Read at the Meeting of the Manchester Photographic Society December 3rd, 1856

If there is anything original contained in this paper on the albumen process, I wish to state that it is the result of two persons having pursued the subject conjointly for the space of three or four years. And should Mr. Leece and myself produce anything in this paper which may be of use to the Manchester Photographic Society, they are heartily welcome to it. We will begin with the


The albumen of the hen egg appears to us to be the best for the photographer, on account of its uniformity in thickness, and also for the simple reason that hen eggs are easier to be obtained than either duck, or goose eggs. The albumen of the duck egg is, however, very clear and white.

The first step is to obtain some fresh eggs though there is such a thing as being too fresh, in which case the yolk is so tender that it is next to ark impossibility to break them without mixing the yolk with the white, but they do very will after six or eight hours keeping. In cold weather, we have often taken good pictures after they have been kept a week.

In preparing the albumen we provide ourselves with a large basin, holding about one pint, and two clean vessels, one to hold the yolk, and the other the whites. Break the eggs very carefully, taking particular care not to mix any yolk, or germ, with the white, and then put into the basin the following formula:

Albumen 3 ounces.
Iodide of Potassium 35 grains.
Lump Sugar 35 grains.
Water ½ ounce.

If the eggs are thin and poor do not add any water. Then with a silver fork, or a spools, beat the whole into froth, until the basin is quite full and the froth so thick that the fork or spoon will stand upright in the center of the basin. The time it usually takes to get the albumen into that state is from fifteen to twenty-five minutes, constantly beating.

The basin containing the albumen is then laid aside, and covered over with a plate of glass, or a board, to keep the dust out, and the albumen allowed to settle down, which will take at least ten hours, when it may be poured into a bottle and corked up fur use. Many use iodide of ammonium for iodizing their albumen they give it the preference on account of the small holes iodide of potassium is said to make in the skies or black parts of the negative. The small holes are always present in negatives prepared with albumen iodized with iodide of potassium, but they do not often print on the paper. We have always been accustomed to use iodide of potassium from the belief that it. is easier to be obtained good than the iodide of ammonium; but there is no doubt that the latter, if pure, is the best salt of the two. By putting bits of camphor into the bottle of prepared albumen it may be kept good for comparatively a long time. Last summer we too some good negatives with albumen which lead been kept four weeks in this manner. Good glass is indispensable to the albumen process; patent plate seems to us to be the most suitable. It is easily cleaned in the following manner:

A deal board and a hard nail brush and two perfectly clean cloths should be provided. The deal board should be considerably larger than the largest plate of glass employed. The glass is then laid on the board and brushed over with a moderately strong solution of ammonia or cyanide of potassium; the latter is very destructive to albumen film. Next rinse the glass under a running tap, then take off the superfluous moisture with one cloth and dry and polish with the other.

To coat plates of glass with albumen the following articles must be provided, which are (with the exception of one) on the table for your inspection. The article not present is a small cast-iron stove, similar to those seen in almost every ironmonger's shop in town, having a round hole and a lid in the top. This hole is about five inches diameter in mine; and when there is a good fire, the heat striking upwards from it is very considerable. It has this advantage over a fire, that you escape having your plate in the current of air which forms the draft of the chimney; and which is loaded with smoke and dust.

The next important article is the albumen filter, a simple piece of apparatus formed out of a ripped measuring glass and a funnel The latter should be long enough to reach to the bottom of the measuring glass, and a small piece of sponge put into the neck of the funnel completes the filter. The piece of sponge should be cut slightly cortical, so that when pressed into the funnel, it will retain its position. It is perhaps needless to mention that this piece of sponge should be very fine, and kept scrupulously clean.

The bent piece of wire is for the purpose of holding and revolving the. plates whilst they are drying; over the stove. It may be made of either steel, iron, or brass wire, but which ever is used, . should possess sufficient elasticity to retain the glass plate by the corners between the two loops, in any position the operator may place it. A string is also to be tied to the wire, and by means of the sliding knot round, and the play of the corners of the glass plate in the wire loops, a level position may be attained. A boy's marble placed upon the plate, tests the position very nicely.

A brush to dust the plates, and a goose quill to distribute the albumen over them, completes the apparatus.

Having thus explained the use of the apparatus before us, we will accompany the photographer to his stove, which should have a bright and clear fire, and on a table close to the stove he should have the above mentioned apparatus, viz.:--a bottle of albumen, filter, piece of wire, brush, and a glass of clean water for containing and keeping clean the quill. We then place one of the clean plates in the wire and level it, brush off the dust, pour on some of the filtered albumen, distributing it over the plate with the quill, pour off the excess on to the sponge, and carry the plate to the stove in the wire, the albumen side downwards until you get there; then turn the plate, albumen side upwards, and begin to spin over the centre of the stove by the string attached to the wire. The string should always be slightly damped before spinning, as small particles are liable to fall on and spot the plate. The time taken to dry the albumen is usually about half a minute. The plate is then reared up in some warm corner of the room near the stove. In the operation just described, you will see that dust is a very great enemy, and that every precaution must be taken to prevent it falling on the plate. We would caution the operator where he will most likely meet with this pest, viz., --the ceiling and walls of the room, and the clothes and hair of the operator, and nothing but a good brushing of these places, preparatory to the preparation of a plate, will enable this operation to be successful.


