Daguerreotype? Nope Ambrotype

Ambrotype painted with gold highlights

I'm slowly making my way through a great book called "Capturing The Light" which is about the beginnings of photography. Niépce, Daguerre, Talbot, they're all there. This reminded me that I have a couple of daguerreotypes in my cabinet which were thoughtfully given to me as a gift a few years back. "Let's pull them out and take a look with a loop!", I thought to myself, and that's just what I did. 

I noticed a few interesting things about them once I took a closer look and so decided to take some pictures and write up this post. However they were enclosed in these 19th century "Union cases" which were made out of shellac and wood fibers, and the glass in between myself and the actual picture was covered with stuck dust and crud which was messing with my ability to get a good picture of them. So I pulled up my trusty web browser and ended up on a fascinating FAQ page of The Daguerreian Society, where I learned that what I have are NOT in fact daguerrotypes rather ambrotypes because they're made on coated glass and not polished silver. You can tell because they both weren't reflective enough to be polished silver (reflective like a mirror) and because you didn't need to shift the plate around at just the right angle to see the image.

In an effort to get closer to the truth, I pulled out my trusty x-acto knife and pulled the case apart to get to the original glass plate. The front coated with the photochemicals, the back with black paint so the front image was easier to see. So in the end I don't have what I think I had, but that's ok, what I have is still way cool. Be careful if you want to buy one of these on eBay that you actually get what you're paying for.

Oh and the thing that originally got me to want to write this post is the fact that they went in and painted gold onto the plate over the woman's necklace and ring to give it the illusion of color. Pretty neat.

Ambrotype of young boy

Same ambrotype from above, still in it's "Union Case"

Bill WadmanComment