Albumen print specifically have always held a soft spot in my heart for their ability to exude romantic warmth. This quality, in part, can be attributed to the creation process of using an emulsion composed of light-sensitive salts of silver suspended in albumen (egg white) on paper. It is unfortunate to note that due to their creation process, they are inherently prone to deterioration exacerbated by light sources.
There are certain precautions you can take to slow the speed of deterioration, but most result in these beautiful prints being sentenced to spend the rest of their life spans in closed boxes. Only to rarely be pulled out for work, as opposed to being leisurely viewed by the throngs of admirers they deserve.
texture of the emulsion under a microscope 40X
Albumen prints (1835-1895)
Albumen prints (1850-1890s) are probably the most common photographic print material of the 19th century. Most historical photographic collections consist for the greater part of albumen prints. The albumen paper was a printing-out paper used for contact printing of the then popular collodion negative. Ordinary paper was coated with an emulsion composed of light-sensitive salts of silver suspended in albumen (egg white). Most prints are mounted on cardboard (and commonly refered to as card photographs), because the paper is rather thin and curls easily. They can be recognized by the cream coloured highlight areas and glossy surface. After 1855, albumen prints were almost always toned with gold chloride, which enriched their colour and increased their permanence.
The first sign of deterioration of albumen prints is that the highlights become yellowish, eventually the whole print starts to fade and becomes yellow or brown, which is due to the effect of light on the albumen layer. Display, use and exposure to unfavorable circumstances, may cause serious damage within approximately forty years. Poor quality of the paper will cause staining of the albumen layer, while dryness and chemical changes can make the photograph crack and curl. Attempts to remount a curled albumen print can be very dangerous for the photograph. Albumen prints must be kept in the dark and protected by UV filters when exposed to the public.
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