Before rendering our plate sensitive to light we must mention a fact that is perhaps not much noticed by albumen operators. The plate coated by iodized albumen is very deliquescent. When first brought from the stove, the film is quite hard and brittle when scratched with a hard point. If the same plate be allowed to cool in a moderately cool room it loses all the brittleness and become quite soft. Now the different degrees of hardness in the film influence to a great extent the working qualities and appearance of the plate after it has passed the exciting bath. We have brought for the inspection of the Society three plates which show the appearances alluded to. The first is a plate that has been put into the bath too soon and was evidently too hard for a uniform chemical action to take place. The second is a good plate, and the third is the inverse of the first, being put in after remaining too long in cooling; or the same effect would have been produced had it stood near a damp wall. In the latter case the chemical action has been too intense.

The albumen operator then requires some test to enable him to judge when to put his plate into the bath, and the only one we know is that of scratching the corner of the plate with the finger-nail, and if he can just scratch it, it is fit for the following exciting bath:

Nitrate of Silver 70 grains.
Distilled Water 1 ounce.
Glacial Acetic Acid... 1¼ drachms.

Though this bath is a strong and expensive one we would advise persons practising the albumen process, whether they make use of the vertical or horizontal dipping troughs, not to limit themselves to too small a quantity, as economy in this respect (as in many other branches of photography) is no economy at all in the long run.

We have always made use of the horizontal gutta-percha and porcelain trays for our exciting baths, and have experienced no difficulty in exciting plates in theirs, six or seven ounces of aceto-nitrate solution in the bath has proved sufficient to excite plates 10x8 inches, but as before mentioned we prefer to have a much larger quantity on hand in addition to that in the bath. Great care must be taken to avoid dust falling on the bath, as the dust floating on the surface of the solution marks the plate. The bath ought to be provided with a cover which should only be removed when there is a plate to be excited and replaced when the operation is performed.

The exciting of an albumenized plate in a horizontal bath might at first sight appear difficult, but it is not so, a little practice being all that is necessary to accomplish it with the greatest ease. Care must, however, be taken to allow the plate to fall on the surface of the solution with a progressive and uninterrupted motion, as any stoppage always produces a line or crack sufficiently substantial to print on the paper. Having been accustomed to work in a room of a warm and uniform temperature our time of leaving the plates on the exciting bath has usually been one minute, but the time varies according to the temperature.

The plates after leaving the exciting bath must be well washed in a bath of distilled, or filtered rain water, and then left to dry in the grooved plate box, which should have a piece of clean blotting paper at the bottom to absorb the water.


Albumenized plates have obtained a reputation for their good keeping qualities; but though we can bear testimony to this fact, yet any party following the albumen process can hardly fail to notice that the loss of sensitiveness in his plates is in proportion to the length of time they are kept; our own experience is, that we have always obtained the best results when the exposure has been under the influences of a bright sun and the plates have not been kept more than two or three days. We have been accustomed to go out on a two or three days' tour with perhaps eight or nine plates in our plate box.

Our mode of changing the plates in the field from the plate boa to slide, and vice versa, is as follows. We have a large bag that is just over the camera, in fact it is a case or cover for it; it is twice the length of the bottom board of the camera, is open at both ends, and is closed with a drawing tape. At the end of the bag at which the slide is introduced, are two sleeves, one at each side, made of the same material as the bag, which close and open for the admission of the hands by two elastic bands sewn in the ends.

The bag is made of one fold of thick black calico and lined with a yellow material on the inside.

The plate box now being inside the camera where it always remains (except when taking a picture), the slide is put in at the back, and the bag drawn up perfectly tight. The hands of the operator should then be introduced through the sleeves at the sides to open the back board of the slide and lid of the plate bog. The plate should then be taken out of the slide and put into a groove of the plate box, the albumen side upwards. Another plate should then be taken from the box and put into the slide, the albumen side downwards. It is a good plan before any plates are exposed, say before leaving home, to place the plates so that they will always have their albumen sides downwards in the box, they being more easily got into the slide. On the other hand, the exposed plates are best put with the albumen side upwards, so that by touching you may be enabled to tell which have been exposed and which have not. Care must be taken to have the plate box perfectly impervious to light When brought out of the camera, during an exposure.


We will now proceed to the development. The method which we consider best is as follows: put the negative, that is to be, into a porcelain tray a little larger than the plate, pour on it about ¼ inch deep of a saturated solution of gallic acid, allow it to stand 15 minutes to soften the film, then add aceto-nitrate solution, drop by drop, until it produces a slight milkiness. If the plate is a good one and the exposure correct, nothing more is necessary than to leave it there until it is developed, and as much half shade brought out as it will stand without endangering the transparency of the negative.

Warmth and pyrogallic acid may be made of use for negatives that have been under-exposed, but if this can be avoided it is much better.

We have fixed all our negatives with a moderately strong solution of hyposulphite of soda., and formerly were in the habit of bleaching them with bichloride of mercury dissolved in hydrochloric acid, and restoring them with the hyposulphite of soda solution. The latter method is quite unnecessary in good negatives, which are certainly dense enough, as it renders them still denser, and in some instances has spoiled them.

With these remarks we conclude our paper on the Albumen process, and hope that in answer to a wish expressed by some gentlemen present at the last meeting, we have succeeded in informing the Manchester Photographic Society, as to our manner of manipulating.