The photograph, captured some 160 years ago, reveals the outline of an owl and three smaller birds.

In the years since his death in 1865, a few historians praised the Rev. Levi L. Hill as the unacknowledged inventor of color photography. (A Scotsman, James Clerk Maxwell, is generally credited with producing the first successful color photograph, in 1861.) Most, however, concluded that Hill was a hoodwinker.

Hill was a Baptist minister in West Kill, a tiny town in the foothills of New York’s Catskill Mountains, when he began experimenting with daguerreo­types, an early form of photography. In February 1851, Hill made an astonishing claim: “I now have forty-five specimens, all of which present the several colors, true to a tint, and with a degree of brilliancy never seen in the richest Daguerreotype,” he boasted in a letter to the Daguerreian Journal, the first commercially produced photography magazine.

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