historical glass negatives questions

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous Equipment' started by winger, Mar 26, 2009.

  1. winger

    winger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,924
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2005
    Location:
    southwest PA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Someone posted an ad on the local Craigslist saying he'd bought some old glass negatives and wanted to find someone who could contact print them. I e-mailed back, sure, I can. So, now that I've started printing these, I'm more and more curious about what it was like to do this "back when". I don't know exactly when these were taken because I don't know the landmarks in them. I'd guess early 1900's, maybe late 1800's based on the clothes I've seen. There seems to be a range of subjects and photographer's skill. They could cover a wider time period, too.

    What speed would they have been? Would most people have coated their own or could they buy them? Would the emulsions have been kinda similar to what we have now? How many people were using glass negs? When did they first start being used?
    I've really only dealt with film and got into it in the 70's as a kid, so I don't know much about the history of photography (besides the really big names). Feel free to go off on informative tangents. :smile:
     
  2. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,139
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Dry plates have been around since 1871, modern gelatin based emulsions were invented by Richard Maddox, and were mass produced by the end of the decade, they took over rapidly because they were so convenient.

    So it's most likely they are silver gelatin negatives. Emulsion speeds were improved constantly over the years so would have ranged from around roughly 6 ISO (by modern standards) to around 25-100 ISO by the 20's & 30's and eventually to over 400 ISO by the time glass plates disappeared from mainstream use in the 60's/70's.

    Back in the 70's I printed a lot of glass plates for my local Museum service, it's fun but some can be very tricky as modern papers are not really as good a match as the papers which would have been used at the time the images were made.

    Ian
     
  3. bdial

    bdial Subscriber

    Messages:
    5,459
    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2005
    Location:
    North East U.S.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Ian, Could you elaborate?
     
  4. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,139
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Yes. Early glass plates were developed to much higher contrasts often with quite vigorous Pyro developers, exposures weren't always as accurate as there were no meters so negatives can often be quite dense. In addition they were usually contact printed.
    The early silver gelatin papers of that era had a tonal scale that suited those negatives, and Printing Out Paper was very common which is self masking during exposure and so excellent for printing early negatives.

    Modern films are quite different with much finer grain and they are processed to a much lower gamma/contrast, the changes in working practice really accelerated with the introduction of 35mm cameras/film and led to the huge increases in quality that were need for enlarging such small negative. Papers evolved in tandem to match these changes.
    If you look at modern prints of images by 30's photographers like André Kertész they have lost some of the quality and richness that's there in the original contemporary prints. It's the same with even older negatives and is the major reason why POP paper was still in production until very recently.

    There have been a number of articles written over the years about the problems of obtaining good tonality from old glass plates and they always conclude that modern silver gelatin papers are a compromise, you trade of a potential loss of quality for convenience.

    Ian
     
  5. fschifano

    fschifano Member

    Messages:
    3,216
    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Location:
    Valley Strea
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    A little fill in information culled from "A New History of Photography," edited by Michael Frizot, ISBN 3-8290-1328-0.

    As early as 1839 Abel Niépce, a Frenchman and younger cousin of the more famous Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, was experimenting with glass plates, subbed with albumen, and sensitized with silver nitrate. These initial attempts were very slow, slower than calotypes. By 1849, an Englishman, Scott Archer began developing the wet plate collodion process, which was much faster. Exposure times were measured in seconds, sometimes as little as 1 second, as opposed to the minutes needed for Abel Niépce's glass plates. Dry plate photography followed, I think, in the 1880's. Kodak's Tech pub F4016 indicates that TMX is offered on glass plates today.

    I have printed some glass plates loaned to me by a friend who lived in Colorado. I'm guessing that these were made around the turn of the 19th Century. I think they printed quite well. I used Kodak Polymax RC paper and Dektol. The blown highlights are the result of the scanning process. If I wasn't so lazy, I'd have fixed that in post. The prints look much better.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 20, 2009
  6. Ian Grant

    Ian Grant Subscriber

    Messages:
    18,139
    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Location:
    West Midland
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    It's worth adding that many old glass plates will yield quite satisfactory prints on modern papers. It's only when you place them against an original contemporary print off the same negative hat you really appreciate the difference. Usually the modern prints have a compressed tonal range compared to original.

