Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Photo Finish

MCCOGS' library holds more than books, maps, pedigree charts, and family histories. It also holds a number of photo collections kindly donated by Muskingum County residents and family researchers. Sadly, most of the photos are of unidentified people and places; we only know from the donor the Muskingum family name(s) associated with collection, and sometimes a specific locality, such as "Roseville". In the hope that someone might help us identify who or what is in a photo, individual photos from these collections are showcased weekly in the "Who Is It? Wednesday" feature of our Facebook page (

Recently, MCCOGS received a collection of about 100 glass plate negatives. Glass plate negatives are photographic images captured on a piece of glass about the size of a postcard--but a lot heavier!  The donor tells us the photographs were taken in and around the Chandlersville-Rix Mills area of the county, and that many, if not all, might be associated with the Mautz and allied families. They probably were taken around 1900-1915.

Dry plate negative from the collection recently donated to MCCOGS
Historically, there are two types of glass plate negatives. The first, collodion wet plate negatives, came into use in 1851. In this photo process, a thick glass plate was coated with collodion, a syrupy solution of nitrocellulose in a mixture of alcohol and ether. It was a messy process, but several high quality prints could be made from one negative. Wet plate negatives remained in use into the 1880's, despite the development of less messy, more transportable, silver gelatine (yes, that's the correct spelling!) dry plate negatives in 1873.

Silver gelatine dry plate negatives came into wide use in the 1880's, and continued so into the 1920's when they were supplanted by photographic film. However, because of the high quality image produced from photographic glass plates, astronomers continued to use them into the 1990's. A few artists still use the technology, but most companies, like Kodak, have ceased production. Digitization has rendered glass plate negative photo processing all but obsolete. 

As you can imagine, this new MCCOGS photograph collection requires special care. The plates didn't arrive in the best condition. They're very dirty, and a number of plates are stuck together, probably as a result of exposure to extreme heat. It's possible to pry to plates apart, but it will be a slow process that must be done a certain way if we're to avoid further damage to the image. Once cleaned, each glass plate will be scanned, and using a photo editor (Paint 3D), turned into a digitized black and white photograph. The negative (above) and its black and white image (below) was our test case.

After cleaning and scanning, each glass plate will be encased in its own archival-quality envelope, and placed on edge in an archival-quality box specifically designed to safely store glass plate negatives. Given the number of glass plates in the collection, this entire process will take some time, but eventually these photos will be available for viewing. We'll keep you posted.

Digitized image made from the above glass plate negative

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