British photographic history

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Hello all

I am often sent privately-owned ambrotypes to work on. Most of them are dateable from dress to the mid-late 1850s or early 1860s but occasionally there is a query as to whether they could possibly be pre- 1854, the year when I understand (from Audrey Linkman's The Victorians: Photographic Portraits) that restrictions to the use of the wet collodian process were finally removed.

I can't seem to find out much more about its early history betweeen 1851 and the end of 1854. Does anyone know for sure whether any commercial photographers were likely to have been using the process and producing ambrotype portraits during these years?

If anyone can suggest any answer to this query I'd be very interested and grateful!

Thank you,

Jayne

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Hi Gael
I was thinking that this may have been due to the desire to commercially reproduce prints from the negative that stopped the photographer from converting the negative into a one-off ambrotype.

Gael Newton said:
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton
Jayne/John/Geoff/Gael

A photographer however had to consciously decide whether he was making a negative to become an ambrotype (as it was usually underexposed) or if the negative was for the production of prints. I have actually however had old ambrotypes that weren't japanned printed with good results. The ambrotype negative, usually 1/9, 1/6 or 1/4 plate was much smaller that those usually used for print making such as 1/2, full plate and 8x10 or larger. Printing was usually by 1:1 contact printing rather than enlarging. Further prints produced in the mid 1850s were usually landscapes whereas ambrotypes were usually portraits. When one adds the ferrotype/tintype, the other collodion positive process to the total of collodion positive images produced I propose it was an immensely popular process. All this will hopefully be elucidated in detail in the book I am currently researching with Stefan Hughes on Frederick Scott Archer http://www.frederickscottarcher.com/. Cheers! Marcel

Geoff Barker said:
Hi Gael
I was thinking that this may have been due to the desire to commercially reproduce prints from the negative that stopped the photographer from converting the negative into a one-off ambrotype.

Gael Newton said:
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton
Hi Marcel,

Most ambrotypes were backed on black material rather than japanned. The japanning process involved backing the plate so was only really suitable for metal.

Regards,

John.
Hi Marcel

Thank you for your input. Not being an expert on photographic processes, but, rather, the resulting visual images, I hadn't appreciated that a photographer had to consciously decide early on whether he was going to produce an ambrotype or a print. With regard to portrait photographs of the 1850s, I have mostly come across one-off ambrotypes - hardly ever prints. The vast majority I have seen are backed with black shellac, rather than material, although I understand black velvet was sometimes used.
I was recently sent an ambrotype dating from 1890 - a wedding photograph taken outdoors in a remote area of East Anglia: I think that is the latest firmly-dated example I have ever encountered. It seems that late ambrotypes were cheap options, and were often produced by outdoor/itinerant photographers, as were tintypes/ferrotypes. In that sense, I agree with you that there was a significant demand for collodion positives, mostly at the lower end of the market.
Good luck with your book. My new book will be published this autumn - 'Getting the most out of Family Pictures' (Society of Genealogists): it features some interesting ambrotypes as well as a few tintypes.
All the best
Jayne


Marcel Safier said:
Jayne/John/Geoff/Gael

A photographer however had to consciously decide whether he was making a negative to become an ambrotype (as it was usually underexposed) or if the negative was for the production of prints. I have actually however had old ambrotypes that weren't japanned printed with good results. The ambrotype negative, usually 1/9, 1/6 or 1/4 plate was much smaller that those usually used for print making such as 1/2, full plate and 8x10 or larger. Printing was usually by 1:1 contact printing rather than enlarging. Further prints produced in the mid 1850s were usually landscapes whereas ambrotypes were usually portraits. When one adds the ferrotype/tintype, the other collodion positive process to the total of collodion positive images produced I propose it was an immensely popular process. All this will hopefully be elucidated in detail in the book I am currently researching with Stefan Hughes on Frederick Scott Archer http://www.frederickscottarcher.com/. Cheers! Marcel

Geoff Barker said:
Hi Gael
I was thinking that this may have been due to the desire to commercially reproduce prints from the negative that stopped the photographer from converting the negative into a one-off ambrotype.

Gael Newton said:
Dear Jayne and John

Having looked for the history of the ambrotype across the Asia-Pacific region ( www.nga.gov.au/pictureparadise I am curious about why the ambrotype in general was not more popular everywhere. It is curiously absent in Asia until the flourish in Japan in the late 19th century of portraits in Kiri wood cases.

If you could make wet-plates and albumen prints surely ambrotypes were also relatively easy? They seem tp be endless advertised in photographer's notices in newspapers but the surviving numbers dont seem quite to match up.Uniqueness for example did not dent the massive numbers of daguerreotypes in America. It might be worth perusing early advertisements from 1851-55 to see glass positives/ambrotypes were advertised in Britain.

