View Full Version : Silver content in papers

Neal Shields
8-Aug-2004, 19:40
I was at a local camera store this weekend where the owner has a degree in photography and is much more knowledgeable than most counter people at photo stores.

He had a B&w ink jet print that really looked good. I went out to the car to get my old Kodak darkroom guide that has actual B&W prints in it to use as a standard. It was not in the car, but when I told him what I was doing he said two things:

The ink jet wouldn't compare to those samples


That modern silver prints wouldn't compare either because modern paper doesn't contain as much silver.

Is there anywhere that has quantitative data on silver content in both modern and older papers?

It sure would be nice to have something to blame my poor results on besides lack of skill and diligence.

Bruce Watson
8-Aug-2004, 20:06
This theme recurs with some regularity. Sometimes about papers. Sometimes about films. Everyone was sure that the "new" Tri-X would be ruined because Kodak was going to take more silver out. Yet, Tri-X continues, and seems to be fine, if not improved. Clearly, there is more to an emulsion than silver content.

I don't have, and haven't seen any proof, one way or the other. There have been many changes in film and paper technology over the years. The prints I see, from expert printers, on modern papers, seem to be the equal of older prints. At shows like AIPAD, you can compare prints from modern masters such as David Mellor with old acknowledged masters such as Edward Weston.

This I have done, and I've concluded to my satisfaction that good printers, are good printers. They learn and master their media, be it carbon, albumen, platinum, dye transfer, silver, pigment inks, or whatever process is available at the time.

As to the argument about inkjet comparing to silver prints, I would agree they "wouldn't compare" in large part because inkjet isn't trying to "be" a silver print, any more than a silver print was trying to be a platinum print or a carbon print or whatever when it was introduced. Inkjet is trying to be inkjet - a different media.

8-Aug-2004, 20:07
hi neal

i don't know about papers and silver, but i had a conversation with the chemist who used to do a ton of work with the folks who publish the photo lab index - and he said that most film these days has very little silver in it compared to pre 1980s film, and instead of silver it is now filled with poly-vinyls.

he went on to tell me about monobath chemistry especially one that he created for himself. his negatives was always "ultra sharp" and he attributed it to this monobath chemistry ... he said that if he used his "secret formula" today, he would have problems with reticulation because of the lack of silver, so i wouldn't doubt it if paper was the same way.

sorry to go off on a tangent ...


Gem Singer
8-Aug-2004, 20:23
Hi Neal,

If this educated photo store owner is located here in Texas, he may be going "crazy from the heat".

Emulsions, as well as base materials of modern papers are formulated differently than those of the older papers. However, the difference that you noticed in those prints has very little, or even nothing, to do with the quantitative amount of silver that the paper manufacturers incorporate into their emulsions.

That seems to leave lack of skill and dilligence to blame for the results that you say you are experiencing. It takes skill and dilligence to create an outstanding inkjet print, the same as it does to create an outstanding silver gelatin print.

Eric Woodbury
8-Aug-2004, 21:15
Personally, I don't care about how much silver, I just want it to be capable of a nice print, white to black. I think the blacks today are as good as ever and I love the VC papers, especially Bergger.

Jorge Gasteazoro
8-Aug-2004, 21:38
Let me quote Dr. Henry form his book "Control in B&W photography" page 125:

"The silver content of the papers studied was NOT related to the maximum black obtainable."

He measure the silver content of the papers and compared it to the max black they were able to achieve. Turns out some with less silver had better blacks.

8-Aug-2004, 22:33
Hogarth Hughes wrote:

"As to the argument about inkjet comparing to silver prints, I would agree they "wouldn't compare" in large part because inkjet isn't trying to "be" a silver print, any more than a silver print was trying to be a platinum print or a carbon print or whatever when it was introduced. Inkjet is trying to be inkjet - a different media."

Thanks very much for this observation. It is one one of most sensible things I have read anywhere about the attempt to compare prints from different processes.

ronald moravec
9-Aug-2004, 08:10
There was a period in the 1980`s when too much silver was removed from papers, and you couldn`t make a decent print for anything.

Then Ilford came out with Gallery and Oriental with something or other and Kodak came our with a very nice graded paper on a heavy base. Kodak said it was still reduced silver, but they did things with it to make it work.

