English Photography: Ambrotypes / Collodian Positives

English ambrotype
Figure 1.--This British, presumably English Ambrotype photograph was probably made in the late-1850s. The boy seems to be wearing a jacket and skirt. was produced during the 19th Century, in the United Kingdom. It came with a protective case, wooden frame, and gilded metal mount. It was an outdoor photograph. Outdoor scenes were very rare in America. We are not sure how common they were in England.

The Ambrotype process is an early photographic process, a variation of the 'wet collodin' process. The ambrotype is an underexposed wet-collodin negative on glass. The wet plate collodion process was invented just a few years before that by English photograpic pioneer Frederick Scott Archer. James Ambrose Cutting of Boston developing a new process using the basic wet collodin process. Anbrose's innovation was to use the plate image as a positive, instead of a negative. He took out several patents relating to the process and may have coined the term "ambrotype" (1854). The ambrotype appeared in England soon after, but were called collodion positives. Many people preferred the shiny Daguerrotypes, but Ambros were much less expensive. (Preparing the metalic Dag plate was costly.) The fragility of the glass plate meant that like Dags they needed protective cases. This was especially important for Ambros, not only because of the fragility, but because a dark backgrouns was needed to view the image. Ambros were made during a relatively short period in America. We do not yet have enough information to assess the time-line in Britain. Other processes such as the inexpensive tin-type appeared about the same time. And even more importantly, the CDV appeared. The first appeared in France during the late-1850s and by the early-60s was the dominant photographic format throughout Europe and North America. While we have found many American Ambros, we have found relatively few British ones.

Process

The Ambrotype process is an early photographic process, a variation of the 'wet collodin' process. The ambrotype is basiically an underexposed wet-collodin negative on glass. The glass could be different sizes, but most were done on small class plted which were carried in cases like Daguerreotypes. Photographers cleaned a glass plate and carefully poured iodized collodin on it. The next step was immerse in a silver-nitrate bath. Finally it was put into the camera while still wet. After exposure, it had to be performed before it dried. Ambrotypes were, like Daguerreotype direct positives, made by under-exposing collodion on glass negative, and bleaching it.

History

The wet plate collodion process was invented just a few years before that by English photograpic pioneer Frederick Scott Archer. James Ambrose Cutting of Boston developing a new process using the basic wet collodin process. Anbrose's innovation was to use the plate image as a positive, instead of a negative. He took out several patents relating to the process and may have coined the term "ambrotype" (1854). The ambrotype appeared in England soon after, but were called collodion positives.

Popularity

Many people preferred the shiny Daguerrotypes, but Ambros were much less expensive. (Preparing the metalic Dag plate was costly.) The fragility of the glass plate meant that like Dags they needed protective cases. This was especially important for Ambros, not only because of the fragility, but because a dark backgrouns was needed to view the image. We are unsure just how popular Ambros were in England. We have found a few, but they were much less common tghan in America. But while we have only found a few, that isalot more than the Dagswe have found.

Chronology

Ambros were made in any numbers during a relatively short period in America from about 1855 to the early-60s. We do not yet have enough information to assess the time-line in Britain. The Ambro here looks to have been made in the late-1850s (figure 1). We assume it was similar, but ambros made have been made a little later in England. Other processes such as the inexpensive tin-type appeared about the same time. And even more importantly, the CDV appeared in the very late-1850s. The CDV first appeared in France during the late-1850s and by the early-60s was the dominant photographic format throughout Europe and North America. This of course affected the popularity of the Ambrotype. While we have found many American Ambros during this period, we have found relatively few British ones. The same is true of other European countries. We believe that patent laws impeded the rapid growth of the industry (both Dags and Ambros) in Europe compared to the United States. One ambro we have found seems dated around the 1880s, much later than Americam anros. We do not yet have sufficent information on English ambros to know how common this was.

Types

Most Ambros we have been found in America are cased, just like Daguerreotypes. Yje Dag metal plte needed to be protected and the Ambro glass negtive was ven more vulnerable to damage. Almost all the american Dags an Ambros we have found are cased. We have a smuch smaller English archive. But quite a few of the English ambros are not cased. They had an eye screw in the upper part of the wooden screw so it could be hung for display in the family prlor or other room. We do not hve a large enough archive to assess how common this was. But it seems to have been more common than in America. We think that this was the case for both Dags and Ambros. We are not sute just how they were hung and displayed.








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Created: 4:46 AM 10/8/2008
Last updated: 8:54 PM 12/27/2015