Gael Newton
Attachments:
You may be interested in this ambrotype, probably made by an itinerant photographer, which almost certainly dates from the late 1880s or 1890s:
http://photo-sleuth.blogspot.com/2008/09/wallis-furnishing-ironmongers-of.html

Regards and best wishes,

Brett Payne
Tauranga, New Zealand
Hi Brett

It's good to hear from you. I have visited your blog many times, mainly for information about photographers. It's a very good resource and always displays interesting photographs.
The ambrotype you mention is a great image. These photographs of shop keepers and their business premises are brilliant records for social and local history. Like you, I think the man in the doorway is very unlikey to be Edwin Wallis (d.1883). From what I can see of his appearance, it seems the photograph most likely dates from between the end of the 1880s and beginning of the 1900s. This could, then, be a very late ambrotype! Hopefully visitors to your site can help with identifying articles from the shop, as you suggested.
Cheers
Jayne

Brett Payne said:
You may be interested in this ambrotype, probably made by an itinerant photographer, which almost certainly dates from the late 1880s or 1890s:
http://photo-sleuth.blogspot.com/2008/09/wallis-furnishing-ironmongers-of.html

Regards and best wishes,

Brett Payne
Tauranga, New Zealand
Thanks Jayne for your kind comments. I am an expert on neither photographic processes nor their products, so every article that I research and write represents a part of my learning process. My motivation, like yours, has originated from the family history view point, and I'm continually looking for more ways to extract sippets of relevant information from old photographs, whether they be conventional portraits or subjects in ccomplex landscapes such as the example mentioned.

I'm particularly interested to hear of your forthcoming book, and that you're a professional dress historian. Dating clothing is a weak point for me. Will the book concentrate much on clothing fashions?

Regards and best wishes, Brett
Getting back to your original question, I have at the moment on loan from my university library Helmut Gernsheim's "The Rise of Photography, 1850-1880." This gives a fairly detailed account of both the development of the early processes and their use in popular portraiture, with plenty of stunning examples.

"[Ambrotypes] were exceedingly popular in England with the cheaper kind of photographer from 1852 until about 1863, when the fashion for cartes-de-visite superseded them."

However, the source provided for this information, i.e. issues of The Photographic News in 1858 & 1865, are obviously not contemporary.

Regards, Brett
Hi Brett

Well, you certainly come across as very knowledgeable! Yes this new book does include a significant section on dating dress - that of men, women and children. So too did my first book, which concentrated on the visual image, especially how to interpret fashion/clothing clues to date old photographs: Family Photographs and how to Date Them (Countryside Books, 2008). I do use other dating techniques such as photographer operational dates, photographic format and style of photographic mounts etc. but I firmly believe that in most cases it is dress that helps to determine the most accurate time frame for 19th and early 20th century photographs. Sorry to go on...
Regards
Jayne

Brett Payne said:
Thanks Jayne for your kind comments. I am an expert on neither photographic processes nor their products, so every article that I research and write represents a part of my learning process. My motivation, like yours, has originated from the family history view point, and I'm continually looking for more ways to extract sippets of relevant information from old photographs, whether they be conventional portraits or subjects in ccomplex landscapes such as the example mentioned.

I'm particularly interested to hear of your forthcoming book, and that you're a professional dress historian. Dating clothing is a weak point for me. Will the book concentrate much on clothing fashions?

Regards and best wishes, Brett
Hi again Brett

Thank you for the snippet from the Gernsheim book, which I haven't had the pleasure to read. I believe it is still considered one of the major sources on early photography.
When I first started this discussion I was trying to establish the facts surrounding the early use of the wet collodion process for portrait photography. Judging from input from other members and my own experience of looking at privately-owned ambrotypes it does seem that, although the earliest ambrotypes were produced in 1852, they were relatively rare before c.1855, because of restrictions to their use (see earlier comments).
The later 1850s and very early 1860s seem to have been the heyday of the good quality ambrotype, and during those years they were evidently being produced by all sorts of commercial photographers, for clients of all social ranks. I think it was after the cdv became more fashionable and convenient in the early 1860s that the ambrotype began to deteriorate and became associated to some extent with travelling and other cheaper photographers. As we are finding out, though, ambrotype production drifted on until towards the end of the century. I wonder if any other members have come across examples dating from the 1890s or later?
Jayne


Brett Payne said:
Getting back to your original question, I have at the moment on loan from my university library Helmut Gernsheim's "The Rise of Photography, 1850-1880." This gives a fairly detailed account of both the development of the early processes and their use in popular portraiture, with plenty of stunning examples.

"[Ambrotypes] were exceedingly popular in England with the cheaper kind of photographer from 1852 until about 1863, when the fashion for cartes-de-visite superseded them."

However, the source provided for this information, i.e. issues of The Photographic News in 1858 & 1865, are obviously not contemporary.

Regards, Brett
Gernsheim goes further, after having described several of the court actions and injunctions taken by Talbot in 1853 and 1854, to state:
"The harshness of Talbot's proceedings, after the collodion process had been in general use for two years ..."

From the context, I assume that he is referring to its use in studio photography, and the proceedings that are being referred were in December 1854.

Brett.
Hi again Brett

Thanks, that's interesting. Yes, John Brewer mentioned earlier that Fox Talbot did take action against some photographers using the process early on, though not, apparently, others. It seems, then, that some commercial portrait photographers were risking it in the years before the pivotal court case of December 1854. I believe it is true to say that the non-renewal of the patent in 1855 effectively removed any remaining opposition and opened up ambrotype photography to all professionals. According to Audrey Linkman, the numbers of UK portrait studios rose rapidly and significantly from 1855, which supports the likelihood that many more photographers began to use the process from that year onwards. Most of the ambrotypes that I've seen are dateable to at least the mid-1850s. It would be interesting to see any examples thought to date from c.1852-5.
Jayne


Brett Payne said:
Gernsheim goes further, after having described several of the court actions and injunctions taken by Talbot in 1853 and 1854, to state:
"The harshness of Talbot's proceedings, after the collodion process had been in general use for two years ..."

From the context, I assume that he is referring to its use in studio photography, and the proceedings that are being referred were in December 1854.

Brett.

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