This method enabled the accurate reproduction of images, manuscript text and outline engravings, which proved invaluable when originally used to create maps during the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain during the 1850s, carried out by the government's Topographical Department, headed by Colonel Sir Henry James
The main advantage and innovation of this process over lithography was the use of zinc plates rather than stone ones. Zinc plates were lighter, easier to transport, could produce more prints and were far less brittle than the stone plates originally used. The use of zinc plates was also the origin of the name Photozincography which Sir Henry James claims to have come up with.
While the Ordnance Survey's Directory General Henry James (Ordnance Survey) claimed to have invented the process, a similar system of document copying had been developed in Australia. A Mr. Osborne developed a similar process for use in Australia and for the same reasons as Sir Henry, to avoid using the tracing system of the pantagraph. While developed at the same time Sir Henry’s process, however as Sir Henry explained to a representative of Mr. Osborne in the quote below, he publicized it first.
I therefore handed this gentleman a copy of my Report, and desired him to read the account given of our process at page 6 of that Report, and to examine the copy of the Deed bound up with it, and not to show me the description of Mr. Osborne's process if it was differed from ours. After reading it, he said at once it was the same process, and I then told him it was useless for him to attempt to take out a patent as my printed Report had everywhere been circulated
Sir Henry, despite being the person who oversaw and set up the photography department, was not the actual inventor. The head of the photography department at Southampton, Captain A. de. Scott, did much of the ground work and basic development on photozincography. Sir Henry did acknowledge the work of Captain A. de. Scott in the development and use of the system in the introduction to the Photozincographied Domesday Book. Despite this it was Sir Henry who gained most of the public attention through his pamphlet on photozincography. He was knighted in 1861 for services to science.
The use of Photozincography at the Ordnance Survey was a great success, with Sir Henry claiming it saved over £2000 a year, from the invention of Photo-zincography; the cost of producing a map of a rural district was reduced from 4 to 1 and maps of towns were reduced from 9 to 1. It was also claimed that up to 2000 or 3000 impressions could be taken from a single plate. Despite this, the process was not perfect: it did not reproduce a full colour picture, and right up until 1875 boys were employed to colour in the maps produced by this method. The process, while better than the pantagraph, still required a large amount of labour to prepare the zinc plates for pressing. However, Photozincography began to be used fairly rapidly in Europe. Sir Henry was even honoured by the Queen of Spain. Though originally developed to reproduce maps, the process was eventually to be used on a whole series of manuscripts, to preserve them and make them more available to the public. This included a reproduction of the Domesday Book in 1861-64 and several volumes of historical manuscripts. Whilst the process of photo-zincography was invented mostly for use the Ordnance Survey, The Photographic News stated that the process could also be used in the Patent office and would save vast amounts of time and money. The use of Photozincography began to decline in the 1880s as better methods of reproductions were made available and in the 1900s the glasshouse was pulled down to make way for new printing presses.