Had this book been produced ten or twelve years ago, we might have omitted all detailed description of the wet-plate process as almost obsolete; the introduction of the excellent Mawson process plate seemed destined to prove the signal for its final doom, even for the purposes of photo-engraving. But the prophets have been wrong in their calculations. Although the process dry plate will give first-class results, and is no doubt the best to employ where orders for process negatives are only occasional, the wet plate is in practice the cheapest by far, and is preferred by all the leading photo-lithographers and photo-engravers.

The Glass Plate

The first essential for the glass support is that it must be flat, or it will not sustain the heavy pressure of the printing frame, possibly in contact with a metal engraving plate. Sheet glass is often slightly curved, and therefore only suitable for very small plates; plate glass has been ground and polished, generally to the injury of its outer skin. Flatted crown, although expensive, is the best and most economical in the long run, especially as the negatives for engraving purposes are not stored, and after once printing may be cleaned off, and the glass used again. The smooth side of the glass must be very carefully cleaned, by soaking in a weak solution of spirits of salt, say 5 per cent, and then washed and rubbed, after drying with a clean wash-leather. To prevent splitting of the collodion on the glass, the latter is sometimes flooded with the following solution, and then allowed to dry:

Albumen......... 1 oz.

Ammonia (.880).......... . .10 min.

Water...... . . . 50 oz.

Or sometimes the margin is run round with rubber solution.


It is a question whether collodion is worth manufacturing at home, the time and skill involved being considerable. Pyroxyline or gun-cotton is made by dissolving cotton wool in a mixture of sulphuric and nitric acids, or, alternatively, in a mixture of sulphuric acid and pure potassium nitrate, which latter is rather the easier process. In either case the operation should not be undertaken by those who are not experienced in the handling of sulphuric acid.

Hardwich Formula

Sulphuric Acid (1.845 at 6o°)..... 18 oz.

Nitric Acid (1.457)...... 6 „

Water......... 5 „

Cotton Wool ........ 300 gr.

Alternative Formula

Sulphuric Acid........ 18 oz. (fl)

Potassium Nitrate (dried) . .... 10 1/2 ,,

Water......... 1 ,,

Cotton Wool........ 180 gr.

The sulphuric acid must be mixed very cautiously with the other chemicals, when the temperature will rise to somewhere near boiling point. Stir the mixture with a glass rod, and commence to add the cotton wool in small quantities with the aid of the glass rod, when cooled to 1500, which temperature must be maintained to ensure success. The cotton wool must have been previously purified from resinous and greasy matter by boiling in an alkaline carbonate and then drying. When the cotton wool has been immersed about ten minutes it may be removed with the glass rod, the acid drained away, and then washed for twenty-four hours in running water. For use as collodion it is dissolved as follows:

Pyroxyline.........10 gr.

Alcohol (.820)........1 oz.

Ether (720)........1 „

In winter rather less alcohol is used, and a proportionately greater quantity of ether, in order to promote more rapid setting.

In practice, the worker will either purchase celloidin, or some other form of collodion, ready-made, and will be able to proceed direct to the iodising.


Dissolve the celloidin in a solution which will differ slightly according to whether for use in summer or winter. For winter:

Alcohol (.805)........ 6 oz.

Ether (720)........ 8 ,,

Celloidin.........130 gr.

In summer the amounts of ether and alcohol may be equalised. Then add the iodising mixture:

Zinc Bromide . . . . . . . . 30 gr.

Zinc Iodide . . . . . . . 70 ,,

Alcohol ......... 2 oz.

Or :

Cadmium Bromide ..... 10 gr.

Cadmium Iodide . . . . . . . 30 „

Sodium Iodide . . . . . . . 10 ,,

Ammonium Iodide . . . . . . 15 ,,

Alcohol ......... 2 oz.

The mixture must then be set aside to ripen for about a week, after which it may be bottled off for use. It will improve with age, and keep good for about six months.

Coating The Plate

This must be done immediately before it is required for use, and is not a very easy task for the beginner, even with the proper collodion pourer. Dust the plate with a badger-hair brush, and then, holding it in a horizontal position, pour upon it on the right-hand side a good quantity of the iodised collodion; incline the plate so that it runs to the right-hand further corner, then to the left corner, then towards the operator, and finally, via the last corner, back into an extra bottle provided with a funnel. Rock sideways so as to prevent the formation of stringy ridges while draining. Some considerable practice will be required with a steady hand before the operator can get a perfectly smooth homogeneous film, such as is necessary for fine half-tone work.


Carry the coated plate directly into the dark room, and (under yellow light) immerse the plate in the silver bath. Lay the opposite end on the bottom of bath first, and then lower the end held by the fingers, so that the sensitising solution will flow evenly over the surface, film side upwards. Here it must be left for fully three minutes. Then lift out without touching the film side, allow to drain, and wipe sides and back dry with a wisp of blotting-paper, when it is ready for placing in the dark slide.

The Silver Bath

A silver bath is usually made up with 30 gr. of nitrate of silver to each ounce of water, and a grain of potassium iodide to each 8 oz. Some workers add a few drops of the iodised collodion instead of the potassium iodide. The silver and the iodide are first dissolved separately in a small quantity of the water. When all is mixed it is filtered, and after standing some hours tested with blue litmus paper, when, if there is no acid reaction, a drop or two of nitric acid is added. The bath must always be kept at this strength of 30 gr. to the ounce; hence fresh silver nitrate is necessary from time to time Impurities will be acquired of organic and other nature, which must be removed by filtration. If very dirty, render the bath alkaline by the addition of strong ammonia and leave in the sun for a short time, when the organic matter will be precipitated and may be filtered off. For half-tone work the bath must only be just acid; that is, must only very slowly turn the blue litmus paper a reddish colour. Remove any scum by drawing pure filter paper across the surface.