Glass Plate Negatives

My name is Kaitlin Mitchell and this coming fall I will be a senior at SUNY New Paltz. I am a geography major with a minor in geology. For the summer of 2013, I am interning at Historic Huguenot Street for my major coursework. My interests are in Urban Planning and Historic Preservation which is why I thought HHS would be a great place to do my field work. Thus far I have worked on a several projects including: mapping the Jacob Elting Burying Ground and researching the families buried there, entering genealogical information on the Find-A-Grave website and  interviewing and chronicling the summer archaeology dig.  The first blog I am writing focuses on a particular method of photography that is both interesting and relevant to Historic Huguenot Street.

The photograph below is an example of a Glass Plate Negative that Historic Huguenot Street currently houses in their collection. There is very little known about this photograph aside from its title, “Sydney Palmer’s Flashlight.”  GP072_SidneyPalmer'sFlashlight

The man responsible for taking this image is Byron J. Terwilliger [1867-1962]. Byron was a schoolmaster in Ulster County and was also an avid collector of artifacts and a trustee for the New Paltz Historical Society. Below is a concise history of photography and the development of the glass plate negative.

The history of photography dates back to 1826 when the first permanent image was created by Joseph Nicephore Niepce using the camera obscura. By 1839 Jacques-Mande Daguerre invented the daguerreotype process with the camera obscura and in 1950 Louis Desire Blanquart-Evrard invented the first positive image, making photography more accessible to amateurs. However, the photograph shown couldn’t have been taken before 1851 when the first glass negative was developed by English inventor Frederick Scott Archer.

Glass plate negatives can be created either through the wet collodion or dry plate process. The Wet plate process was the first of the two, which as mentioned above is accredited to Frederick Scott Archer. Collodion is a viscous liquid that traces its origins back to the Crimean War and was originally used for covering soldiers wounds. Archer found that its properties when mixed with bromides, alcohol, ether and iodides among other things, also made it an ideal candidate for adhering light sensitive materials to glass. Unfortunately, collodion also dried within about ten minutes and lost its sensitivity, making it a difficult medium to work with. For this reason, photographers using this process had traveling dark rooms so the development could be done on site. The entire process of creating a wet collodion photograph can be summed up into four parts: prepping the plate, sensitizing the plate, developing the plate and varnishing the plate. The wet collodion method was popularly until 1880. In 1871 a British Doctor and Photographer named Richard Leach Maddox invented the dry plate process which once again revolutionized photography and made it even more accessible to amateurs. To create the dry plate Maddox used silver bromide and gelatin as an adhesive to the glass plate. He also developed less toxic sensitizing, fixing and development solutions that not only exposed and developed faster but also were much more forgiving that the previous glass plate method. It was in fact because of R.L. Maddox that George Eastman was able invent a machine for the mass production of gelatin dry plates which shortly lead to the founding of the Eastman Dry Plate Company and then the Eastman Kodak Company by 1888.

To watch a video of wet collodion process: 

Hoffman, Scott, and Korena Di Roma. “Image Collection.” National Geographic. Ed. Nancy Gupton. N.p.,n.d. Web. 02 July 2013.

Orlove, Eden. “The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian.” Highlight from the Photo Cold  Vault: Gelatin Dry Plate Negatives. N.p., 9 May 2013. Web. 02 July 2013.

“Photography: The Wet Collodion Process.” Photography: The Wet Collodion Process. N.p., n.d. Web. 02.  July 2013.

“Syracuse University Archives: Exhibits – “Handle with Care: Glass Plate Negative and Lantern Slide

Collections at the SU Archives”.” Syracuse University Archives: Exhibits – “Handle with Care: Glass

Plate Negative and Lantern Slide Collections at the SU Archives”. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2013.

This entry was posted in Education, Historical Photographs, History, Internship and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Glass Plate Negatives

  1. Peter LeFevre says:

    Thanks for the interesting blog. Does anyone know when the photograph was taken?

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