From the Saginaw (Mich.) News, 7/19/1889, p. 8, c. 2

Waxed Paper Negatives – The Father of Modern Practical Photography – “Veteran” Roche, a Typical Inventor – Photo-Mechanical Printing.
[Special Correspondence.]

NEW YORK, July 18. – The great defect of M. Daguerre’s invention was that the images produced by it could not be multiplied except by repetition, as many times as copies were desired, f the costly and tedious original process. The fact was clearly apprehended by scientific and practical men that he had but opened the way to a field of infinite possibilities. It was not yet enough that the sunbeam should be imprisoned in the camera; it must be harnessed to the printing press. A creditable attempt in that direction was made by Sir. W. R. Grove, who, not long after the invention of the daguerreotype, discovered a means of etching it in the plate, with acid, to a sufficient depth to enable – with very delicate manipulation – printing from it, but his process was merely an ingenious and expensive curiosity, a failure for all practical purposes. The steps were slow by which the present perfection of the art was reached.

Mungo Paton, in 1830, discovered the sensitiveness of bi-chromate of potash to light. In 1841, Fox-Talbot, of England, did the first real photography by what he denominated the “calotype” process, but in what would now seem a very crude way. He made his negatives upon paper, which was subsequently waxed and rubbed with a hot iron to render it semi-transparent. Then he made his positives upon paper over which had been floated albumen charged with iodide of silver. That process, or a very close approximation to it, by the way, is still in use in Paris for the making of magic lantern “slides,” an art in which we now excel.

Louis Alphonse Pointevin in 1855 made the great improvement of employing for negatives plates of glass coated with “gelatin or other organic matter in combination with the bichromate of potash or of ammonia.” From this point really have sprung all the many ingenious, and for their respective uses enormously valuable, processes of producing photo-relief, photo-lithographic and other plates for various sorts of printing. Volumes would be required to recapitulate the improvements and variations that have been made since Pointevin’s time – in all civilized countries, but principally in the United States – but all rest directly upon his invention as a base, and Pointevin as the father of modern photography is hardly less worthy of honor in remembrance than Daguerre. It is true that in 1847 Niepce de St. Victor used iodized albumen on glass sensitized with nitrate of silver with fairly good results; also that Scott Archer, of England, in 1851 brought collodion – which had then recently been invented for surgical uses by Le Grey – into use, but neither of them reached the point of practicality attained by Pointevin with gelatin. M. Pierre Ignace Alexis Gaudin in 1853 introduced a collodion emulsion the formula of which did not get into general use, but served as the basis for a number of improvements a little later and was employed for several years thereafter. In 1861 he made a gelatin emulsion and called it “photogene.”

Not long after Pointevin’s discovery Paul Pretsch, of Vienna, found that if he coated a plate of glass with bichromatized gelatin to a thickness three or four times as great as that employed by Pointevin, and when it was dry exposed it in contact with a photographic live negative, the gelatin where the light acted upon it was rendered insoluble and hard, while from the other parts, where the light had not acted, the bi-chromate could readily be washed out, and the gelatin there would absorb water and swell up just in proportion as it had been protected from the light, giving a perfect matrix from which plaster casts or electrotypes could be made. So delicate but sure was the action of the light that half tones were preserved and the reproduction of accurate printed copies of the original seemed to be, theoretically at least, merely a matter of color and impression. In practice, however, it was found that there was a great deal of improvement still necessary before the process could be made commercially valuable. One of the moderately successful methods tried was that of coating metal plates with asphaltum, which hardened under the light and could be removed readily by solvents from the unexposed parts, thus presenting a surface for etching. Lined and stippled work could be well reproduced in that way, but the usefulness of the process was limited.

Pointevin produced some good work by coating his glass plates thinly with gelatin and printing from them as from lithographic stones, the parts exposed to light taking ink, while those not exposed would absorb water and so repel the ink. That method was greatly improved by Albert of Munich, mainly in the inks and rollers he employed, however, and his process – named after him – is still the most perfect for exceedingly fine photo-mechanical work, but with the drawback that it is slow and costly. Obernetter and Edwards also made improvements.

When news of what was doing in this direction abroad reached New York, Mr. T. C. Roche – familiarly, admiringly and affectionately known to nearly every photographer in the United States and pretty much all over the world as “the Veteran” and “Daddy Roche,” set to work experimenting. He tried to get some such ink as was used abroad, and the price demanded for it was $48 per pound, quite beyond his means. When he recovered his breath he went away and began at the beginning by making his own ink.

After a long series of experiments he settled upon copper plates as the best for the work, and at the next convention of photographers exhibited a pile of photographs printed from such plates, in such perfect reproduction of superb originals produced by sun printing that their character was not recognized until he explained it. Then it made a sensation. He had beaten Europe. His process is still used by the United States government and by commercial houses who own it in Boston and Chicago, but, like all his numerous and important inventions, it netted him scarcely anything. The great hearted and liberal firm of ink dealers, who charged him $48 per pound for the important ink, offered him $25 for the formula by which he produced better inks than the imported.

This matter of photo-mechanical printing is, however, leading us away from our historical resume of the progress of development of photography as a picture making art, into what, though only one of the branches of its application, is nevertheless a very wide field. To return to the main thread.

