Reilly, James M. The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895. Light Impressions Corporation. Rochester, 1980.

Salted Paper Book

1840 - 1895

James M. Reilly

For Linda, Jennifer and Daniel

Electronic version of book:

Published by
Box 3012
Rochester, New York 14614
Book and cover design by Connie Shermer
First Printing 1980

Copyright © 1980 by James M. Reilly

All rights reserved

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 80- 14340 Cloth Binding ISBN 0-87992-020-3
Paperbound ISBN 0-87992-014-9
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
Reilly, James M 1946-
The albumen & salted paper book.
(Extended photo media series; 2)
On cover: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895.
Bibliography: p.
1. Photography--Printing processes. 2. Albumen paper. I. Title. II. Series.
TR400.R44 772'. 1 80-14340
ISBN 0-87992-014-9 (pbk.)


Silver printing has been often doomed,
but it still survives.

--Henry Peach Robinson & William Abney, Preface to The Art & Practice of Silver Printing, 1881

The Albumen and Salted Paper Book is a book about the major photographic printing processes in use during the years 1840 - 1895, approximately the first half-century of photographic history. These first 50 years of photography established a tradition of individual experimentation and craftsmanship in which each photographer (of necessity) participated in the manufacture of the printing materials he or she used. Hardly naive and primitive, the best prints from this era stand as examples of the beauty and subtle tonal perfection that silver photographic prints are capable of, but seldom attain. Yet few people today have any idea of the rich possibilities for contemporary work offered by the fruits of this long tradition of hand-made photographic papers. One important goal of this book is to convey to contemporary photographers an introduction to these traditional methods of silver photographic printing, methods which represent the best that the materials and chemical processes themselves can attain, not what is best for manufacturing economy or darkroom convenience.

The albumen print and the salted paper print were not exotic or eccentric processes in their own time, but were the ordinary, all-purpose materials of photographic printing. The salted paper print dominated photographic practice from 1840 to 1855, and the albumen print did likewise from 1855 to 1895. The albumen print is the second most common type of photograph ever made (though perhaps it has already lost this distinction to the chromogenic color print); it accounts for approximately 85% of the total number of surviving 19th-century photographic prints.

The form of the book is somewhat unusual, in that it combines full working directions for the processes (including quite a few variants of the salted paper print) with extensive historical information about their fabrication and use in the 19th century. It also contains recommendations for the identification, storage and preservation of albumen and salted paper prints, whether they be of historical or contemporary origin. Structuring the book to include more than the working directions for the processes seemed a natural outgrowth of my own interest in the subject, which had always seemed to move by turns from admiring historical photographs and wondering how they were made, to wanting to produce my own images in the same manner. Therefore, I have attempted in the book to preserve the resonances between the historical context and the working directions that made my own practice of the processes so much more rewarding. In time, I also came to be concerned with the factors affecting the permanence of prints made by these processes, and with techniques for their preservation. The central purpose of the book, however, is to offer a contemporary technical account of the making of these 19th-century printing papers, and as a consequence, the treatment of related aspects of the subject (such as identification, etc.) must remain somewhat brief and introductory.

The book is designed to serve the needs of two kinds of readers, those who simply seek technical information on these historical materials, and those who might wish to actually make prints according to these traditional means. At present both kinds of readers have nowhere else to look for this kind of information but the original technical writings of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Very good general histories of photography such as those by Newhall and Gernsheim do exist, but these do not provide detailed technical information.

For a modern reader confronting the original 19th-century sources, the difficulties are legion, beginning with the unexpectedly vast extent of the available material. There are also problems arising from variations of terminology and units of measurement, as well as a fairly sizeable amount of contradictory information. Probably the biggest difficulty of all lies in determining how representative of general historical practice any given formula or procedure really is.

To this end one of the main purposes of The Albumen and Salted Paper Book is to condense and distill the essence from literally hundreds of original 19th-century writings into one modern, readable account. I have also tried to provide a modern scientific explanation of some of the underlying chemical phenomena, whenever this seemed to help clarify either the history or the practice of albumen and salted paper printing. At the same time I have attempted to convey these technical explanations in as simple and understandable terms as possible.

My greatest hope in writing this book is that more people will experience the kind of pleasure and fulfillment that I have derived from exploring some of the possibilities of these printing papers from photography's past. If they do, they will come, as I have, to respect and understand more fully the achievements of the great masters of 19th-century photography.

I wish to acknowledge here the help and support of some of the people who made this book possible: my wife Linda, who gave the most valuable kind of support; Lionel Suntop and the whole Light Impressions organization; Irving Pobboravsky for his friendship, help and encouragement; and also my colleagues and friends of the Chicago Albumen Works, Joel Snyder, Doug Munson and Gordon Wagner, whose beautiful work in reprinting original negatives on albumen and salted papers would be greatly admired--I am sure--by the original photographers themselves. Also, I am indebted to David Kolody for permission to describe some of his working methods, to Reese V. Jenkins for his guidance and help, to Grant Romer for his advice and counsel, to Volkmar Wentzel for making available some of his father's manuscripts, to Carol Sullivan for her help in manuscript preparation, to Karen Reixach for her editorial work, and finally to Connie Shermer for her efforts in the design, layout and production of this book.

James M. Reilly
Rochester, New York
July 1979