handling glass plate negs

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i have started to work with my locak historical museum ther are 100's of glass plates from 4x5 to 12x10 i have worked with plates years ago and would apreciate any sources fro handling cleaning and printing that are contemporary. thanks for your help.

-- lee nadel (photonoodl@nii.net), July 12, 1999


Lee, I worked at a similar task some years ago and found the following: Glass negs handle pretty much like regular film negatives except for the fact that they can be extremely fragile. This is especially important when printing since modern negative carriers won't work and some enlargers have so much spring tension in the negative stage that they can easily break a glass neg. I had to fabricate my own carriers, different sizes with masks, out of stiff cardboard and foam rubber. If you need to refix, remove stains, etc., the usual standard chemistry works just fine. I had a nifty turn-of-the-century drying rack that folded flat for storage, and, when in use, held the plates vertically like a little bookshelf tipped toward the back at a 45- degree angle. Only the edges touched. Perhaps you have or can build something similar. Hanging them up to dry is out of the question. Be careful too, that you aren't removing retouching that you don't want to remove when you reprocess old plates! Many of the old studio portraits were routinely retouched, usually on the emulsion side with graphite or dyes of some kind that can wash off. Some have indelible ink retouching and, if this is on the emulsion side, can't be removed without taking the emulsion with them. I found that many portraits have a lot inmpact with the retouching removed since the wrinkles and skin defects that were smoothed away add much to the personality of the persons, usually pioneers, etc., in the images. Secondly, glass negs are almost always extremely contrasty due to the old thick emulsions and the printing-out-paper processes that were used then, and therefore, difficult to print well on modern enlarging paper. I had good luck with grade 1 paper and dilute Selectol Soft developer used in conjunction with a water-bath technique. The print is develped 30 seconds with agitation in the Selectol Soft diluted 2:1 to 5:1 and then placed in a water bath for a minute or so (sometimes with a little Kodalk balanced alkalai added to help the developer activity) with no agitation. This cycle is repeated until the desired contrast is reached (usually 3 to 6 cycles). Basically, this slows down the development process so that you can stop development before completion (like we all do with film) and control the contrast, and is similar to the water-bath developing process for negatives described by Ansel Adams in "The Negative". Of course, for each different development scheme, i. e., varying numbers of cycles and/or developer dilution, the print exposure will change. You have to experiment. Printing out paper, which is now available again (Bostick & Sullivan, etc.) is another way to go for printing the older negatives and has the advantage of being "authentic" since POP materials were all that was available early in the century. This stuff is "self-masking" so to speak and eliminates the contrast problem entirely. The disadvantages: you can only make negative-size prints, and you have to set up for the POP process and purchase the usually more expensive materials and chemicals. The toner is especially important. Still another technique for extremely hard to print plates is to make an internegative with less contrast and print that. I did this only rarely. The prints made directly from the old plates seem to have more life and immediacy than the second-generation prints. Sorry this is so long, but I hope it helps a bit. I'm sure there are some photo-archivists that could help you much more than I. (Perhaps one or more of you out there can add something, or update and correct any questionable information that I have imparted!) Regards, ;^D)

-- Doremus Scudder (ScudderLandreth@compuserve.com), July 12, 1999.

Twenty years ago, the Northampton Historical Society got a Ford Foundation grant for me to print their extensive collection of glass plates. These were almost all 8x10, and so I made contact prints using Kodak Azo paper - hundreds and hundreds of 'em. I processed archivally and toned them in selenium. It was a several-year undertaking, but I was able to advise how to store the plates [rag preservers from Light Impressions] and I also advised NOT to clean them. The National Document Center in Andover can advise how to clean them, but it's still better to leave them alone.

-- Dick Fish (dfish@javanet.com), July 12, 1999.

The Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland Ohio should be able to give you some good information.


-- Tony Brent (ajbrent@mich.com), July 17, 1999.

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