My glass negative


This intriguing image is a glass plate negative from around 1900.

It is a dry plate film, an invention that replaced wet plate photography from the 1870s on. Dry plate was an improvement of film technology that avoided the mess and labour involved in wet plate collodion photography. In that difficult process, sheets of glass were manually prepared in a darkroom immediately prior to taking    a photograph, and developed immediately after. Dry plate, like today’s films, was purchased ready to use, and could be processed at any time.

The format is quarter plate, 3¼” x 4¼” or 83mm x 108mm, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The active chemical in dry plate was still silver bromide but was now suspended in    a gelatin rather than collodion emulsion, thus avoiding the ‘wet’ preparation stage. Improvements to the gelatin emulsion through heating the mixture dramatically increased light-sensitivity (ISO) as you can see on the label below.

Dry plate film was manufactured from 1878 and was a revolution in photography because commercially manufactured film could be purchased as desired, used at any time and developed at any time. The standard support was a sheetof glass with the film emulsion already applied. Flexible cellulose film base took over in the early decades of the 20th century.

My glass plate negative has no brand on it so it’s anybodies guess who manufactured. It might have been Kodak, but there were numerous other brands of film available, like this one:





A document scan  picks up the surface detail of the negative.

Since the provenance of the negative is unknown, except that is was purchased in Gippsland, no camera can be guessed at; was it a commercial photographer or a family member behind that camera? The neat arrangement of figures suggests a commercial hand at work.


Positive image. Click on the image to see the faces and fashions more clearly

The positive image show it as a family group in Victorian or Edwardian dress; the young man’s suit and tie suggests the latter period. The family is grouped around the matriarch in white bonnet. Four generations are pictured, a notable occasion worthy of a formal photograph in those days of infant mortality and early death.

They seem neither wealthy nor poor, and the scene could have been in the country or the city. Their neat clothes contrast with the untidy architecture. It is notable that all the women wear white. Frustratingly, there are not enough firm clues to be certain about the photograph’s details. It’s full of stories, but you have to make them up yourself.


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