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  1. #1
    Sparky's Avatar
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    Redeveloping Ancient Albumen & Silver Prints.

    Okay - I picked up just enough chemistry in university (two courses) to get myself into trouble. So here I go.

    I have an archive of VERY old 1880-1920 albumen (I think - I still have to verify) and what look like silver bromide/chloride prints. While NOT really having studied PHOTO chemistry too intensely, per se, but understanding the basic process of silver grain reduction, etc... it seems to me as though it might be possible to RE-develop some of these older, VERY faded prints. Some are very bad, and quite irregular in their damage.

    I would hazard a guess that the solution lies in knowing what happened to the active metal (whether it be silver or what-have-you) in the fading process. Is albumen a silver-bearing emulsion?

    At any rate... I'm hoping that even a toning process - like selenium toniing - forming a silver selenide compound may do the trick. Anybody know for sure what I might try and how it may turn out? I'd love to experiment on my own - though I don't really want to lose a valuable (to me) print. A very educated guess would work, too.

    thanks much.
    Jonathan

  2. #2
    Ole
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    Prints of that age were mostly POP prints - there is no development involved. Both Albumen, gelatin/ silver chloride, collodion and many other print types were POP ("Printing-Out-Paper"). I have a little collection myself, from the 1860's to 1930...

    There is a danger that developer might destroy the print. There is, conversely, a possibility that it will develop the bleached areas thus restoring the print...

    Do not use Kodak selenium toner: It contains ammonium thiosulfate, which will bleach POP prints. I know this from having seen it myself; I occasionally use POP paper when the weather is too nice to hide in the darkroom. I tried KRST once or twice, then bought gold toner. I use very very weak (1:50 from working solution) rapid fix to "clean" highlights by bleaching.

    If they were toned originally they may have been toned with gold, gold/mercury, gold/lead, uranium, platinum, palladium, palladium/mercury or a number of other once popular toners.
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  3. #3
    Sparky's Avatar
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    Thanks much, Ole, what goes on in the emulsion of POP paper in contrast to enlarging paper? Yes, from what I recall – these self-develop. However - can one not 'fix' them – removing any residual chemical matrix (very gently of course!) and leaving a silver/binder matrix?

  4. #4
    Ole
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    You're right Sparky - they are (usually) fixed.

    The silver "develops" through the action of light alone, as any photo paper left in the sun will show. These papers are exposed until the image is sufficiently -exposed, then washed, toned and fixed - usually in that order. So what's left is a a silver (or silver/gold, or whatever) image in a matrix. But the grains are very small, and susceptible to just about anything. Untoned POP prints tend not to last very long, while toned prints can be very stable. Insufficient fixing, or toning, or washing, or poor storage can all lead to damage over 100 years.
    -- Ole Tjugen, Luddite Elitist
    Norway

  5. #5
    Marco Gilardetti's Avatar
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    I would be EXTREMELY cautious (=I would never, never do it) in any attempt of chemically restoring a photograph.

    Photograph restoration is very very delicate matter itself, and it requires, as a first step, a perfect and deep knowledge of the entire specific process which lead to any specific photograph in question.

    Chemical restoration mainly lead to disasters in the past, and as far as I know is to day disregarded. Even though, in some cases, results may look good in the near future, they have usually damaged the image faster than normal storage.

    Very famous is the case of a Daguerrotype of E.A Poe, which, chemically restored, is today almost lost and in incredibly worse conditions than before.

    My suggestion is to concentrate, instead, on a proper storage of your ancient pictures.
    Last edited by Marco Gilardetti; 07-27-2005 at 10:00 AM. Click to view previous post history.
    I know a chap who does excellent portraits. The chap is a camera.
    (Tristan Tzara, 1922)

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    Before attempting any chemical restorations make copy negatives of the prints. Use a fine grain ortho or panortho film or use a blue filter with pan film. This will restore the contrast in the faded prints. Only if you are satisfied with prints made from these negatives should you attempt any other form of restoration.

    Kodak used to have a publication on photo restoration. See if you can get a copy as it is very informative.

    Personally, I would not attempt any chemical restoration.

  7. #7
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    Another possibility, which I suggest in great temerity on this forum, is to scan the pictures for preservation before attempting any chemical process. I have scanned 5X7 glass plate negatives made by my grandfather, who died in 1905. These were stored in terrible conditions. I was able to restore over 100 of them by digital means. They are now on a CD from which I can make digital prints or digital negatives from which I can make silver, platinum, or any other kind of analog prints.
    Gadget Gainer

  8. #8
    Marco Gilardetti's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gainer
    Another possibility, which I suggest in great temerity on this forum, is to scan the pictures for preservation
    This is indeed a field in which digital plays a good role.

    By scanning, retouching and printing, you'll have results uncomparably better than any (risky) chemical restoration you could ever make.
    I know a chap who does excellent portraits. The chap is a camera.
    (Tristan Tzara, 1922)

  9. #9
    Donald Qualls's Avatar
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    While original albumen prints were made with a printing-out process, the image is silver metal just as with modern silver gelatin prints (and, for that matter, modern POP prints). Issues of potentially destroying the prints aside, fading is most likely due to bleaching action of residual fixer, or due to oxidation/sulfiding of the silver due to atmospheric action. It might be possible to use a halogenating bleach (like those used in reversal and C-41 processes), followed by light exposure and redevelopment in any print or film developer to restore the image -- but more likely you'll find that the faded areas are permanently destroyed (the silver converted to a colorless thiosulfate complex), and risk destruction of the remaining image if anything goes wrong in the process.
    Photography has always fascinated me -- as a child, simply for the magic of capturing an image onto glossy paper with a little box, but as an adult because of the unique juxtaposition of science and art -- the physics of optics, the mechanics of the camera, the chemistry of film and developer, alongside the art in seeing, composing, exposing, processing and printing.

  10. #10
    Sparky's Avatar
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    I had the impression that most reducers required the use of a developer to redevelop silver cations once rehalogenated. But that's just the way I'm remembering it. Donald, are you saying that if I use a rehalogenating bleach (i.e. KMnO4) then the film will be once again light sensitive?

    At any rate - it seems to me that the whole trick is to chemically treat said print in such a way that we can get a maximum reaction from the originally reduced silver grains and neutralize any residual or non-image related chemical complexes. Seems easy in theory. Maybe I'll just have to find a bunch of older, chemically similar junk photos and do some experimentation.

    Sure - I may well scan the prints - though digitally retouching would be a ridiculous chore with some of these since the images are SO faint and some of the 'predatory' staining is so bad and very irregular. The chemical route seems FAR less labor intensive.

    Thanks much,
    Jonathan

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