The collodion process held its own for all photographic work as late as 1871 and is still used with better results than any other for the making of such solid black and white negatives as are used by photo-engravers, tin types, and certain other specific applications, but in the year mentioned Dr. R. L. Maddox brought out in England dry plates coated with gelatin combined with bromide of silver. They were by no means perfect, but their desirability was at once manifest and incited many experimenters to see improvements upon them. Mr. Burgess, of Peckham, R. Kennett and Charles Benett – the latter as late as 1879-80 – made the chief improvements in the direction of increasing the sensitiveness of the dry plates, in which such success has been eventually attained that now an exposure for the infintessimal part of a second is as effective as that of a half a minute was less than a decade ago. Now dry plates are universally used for portraiture, landscapes, “instantaneous” views, etc.

When the sensitiveness of the dry plates had been perfected in 1880, they were still defective in the very important particular that they would not stand the neat of our climate. At a temperature of 85 degs. Their gelatin was liable to “frill,” “blister” and even melt quite off the plate, so that it was necessary in summer to keep them cool with ice. T. C. Roche, after a long and disheartening series of experiments, finally by sheer accident hit upon a gelatin coating that could not be melted off with boiling water or even by the heat of a Bunsen burner, and his discovery is in general use today, without any more benefit to him than any other of his many inventions from which others have reaped great fortunes and he nothing. About the same time that he made this important discovery, or perhaps a little before, Mr. Roche conceived the idea of applying a paper to contact printing or exposing in the solar camera a gelatin emulsion similar to that employed in coating the dry plates. This was for enlargements for crayon work. He was so successful that he produced a paper so sensitive that it could not be used in the solar camera, and had to be worked by artificial light to keep it under control.

Before a large number of photographers assembled in the Cooper Institute he made pictures upon it by the flash of a pinch of gun cotton. The English “platinotype” paper, invented by Mr. Willis, was already in existence, and was acknowledged as giving very fine results, but it was slow, required the use of the solar camera (a very costly instrument) and could not be used on dull days. Mr. Roche’s discovery did away with the solar camera altogether, and with his paper the work of enlargement could be done in a cellar by candle light. The importance of it may easily be imagined. But that invention, like all the rest, was clutched from the old man, who is the typical inventor par excellence in his inability to look out for his own interests.

T. C. Roche has had more valuable patents in photography taken out in his name than any other man in the United States, and has freely given away more discoveries than any other. Indeed, it would be correct to say that he has given away all that his rare genius and ability have attained, and others have become wealthy on them while he has grown old and poor in all but the regard in which he is held by the photographic world. It is worthy of mention as a remarkable fact in all the United States and Great Britain not an inch of paper is made fit for photographic uses. The world’s supply comes altogether from France and Germany and commands a high price. This is something for our many American paper makers to chew upon and reproach themselves for.

It is not apparent why they should not make quite as good a paper of any specific kind as can be produced in Europe. And another fact that goes with it is that only the finest French and Swiss gelatin can be used. Not an ounce that it suitable for the uses of the manufacturer of photographic material is produced in the United States. Cannot some of the big barons of Slaughter, out in Chicago, take this hint for the utilization in most profitable fashion of material that they have in excess and so start another “infant industry” that will very promptly stand upon its own feet?

t is hardly worth while to more than recall the horde of various “types” that were brought out in the early days of photography. Pretty much every able photographer got up some novelty of his own under a peculiar name, for which he, of course, claimed superiority over all others, and very often the same process had different names in different cities.

Thus “ambrotypes,” “ivorytypes,” “hallotypes,” “melaniotypes,” ferrotypes,” etc., came into popular knowledge. They were generally returns from photography in the direction of the daguerreotype, in that they were singly produced and not photographic prints from negatives, and while the processes for their production differed in details, the general principle was the same, of under developed negatives converted into positives by opaque backing.

There are now not less than 7,000 professional photographers in the United States engaged in and dependent mainly upon portrait taking as a business. This is, indeed, deemed a low estimate by some of the dealers in supplies, who presumably have a right to a somewhat authoritative opinion. Then there are about 5,500 engaged in the various processes of photo-mechanical printing, or the preparation of plates and blocks, by photographic aid, for printing, and it is rather singular that so distinct are now those two branches of photography that it is rare to find a person expert in one who is of the slightest service in the other.

In closing this review of the art of sun picture making, merely by the salient points in its history, which is all that space will permit, and bringing it down to the present time, it seems well to present a condensed table of the great steps in progress, showing the advance that has been made in reduction of time of exposure:

1827 – Heliography (copper plate and asphalt), Niepce….6 to 8 hours.
1839 – Daguerrotype (copper silver plated), Daguerre….30 minutes
1841 – Calotype (iodized silver in paper), Fox-Talbot….3 to 5 minutes
1851 – Collodion process (collodion bromo-iodized, with nitrate of silver, on glass; used wet), Scott-Archer….10 to 30 seconds
1879 – Gelatine emulsion (bromide of silver and gelatin on glass, used dry)….1 second
1889 – Similar gelatin coated plates, excessively sensitive, made by a number of manufacturers…. .001 second.


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