British photographic history

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Please help a novice crack this photo mystery

Dear Photography Experts and Enthusiasts:

I am an antique photo novice and recently purchased two antique-looking "reverse glass?" photos/postcards of Antwerp - included in this posting.  They are 15.5 x 11 cm in size, colored and seem to have bits that illuminate in light (similar to mother-of-pearl effect).  I bought them for their aesthetic qualities and now would love to learn more about the photographic methods used to create them, medium, age, etc.  So, if anyone would like to take a stab at identifying these elements, I would really appreciate it!  

Thank you so much,

Ben

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Hello Ben

These look like very conventional glass slides of the 1880's - positive images on glass. There were many thousands of them made for 'magic lantern shows' right up to the 1950's. The were probably made using the wet collodian process, then copied to make the postive. Glass slides for projection were made by making a sandwich with a sheet of thin clear glass to protect the emulsion side, which would have been very easily damaged otherwise. Many thousands were made but for this reason and because they were on glass, relatively few in good condition survive.

Yours were coloured in a very limited and rapid way and then had a white card background added (instead of the glass sandwich) so that you could see the images in reflected light rather than with a projector. Without seeing them it is difficult to know what the mother of pearl effect is, or if it was intentional when they were made. It might just be an effect of age.

The original photographs may have been taken by James Batkin in the 1890's as he published such views of Belgium in 1898, but from the dress, yours may be slightly earlier

Joe

Thank you Dr. Joe.  This is very helpful information.

Ben

Dr. Joe Rock said:

Hello Ben

These look like very conventional glass slides of the 1880's - positive images on glass. There were many thousands of them made for 'magic lantern shows' right up to the 1950's. The were probably made using the wet collodian process, then copied to make the postive. Glass slides for projection were made by making a sandwich with a sheet of thin clear glass to protect the emulsion side, which would have been very easily damaged otherwise. Many thousands were made but for this reason and because they were on glass, relatively few in good condition survive.

Yours were coloured in a very limited and rapid way and then had a white card background added (instead of the glass sandwich) so that you could see the images in reflected light rather than with a projector. Without seeing them it is difficult to know what the mother of pearl effect is, or if it was intentional when they were made. It might just be an effect of age.

The original photographs may have been taken by James Batkin in the 1890's as he published such views of Belgium in 1898, but from the dress, yours may be slightly earlier

Joe

With the printed titles, these appear to be color photo lithographs made around the turn of the century that are mounted to glass.

Thanks for the reply Alex.  Do you know how color photo lithographs were produced at that time?

Ben

I'm not sure about that. I have photographic prints by photographers in Edinburgh in the 1880's where they have the title at the bottom, apparently set into the collodian emulsion. I must admit I have never thought how they did it. I even have a print where three titles have been added, one below the other and then removed, leaving two sections of emulsion scraped away. 

Joe, the type of titles here and the coloring, dating, etc. is what indicates to me photo lithography.

Photolithography is a process by which images are photographically transferred to a matrix (either an aluminum plate or, less frequently, a stone), and then printed by hand (Devon 183). The French printers Alfred Lemercier and Alphonse Poitevin first started experimenting with photolithographic techniques in soon after the discovery and use of the halftone process. Their early experimentations, however, were not reliable enough for commercial use. Photoengraving was the industry standard until offset lithography became commonly used for reproduction around the turn of the century.  Color plates were added to give the semblance of color reproductions.

I had mentioned in my original post that both examples have some small illuminated areas, particularly visible in the one with the port (see second to last image from my post in the windows of the castle tower. Looks sort of like a "mother-of-pearl" effect. Does that help sway the evidence toward one or the other of your conclusions Joe and Alex?

Not really.  That is probably from physical manipulation/thinning of the paper.

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