This section is from "Scientific American Supplement Volumes 275, 286, 288, 299, 303, 312, 315, 324, 344 and 358". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
[Footnote: A communication to the Photographic Society of Ireland.]
Few of those who work with gelatine dry plates seem to be aware of the great beauty of the transparencies for lantern or other uses which can be made from them by ferrous oxalate development with the greatest ease and certainty.
I think this a very great pity, for I hold the opinion that the lantern furnishes the most enjoyable and, in some cases, the most perfect of all means of showing good photographic pictures. Many prints from excellent negatives which may be passed over in an album without provoking a remark will, if printed as transparencies and thrown on the screen, call forth expressions of the warmest admiration; and justly so, for no paper print can do that full justice to a really good negative which a transparency does. This difference is more conspicuous in these days of dry gelatine plates and handy photographic apparatus, when many of our most interesting negatives are taken on quarter or 5 x 4 plates the small size of which frequently involves a crowding of detail, much of which will be invisible in a paper print, but which, when unraveled or opened out, as it were, by means of the lantern, enhances the beauty of the pictures immensely.
When I last had the pleasure of bringing this subject before the members of our society, it may be remembered that I demonstrated the ease and simplicity with which those beautiful results maybe obtained, by printing in an ordinary printing frame by the light of my petroleum developing lamp, raising one of its panes of ruby glass for the purpose for five seconds, and then developing by ferrous oxalate until I got the amount of intensity requisite. On that evening, in the course of a very just criticism by one of our members, Mr. J. V. Robinson, he pointed out what was undoubtedly a defect, viz., a slightly opalescent veiling of the high lights, which should range from absolutely bare glass in the highest points. He showed that, in consequence of this veiling, the light was sensibly diminished all over the picture. This veiling of the high lights was a serious disadvantage in another important particular, inasmuch as it lessened the contrast between the lights and shadows of the picture, thereby robbing it of some of its charm and deteriorating its quality.
Since that evening I have endeavored, by a series of experiments, to find out some means by which this opalescence might be got rid of in the most convenient manner. Cementing the transparency to a piece of plain, clear glass with Canada balsam, as suggested by Mr. Woodworth, I found in practice to be open to two formidable objections. One of these was that Canada balsam used in this manner is a sticky, unpleasant substance to meddle with, and takes a long time--nearly a month--to harden when confined between plates in this manner. The other objection was of extreme importance, namely, that, in consequence of commercial gelatine plates not being prepared on perfectly flat glasses in all cases, I found that, after squeezing out the superfluous balsam and the air bubbles that might have formed from between the two plates, they are liable to separate at the places where the transparency is not flat, causing air bubbles to creep in from the edges, as you may see from these examples. I, therefore, have discarded this method, although it had the effect desired when successfully done.
I have hit, however, upon another way of utilizing Canada balsam, which, while retaining all the good qualities of the former method, is not subject to any of its disadvantages. This consists in diluting the balsam with an equal bulk of turpentine, and using it as a varnish, pouring it on like collodion, flowing it toward each corner, and pouring it off into the bottle from the last corner, avoiding crapy lines by slowly tilting the plate, as in varnishing. If the plate be warmed previously, the varnish flows more freely and leaves a thinner coating of balsam behind on the transparency. When the plate has ceased to drip, place it in a plate drainer, with the corner you poured from lowest, and leave it where dust cannot get at it for four or five days, when it will be found sufficiently hard to be put into a plate box. The transparency may be finished at any time afterward by putting a clean glass of the same size along with it, placing one of the blank paper masks sold for the purpose--either circular or cushion-shaped to suit the subject--between the plates, and pasting narrow strips of thin black paper over the edges to bind them together. This method is very successful, as you may see from the examples. It renders the high lights perfectly clear, and leaves a film like glass over all the parts of the transparency where the varnish has flowed.
In order to avoid the risk of dust involved in this process, I tried other means of arriving at similar results and with success, for the plates I now submit to you have been simply rubbed or polished, as I may say, with a mixture of one part of Canada balsam to three parts of turpentine, using either a small tuft of French wadding or a small piece of soft rag for the purpose, continuing the rubbing until the plate is polished nearly dry. This method is particularly successful, rendering the clear parts of the sky like bare glass. I have here a plate which is heavily veiled--almost fogged, in fact--one half of which I have treated in this way, showing that the half so treated is beautifully clear, while the other half is so veiled as to be apparently useless.
I have tried to still further simplify this necessary clearing of those plates, and find that soaking tor twelve hours in a saturated solution of alum, after washing the hypo out of the plate, is successful in a large number of cases; and where it is successful there is no further trouble with the transparency, except to mount it after it becomes dry. Where it is not entirely successful I put the plate into a solution of citric acid, four ounces to a pint of water, for about one minute, and have in nearly all cases succeeded in getting a beautifully-clear plate. The picture must not be left long in the citric acid solution, or it will float off; neither do I like using citric acid until after trying the alum, for a similar reason.
I may mention that I recommend a short exposure in the printing-frame and slow development, in order to get sufficient intensity. Of course the exposure is always made to a gas or petroleum light. I also still prefer the old method of making the ferrous oxalate solution, pouring it back into the bottle each time after using, and using it for two or three months, keeping the bottle full from a stock bottle, and occasionally putting a little dry ferrous oxalate into the bottle and shaking it up, allowing it to settle before using next time. By treating it in this way it retains its power fairly well for a long time; and as it becomes less active I give a little longer exposure, balancing one against the other. Making the ferrous oxalate solution from two saturated solutions of iron sulphate and potassium oxalate has not succeeded so well with me for transparencies. The tone of the picture is not so black as when developed by the old method; and I do not like gray transparencies for the lantern. I also recommend very slow gelatine plates, about twice as sensitive as wet collodion--not more, if I can help it.
I have demonstrated, I hope to your satisfaction, the possibility of producing lantern slides from commercial gelatine plates of a most beautiful quality--ranging from clear glass to deep black, and giving charming gradation of tones, showing on the screen a film as structureless as albumen slides, without the great trouble involved in making them. You must not accept the slides put before you this evening as the best that can be done with gelatine. Far from it; they are only the work of an amateur with very little leisure now to devote to their manufacture, and are merely the result of a series of experiments which, so far as they have gone, I now place before you.--Thomas Mayne, T. C., in British Journal of Photography.