Ambrotype Images: 1855-1861

by Beverly Mosman, Assistant Photo Archivist

6510 – Ambrotype: Richard Vaill, son of Reverend William F. Vaill. 1862-1936. Dr. Joseph Thoburn Collection

Research by photographers after 1851 led to the development of the Ambrotype in 1854. The Ambrotype used a colloidal emulsion which after processing held the image on glass. A layer of black paint was applied to the back of the glass plate to allow reflected light to display it as a positive image. Usually a brass cover mat and a protective glass plate were placed over the Ambrotype before being sandwiched together inside a protective case the same type and size as the daguerreotype.

The Ambrotype quickly became popular with photographers since the process was easier to prepare and cheaper than the daguerreotype. Production peaked between 1856 and 1857 due to the post production expense of the protective case and the fragility of the image.


23268.CP.A.2 Cherokee Indian Robert Wallace. c. 1858.

Many Ambrotypes are discarded when the black paint on the back side of the glass plate begins to flake. This problem is easily remedied by placing black mat beneath the Ambrotype, emulsion side up. The oval shaped damage in image #23268.CP.A.2 usually occurs when the brass cover mat slides across the emulsion surface on the glass image.

Few examples of Ambrotypes have been found dated after 1864.

The above information was originally gathered by Chester Cowen, Photographic Archivist, Oklahoma Historical Society, from the following references:

Felduebel, Thomas, THE AMBROTYPE OLD & NEW, Graphic Arts Research Center, Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, 1980, VIII, 51 pages.

Welling, William, PHOTOGRAPHY IN AMERICA: THE FORMATIVE YEARS 1839-1900, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM, 1978, X!, (3), 431 pages.

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