    Other glass negative won't print particularly well at all unless you use POP or other techniques like albumen printing.

    Ian
     
  7. BrianShaw

    BrianShaw Member

    Messages:
    6,740
    Joined:
    Nov 30, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I especially like to see them when printed with Carbon or Platinum... the long, straight scale and self-masking properties of those processes seem to allow maximum use of many old negs.
     
  8. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

    Messages:
    2,165
    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2005
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    When printed on the material for which they were designed, glass plates make beautiful prints.
    I sometimes print 19th Century glass plates and occasionally early paper negatives.
    I don't attempt to use modern papers, but make salt prints of paper negs and albumen of glass plates since these are the processes for which the negatives were most likely made.
     
  9. outwest

    outwest Subscriber

    Messages:
    391
    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2005
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'm printing some negs from the turn of the century and fortunately have the original prints from them to match. The negs were well processed originally, probably with strong pyro, and are a little dense. A lot of these old negs I've had dealings with print with more contrast than it would appear they would. Anyway, I'm having to use 45Y to match MG prints with the nicely done originals.
     
  10. winger

    winger Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,924
    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2005
    Location:
    southwest PA
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks for all the info! The ones I have are a range and some are printing nicely with under 20 seconds (f8, #2ish filter) and others are printing at about 40 seconds. With a couple, I've been able to burn in the sky to get more detail, but a couple are just really dark overall (inside and maybe poorly exposed). I'd guess that all are some type of silver emulsion, but some are more recent. There's also a range of how well they were kept over the years - some have lost parts of their emulsion.
    I'm only contact printing since most are 8x10 and my biggest enlarger is for 4x5. The level of detail is great in most of them and the tones aren't bad (though I don't have old prints from them for comparison).
     
  11. thebanana

    thebanana Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,650
    Joined:
    Nov 4, 2004
    Location:
    Manitoba, Ca
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    The knowledge on APUG never ceases to amaze me :smile:
     
  12. Loren Sattler

    Loren Sattler Subscriber

    Messages:
    225
    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2005
    Location:
    Toledo, Ohio
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    I wonder if AZO paper would help with contact prints?
     
  13. yellowcat

    yellowcat Member

    Messages:
    114
    Joined:
    May 19, 2008
    Location:
    Bristol, Eng
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I wonder what sort of results you would get if you copied onto transparency film to make a 5x4 negative?
    A few years ago I copied some 10x8 glass negs to 5x4 by making an interpositive, the film I used was Kodak Gravure Positive 4135. As far as I remember the results were good but it was a very very slow process.

    It may be interesting to copy onto 35mm to make projection transparencies, not sure what current film would be best for this, I got good results using the now discontinued Technical Pan film.
     
  14. outwest

    outwest Subscriber

    Messages:
    391
    Joined:
    Aug 18, 2005
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I just finished the series of prints I was doing from the old negs and some of them required as much as 80Y with Polycontrast to match the nice original prints. On grade 2, much of the detail would have been lost and the results would have been quite stark.
     
  15. darkosaric

    darkosaric Subscriber

    Messages:
    3,157
    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2008
    Location:
    Hamburg, DE
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Ansel Adams explains details about this in book "The Print", Chapter 3 - Printing materials.

    Regards,
    -Darko
     
  16. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

    Messages:
    2,933
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2006
    Location:
    Misissauaga
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Unsharp masking to cut the contrast range back works on large format contacts as well as samller formats. This can help tame the igh contrast problems at times. For large negs I use ortho lith film developerd in a low contrast developer to get continous tone results, and develop by inspection under a red safelight, noting the time that I developed for to get the process close on the first try, and by timed adjustment on any subsequent tries.