A substance very much used by photographers of late years--in fact, so much used that no well-appointed laboratory could be considered complete without it--is the substance known is common alum, or potash alum, being a double sulphate of alumina and potash; but it is interesting to note that much of the commercial alum met with at the present time is ammonia alum, or the double sulphate of alum and ammonia. It is quite a matter of indifference to the photographer whether he uses potash alum or ammonia alum.
Besides its great value to the autotype, Woodburytype, and mechanical printers as an agent for hardening the gelatine films, it has been recommended for all sorts of ailments photographic. The silver printer adds a small portion to his sensitizing bath to keep it in working order, and to prevent blistering of the albumen; then, again, silver prints are soaked in a dilute solution of alum, having for its object the thorough elimination of the last traces of the fixing salt. A very good proportion to use for this latter purpose is four fluid ounces of a saturated solution, diluted with one gallon of water, the prints being well agitated during an immersion of ten minutes.
Of all the uses to which alum is put, perhaps not in any single instance can so much satisfaction be derived as when it is used to arrest frilling of gelatine plates. This it has the power to do instantaneously, and many of the most careful workers, both amateur and professional, or at least those who do net care to run any unnecessary risks with negatives which have cost them a good deal of anxiety and trouble to secure, but prefer to make assurance doubly sure--such individuals may be numbered by the hundred--make it a point in every-day practice to immerse all their plates in a solution of alum, either before fixing, or immediately afterward. In fact, some operators have two alum baths in use, one a normal bath, as above mentioned, for immersing the plates in when of the ordinary printing intensity; and the other a saturated solution strongly acidified by means of a vegetable acid (such as citric) or a mineral acid (such as sulphuric), for use when there is too much printing density, since it has been found in practice that an acid solution of alum in contact with sodium thio-sulphate on the gelatine image (after fixing, but before washing) not only removes the color or stain caused by the alkaline or pyrogallol, but perceptibly reduces the strength of the image.
Moreover, the color does not again reappear after washing, as it does sometimes when the fixing salt has been partially washed away. In cases where there is great tendency to frill--such, for instance, as when a soft sample of gelatine has been employed, or old decomposed emulsion worked in with the fresh emulsion--it will in such cases be safer to put the plates in the normal-bath for a few minutes previous to immersing them in the acid bath.
Potash alum is obtained tolerably pure in commerce in colorless transparent crystalline masses, having an acid, sweetish, astringent taste. It is soluble in 18 parts of water at 60° F., and in its own weight of water at 212° F.; but the excess crystallizes out upon cooling. The solution reddens litmus paper, and, when impure, usually contains traces of oxide of iron. Upon the addition of either caustic soda or potash, a white gelatinous precipitate is formed (hydrate of alumina), which is soluble in excess of the reagent employed. The precipitate thus obtained has much of the character of the opalescent film sometimes observed on gelatine plates, when dry, which have been soaked in alum, and not well washed afterward.
Alkaline carbonates--such as washing soda, for instance--precipitate hydrate of alumina, which does not dissolve in an excess of the reagents, and carbon dioxide is evolved.
Ammonia hydrate produces a precipitate in a much finer state of divison, which does not dissolve in excess when examined in a test-tube, it somewhat resembles thin starch paste.
The presence of traces of iron may be known by adding a few drops of hydrochloric acid to a small quantity of a saturated solution of alum in a test-tube, to which add strong liquid ammonia; should any iron be present, the mixture will have a reddish-brown tinge when examined over a sheet of white paper. Other alums exist, such as the double sulphate of alumina and sodium, and sodium or aluminum and ammonium; but hitherto their uses have been confined to the experimental portion of the community rather than the practical.--Photo. News.