This section is from "Scientific American Supplement". Also available from Amazon: Scientific American Reference Book.
Hermann W. Vogel has made a comparative study of the properties of silver bromide, obtained by precipitation in an aqueous solution of gelatin, and those of the same compound prepared by precipitation in an alcoholic solution of collodion. In 1874 Stas called attention to six modifications of silver bromide. One of these, granular bromide of silver, obtained by boiling the flocculent precipitate for several days with water, he stated, was the most sensitive to light of all substances known; exposure for two or three seconds to the pale blue flame of a Bunsen burner being sufficient to blacken it. Important as this fact was for photographers it was not applied for years, and it was only in 1878, when, it having been found that silver bromide precipitated in a gelatine solution and boiled for several hours becomes much more sensitive to light, that the remarks of Stas was recalled. Today these observations have become of the greatest importance to practical photography. They have led to the preparation of the silver bromide gelatin emulsion and the silver bromide gelatin plates, which are twenty times more sensitive than the silver iodide collodion plates, and have become indispensable when impressions are to be taken in a dim light.
The extraordinary sensitiveness of silver bromide in gelatin seemed the more remarkable since it was known that silver bromide in collodion is only moderately sensitive. The explanation was sought for in various directions, but as the result of numerous investigations it appears that the chief cause of the difference is the presence of different modifications of silver bromide. From a consideration of the work already done on the subject, Vogel suspected that silver bromide precipitated in an aqueous colloidal liquid would have notably different properties from silver bromide precipitated in an alcoholic colloidal solution. Silver bromide was prepared in many different ways. Emulsions were made in bromide solutions containing gelatin or collodion (the former aqueous, the latter alcoholic), some with the aid of heat, others without. Part of the emulsion was then poured upon plates kept at a moderate temperature and dried. The remainder was boiled or treated with ammonia before being applied to the plates. He also precipitated silver bromide in dilute gelatin or collodion solutions, allowed it to settle completely, washed the precipitate, and mixed it with a new portion of gelatin or collodion before applying it to the plates.
Finally he precipitated pure silver bromide, in the absence of all colloids, by means of pure aqueous or alcoholic solutions of bromides and attempted to bring this upon plates, using gelatin or collodion as a cement. The result of all these experiments is that there are essentially two modifications of silver bromide, the one being obtained by precipitation in aqueous, the other in alcoholic solutions. The first, on account of the position of the maximum of sensitiveness for the solar spectrum, he calls blue sensitive, the other, for the same reason, indigo sensitive.
It is of no consequence whether the aqueous or alcoholic solution in which the silver bromide is formed contains gelatin or collodion, or whether the precipitation is effected with excess of bromide or of silver nitrate. It makes no difference whether the solution is hot or cold, or whether the silver bromide is treated with ammonia or whether it is boiled or not. The only necessary condition is that in precipitating indigo sensitive silver bromide the solutions must contain at least 96 per cent of alcohol. From aqueous alcoholic solutions blue sensitive silver bromide is precipitated.
Besides the difference of sensitiveness toward the solar spectrum, these modifications of silver bromide exhibit other characteristic differences in properties which indicate beyond a doubt that they are two essentially different modifications of the same substance. Among these are, 1st. Their unequal divisibility in gelatin or collodion solutions. The indigo sensitive silver bromide cannot be distributed through a gelatin solution, while the blue sensitive modification does so very readily. 2d. Their unequal reducibility; the blue sensitive silver bromide being reduced with much greater difficulty than the indigo sensitive variety. 3d. Their different action toward chemical and physical sensitizers. 4th. Their different action toward photographic developers. 5th. Their different action under the influence of heat. The blue sensitive variety if heated under water has its sensitiveness perceptibly increased, while the other is not changed by such treatment.
A direct transformation of one modification into the other has not yet been accomplished. The effect of the light upon these substances is incipient reduction, and we might hence suppose that the more reducible indigo sensitive variety would be the more sensitive to light. But this is not the case, because it is not chemical reducibility, but the absorption power for light that is of the greatest importance. Now the blue sensitive silver bromide has a greater absorption power than the indigo sensitive variety, and hence its greater sensitiveness. Silver chloride prepared by methods similar to those used in making the two forms of bromides was also found to exist in two modifications. One is designated as ultra violet sensitive, the other as violet sensitive silver chloride.--Amer. Chem. Jour.