Thursday, April 7, 2011

Treasure of dry glass plates

About five years ago, I came into work at the Town of Greenwich offices, expecting the typical slow pace. Maybe have an email or two waiting for me to answer. Maybe a phone call from someone in Ohio or California looking for an ancestor buried in one of the cemeteries. What I found was an amazing donation, just sitting on my cluttered desk. Fifty-two dry glass plates in four disintegrating boxes. Eight of the plates had been developed at some point, & were included.

After a year or so, I was finally able to take the plates to Michael Noonan, a local photographer who has a passion for history & traditional photographic techniques. Michael & I looked them over & decided on a few of the images based on composition and historical detail. He made up contact sheets of the 13 images we selected. Then time got away from me.

While I was getting ready for last weekend's "We Grow History" History Fair at Greenwich High School, I thought about those glass plates & decided to bring them with me. Another local photographer & re-enactor, Cliff Oliver, was there. When I told him what I had with me, his eyes lit up. When I told him I had gloves with me... he got very excited. Between Cliff, and Tim Tefft, an amazing walking encyclopedia of local history, they were able to let me know that many of these images were local. Yay!

Dry glass plates were invented by Richard Leach Maddox in 1871. They replaced the wet glass plates by about 1880 because they didn't have to be treated before exposure & photographers could wait to develop the photographs at a later time. Also, because the dry glass plates were mass produced the silver nitrates in the gelatin emulsion were more consistently distributed allowing for sharper images. They would be commonly used until about 1920. Because the emulsion in these plates is starting to break down chemically, the next step is to spend some of my small yearly budget on some glass negative boxes & four-flap negative enclosures. I finally get to order from the Gaylord catalog!

Anybody know of a grant that would help me fund the developing of this treasure trove of 52 dry glass plates?

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