Current papers will make prints the equal of the old reguardless of silver content.

What is missed is the range of surfaces and textures and emulsion colors that is probably gone for good.

Eric Woodbury
9-Aug-2004, 10:17
On inkjet prints, I must pass along something said to me by a friend who sells a lot of inkjet prints, "There is nothing like a good silver print."

I'm not sure about the great quality of inkjet prints. They do allow digital output, which otherwise can be so difficult. They do show off the abilities of a good 'computer printer'. It is amazing how digital manipulation in the mouse of a good digital printer can trick the viewer to see those qualities we love in large format. These tricks are not really different than the techniques silver printers use in the darkroom, but when I view inkjet prints, I just don't feel as 'close' to the artist as I do with silver or platinum or watercolor paintings. They seem detached and in fact I believe they are.

9-Aug-2004, 10:21
In 1973, the Hunt brothers of Texas began to buy up silver. At the time, it was less than $2 an ounce. By about 1984 they had driven the price up to more than $50 an ounce. http://www.buyandhold.com/bh/en/education/history/2000/hunt_bros.html

It's my understanding the photo companies could no longer produce the same papers (and probably film) with silver prices so high. Kodak advertised its new paper contained brighteners. To my eye, the paper only printed dark greys, but they looked darker because the brightners made the whites so white. IMHO, the prints made on that paper were terrible. I believe Kodak began to work on T-Max films at the same time.

By the late 80s, the silver bubble had burst and companies such as Ilford, Oriental and Zone VI began to sell papers they advertised as silver rich. Kodak soon followed with new papers.

I don't know what the companies did in the late 80s, but the papers returned to a normal look. Maybe they really did put silver back into the paper - maybe something else.

Eric Woodbury
9-Aug-2004, 11:36
I don't think this is all do to high silver prices. At the same time as silver's increasing price, cadmium and other exotic heavy metals were removed from papers.

QT Luong
9-Aug-2004, 11:53
"When the price of silver hits $76 an ounce, all photographs will be melted down for their silver content". Ted Orland --

Kirk Keyes
9-Aug-2004, 12:07
Jnanian - it sounds like someone is pulling your leg with that story!

J.E. Simmons - your facts seem to be off. According to the Silver Institute, COMEX spot prices for silver in 1985 ranged from a high of $6.8350/oz to a low of $5.5250/oz, with an average price of $6.1459/oz. The actual high price of silver came in 1980 with a price of $48.7000/oz. Prices quickly dropped back down to the $10/oz range for a few years and have been below that ever since hovering around $5/oz. You are right about the Hunt Bros. precipitating the price rise though. See http://www.silverinstitute.org/price/hist_priceny.php

Jorge is right - check out the graph in Dr. Henry's book and you will see that there is no direct correlation between silver content in paper and maximum black.

Eric Woodbury
9-Aug-2004, 12:58
"When the price of silver hits $76 an ounce, all photographs will be melted down for their silver content". Ted Orland --

Starting with his.

Michael A.Smith
9-Aug-2004, 13:44
In the early 1980s a good friend of mine (a chemist) measured the silver content of all of the papers. (He burned them and measured the silver content in the ash--exactly how, I do not know.) Then he did a DMax test for each of the papers. There was no correlation between the two things. Azo was third or fourth as I recall in silver content, but it did have the deepest blacks.

9-Aug-2004, 18:19
kirk - -

the chemist i spoke with was jerry katz. he did the chemistry & film analysis for the photo lab index for the better part of 50 years. he is a chemist with vast experience with photo-chemistry, i don't think he has any reason to pull my leg. i am sure if you contact kodak and ask them when they started putting poly-vinyl "fillers" into film emulsion instead of silver, they will tell you the early 1980s --- that is if you speak with someone who is not a student intern from rit reading their tech info off of a computer screen.

Kirk Keyes
10-Aug-2004, 08:56
jnanian - thatnks for the extra info. I'll check into it!

10-Aug-2004, 11:12
sure thing :)

Bruce Watson
10-Aug-2004, 20:08
Not that anyone cares, but I need to set the record straight. I said "David Mellor" in my post above, and meant Douglas Mellor, who goes by the name DW Mellor. I apologize for my mistyping.