Ambrotypes


Welcome to my page on ambrotypes. I hope you've had a chance to view the page on daguerreotypes. Daguerreotypes predate ambrotypes by about a decade.

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This isn't pretty, but because it's in bad shape, it can be a great illustration of what ambrotypes are all about. The image on the left is exactly as it appeared when I removed it from its brass frame. (The wet plate process had to be done quickly, before the plate dried, and it certainly looks as though the backing was applied in a rush.) While the image on the left seems hopelessly damaged, it's usually the black varnish or asphaltum that has deteriorated, not the image. You can also see on the left that the photographer had cemented a second piece of glass over the emulsion image. Unfortunately, the seal eventually broke and moisture got around the head. I'm not touching that for fear of losing the whole ambrotype. But in the right-hand image, I've removed the old varnish and simply put a piece of black paper behind the glass. And look at the image's clarity now!


Now we can tell that there was a little table behind the girl, and we can see some interesting details in this close-up. She wears two small rings, one of which appears to have a setting with a stone, her dress is bordered with hand cross-stitching, and she wears a garter with a heart-shaped fob. We can almost see if her fingernails are clean!

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Image is 2" width x 2.5" height
Following up on that last illustration comes this ambrotype of Lucy Kimball. Notice in the lower left corner a white rectangle. That's asphaltum that disintegrated and chipped off the back of the glass. The image itself is intact.



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Image is 2.5" width x 2" height
This pair doesn't seem like a remarkable ambrotype, though it's an interesting study of fashion (the lady on the left is wearing faux ermine trim).



It turns out that the emulsion is on a dark purple stained glass, a much more elegant solution to the wet plate process.

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Image is 2.75" width x 3.25" height


This well-dressed young man appears to be the preppy of his time. His photograph was taken in May, 1858, in Salem.



The Salem gentleman's image was also produced on stained glass, a touch I've come to associate with more fashionable photographers.

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This lovely item is a fine example of why gutta perchas are also often called union cases.

Image is 2" width x 2.5" height


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Image is 2" width x 2.5" height


George B. Haywood (Bill Moyers in a parallel universe) traveled to San Francisco and apparently did well there. What makes this ambrotype special is not necessarily the distinguished Mr. Haywood, but the photographer, George Robinson Fardon.


George Robinson Fardon (b. 1807) was an Englishman who came to San Francisco during the Gold Rush. He is best remembered for publishing an extensive album of San Francisco views, including panoramas. Fardon is credited with creating the earliest photographic record of an American city, and one of the earliest such records in the world. It's interesting to note that there were a number of prominent photographers in New York City throughout the 1850s, including Mathew Brady, and none of them thought to make a record of that city.

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The center of this gutta percha front is concave and could have been a candidate for gilding.

Image is 1.375" width x 2.375" height



This image has an interesting story. I saw it in an antique shop years ago, found it attractive, and for reasons I can't explain, passed on buying it. When I changed my mind and went back to the dealer, I discovered that it had been sold! I kicked myself and never forgot the lost opportunity. Years later, I went into a different antique store, and one with no antique photography on display. The dealer asked if there was anything in particular that I was looking for, and when I mentioned antique photography, she produced the long-lost image from behind the counter. I really felt as though I had been reunited with something that had been meant for my safekeeping all along, and I treasure it all the more.

This is a highly collectible image, not just because the ambrotype is in good condition and the face is attractive, but also because of the wonderful costume. The hat that the young man is wearing was a faddish style of teenage boys and young men well into their twenties. It was a major statement of coolness, and you can be sure that this young fellow (who seems to have a sunburned nose) was adamant about wearing this style, and very proud of it.


Patent information stamped on the edges of the frame reveal that the sitter may have lived in or near Worcester, Massachusetts.

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Thanks for visiting my page on ambrotypes!
Don't forget to look at tintypes, too!


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