humidity, and temperature sensors connected to a central datalogger. These parameters are recorded hourly and transmitted via network modem to the Environmental Studies Laboratory at the GCI for processing and web posting.


  • Campbell Scientific CR510 Datalogger
  • Sensors:

  • Teledyne 3290 Oxygen Analyzer (Custom B3 oxygen sensor)
  • Omega Engineering PX-105 Pressure Transducer
  • Vaisala DMP248 Dew Point / Temperature Transmitter
  • Telecommunications:

  • Campbell Scientific NL100 Network Link Interface