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Thread: Coating Carleton Watkins

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    tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Coating Carleton Watkins

    Does anyone have any insight into the paper that Carleton Watkins printed on? In particular was it a store-bought version that was pre-coated with albumin or did he self coat his paper?

    If you look closely at some (but not all) of the prints you will notice a thin, perhaps 1/4, line of under development running along one if not two of the edges. I'm speculating that resulted from the paper having curled up from the albumen during the coating process and not having absorbed the same amount of albumen as the rest of the sheet. I've noticed this on my own coatings but since I was printing a 5x7 negative on 8x10 paper it presented no problem. The solution, in my case, would seem to be to print 8x10 negatives on 9x11 paper cut down from 11x14 thus allowing for the curl-up.

    You would think that a pre-coated version of albumen paper, which was available in the 19th century, would be free of such edge defects but were they? Surely Watkins was aware of the propensity of the paper to curl during coating but perhaps he was limited to the size on hand if he coated his own. What do you think?

    Thomas

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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    I believe that in the 1860's - 1870's period that store-bought albumen paper wasn't available. I do have a Watkins print - it is a mammoth plate image at Yosemite - from around 1866-67 or so. The edges have been trimmed when it was mounted to the original board - so I don't know if it had the edge effect you are talking about. The edge effect might have been caused by the printing process of contacting the glass negative to the albumen paper and exposing it to sunlight- flare. It might be the part of the negative that was behind the edge of the glass-plate holder that holds the plate into the holder - therefore not exposed. Or, could be the edge of the paper beyond where the glass plate ended - when printing. I have some period prints on POP where this appears to happen.

    My great-grandfather was active in Oregon City and northern Oregon in the 1890's - 1910 period and printed on printing out paper (POP) which I believe he bought from a Chicago manufacturer. POP paper was available until the 1970's. When I was in photographic school I had the end of a box made by Kodak.

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    I've didn't detect any of that on Watkin's larger ("mammoth") albumen prints, but perhaps he was especially careful with those. Some of his best plates were no doubt reprinted well past the time he first took them, even though few examples survive today. Pre-coated albumen was available in recent decades from Chicago Albumen Works. I don't know if they're still in operation or not. Albumen was getting out of date in the early 20th, although I have a lovely albumen portrait of my mother and her brother in their childhood, taken in 1914, probably on pre-coated paper.

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    tgtaylor's Avatar
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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    According to Reilly (The Albumen and Salted Paper Book) commercial Albumen paper first appeared in Germany as early as 1854. American photographers in the 1850's imported raw stock from Europe to albumenize themselves but during the Civil War began importing factory coated Albumen paper. It's interesting to note that the Dresden paper sold its paper in reams of 480 sheets of 46x58cm in size - almost exactly the size as Watkins mammoth plate. It would appear that Watkins choice of format was influenced by the availability of paper of that size. But Watkins apparently trimmed his prints as most are somewhat less than 18x22" You can see the coating(?) imperfections along some of the edges in The Complete Mammoth Photographs as well as in some of the online prints.

    Thomas

    Thomas

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    That is interesting.

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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    Also interesting is The Yosemite Book by Joshua Whitney illustrated with photographs by Carleton Watkins. Perhaps the first guide to be illustrated with photographs, 250 first editions were printed and Watkins personally glued-in 24 8x6" photographs of the 28 in the edition. According to Tyler Green, Watkins may have received $6 for each volume sold. You can view if for free on the web but the best is an Octavio edition which consists of a digital scan of the original first edition at The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley that gives a scan of the book as shown below and then a higher resolution page by page scan.



    Thomas

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    Thanks. I'm quite a fan of Watkin's work. There used to be a specialty dealer at the corner of Ashby and Adeline in Berkeley who specialized in Yos and other CA period history, including a lot of old Yos photos and books etc - lots of secondary Watkins prints. It is still there but seldom open, basically mothballed, due to the advanced age of the owner. My own family has quite a few of Watkin's commercial stereo images, which were mass printed and marketed, but nothing seriously collectible, and certainly not of much real artistic interest like his prints per se. But that kind of thing is actually what paid most of his bills, being the stock photographer he primarily was, promoting the scenic opportunities of the railroads. The Oakland Museum holds quite a few major pieces, though almost every one of them I've seen suffers from foxing (mildew) to some degree - rather common for albumen when stored in a damp environment prior to proper curatorship.

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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    You can see the edge effect along the left and upper edge here: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/...can-1865-1866/ Tyler Greene gives some insight into the trail Watkins took for this view: https://www.ucpress.edu/blog/37397/c...osemite-falls/ Note that this route lies on the opposite side of the fall of today's route. Does this route, albeit "unmaintained", still exist? Watkins revisited this site in 1878 and took a mammoth plate image from the same location which, IMO, is much better possibly because it eliminate the tree at the left, tree branch at the right, and apparently was taken at a faster shutter speed as the mist is eliminated.

    Thomas

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    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    John K. is more familiar with some of the old trails on that side of the Valley than I am. But I had to climb up a talus pile to get to that particular spot. There was also a different wagon road where Watkins took some very exciting pictures from, obviously pre-tunnel. And I can't tell if you're encountering a coating problem or a fixing, improper washing, etc?, problem which has deteriorated over time. I've seen the same kind of thing many times on old silver prints. Too bad I was too young to understand the stories of my first babysitter, in her mid 90's then, and allegedly the first white woman to visit Yos Valley as a little girl. I heard the stories second-hand from her daughter as well as my parents, but also saw some very early tintypes and ambrotypes.

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    Re: Coating Carleton Watkins

    SInce I have had the same thing happen to a couple of my albumen prints, I believe the "edge effect" is caused by it being at some time over-matted under acidic mat board.

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