Unknown Color Photo Plate

This is a forum exploring Lippmann photography.

Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by itchyrichie » Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:26 am

I have a lovely collection of Autochrome and Dufay colour glass plates. In a small grouping of Dufay plates I bought at an estate sale, all taken by the same photographer in the 1920s, there was one oddity: a very faded monochrome photo on glass of a cathedral. Although very light, I detected that many of the houses in front of the cathedral had a vaguely reddish hue, then noticed the trees had a greenish hue, while the streets were grey. The color is so light it is almost not there. Could this be a Lippman? There is a handwritten label that is not clear, and the scene appears to be late 1800s. The human figures on the street are blurred but the photo is clear. There are no horses, wagons or cars. I scanned this plate and enhanced it to see if the color was indeed a part of the photo. Turning up the saturation in Photoshop completely posterizes the colors, but indeed the sky is blue, the trees green, the buildings shades of reds and greys. An awning on a strorfront has red stripes, It made sense to me that since this collection was the work of a well-heeled early color enthusiast, he may have had a very early color plate by another photographer in his possession that he personally collected. There is so little information out there about early color processes to research. Any ideas?


Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by Kaveh » Wed Apr 01, 2009 10:28 am

Why not upload a photo?

Colin Kaminski

Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by Colin Kaminski » Wed Apr 01, 2009 2:12 pm

Viewing a lippmann is ver difficult. Try reflecting a cloudy sky while facing north and see if all the colors pop. I would be helpful to see a photo. Shrink it to about 60K first and use the upload attachment tab below the posting box.

Ed Wesly

Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by Ed Wesly » Wed Apr 01, 2009 3:57 pm

Some other clues: Does it have a prism glued to it? Then more than likely it's a Lippmann. Does it look like a negative in transmitted light? Another tell-tale sign.

Looking forward to seeing the image posted, but it sounds like you have a live one!


Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by itchyrichie » Wed Apr 01, 2009 11:20 pm

Colin & Ed: No, I guess I don't have a Lippman based on your descriptions of what I should see.

I scanned the plate on an Epson Perfection 750 Pro as a 24 bit color scan. The plate is a sandwich of two pieces of glass taped around the edges. In Photoshop I duplicated the background layer, multiplied, then duplicated and multiplied again to build up depth in the faint image. I then took a detail and pumped up the saturation.

A friend thinks the colors are just artifacts of aging, however, if so, it would be quite a coincidence that the trees would happen to be greenish, buildings reddish and the horizon and sky cyanish, all proper colors for these elements...and that these colors would stay within their respective boundaries.

Unlike Dufay and Finlay colour, which both employ the use of a screen, this does not.
Churchdarkdetail.jpg (103.59 KiB) Viewed 7283 times

Ed Wesly

Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by Ed Wesly » Fri Apr 03, 2009 12:00 am

You’ve got some sort of color plate there, no doubt in my mind. There are other processes that it could be.

What kind of size are we talking about? Something like a lantern slide or quarter plate, meaning 3 ¼ by 4 ¼”? And it’s two pieces of glass sandwiched together bound with tape, correct?

So I wouldn’t advocate taking it apart in any case, but it would be nice to see an enlarged view of the image, especially in the vicinity of the green trees. Please try scanning in the thing again at the max res and use the scanner as a microscope! I have a couple of Autochromes, and know what those look like magnified, know about Dufaycolor but have never seen one in real life (shameful for a Photo History teacher like myself!) but you know what those look like.

Does the image have any density, or does it look like what we would call at this forum look bleached? By this I mean there’s like a ghost of an image, but nothing real dark, and maybe with an off-yellow color. If you could take a picture of the thing lying on a black or white background that would help.

What I think this could be or am hoping it could be, is an R. W. Wood diffractive color photograph. It’s too bad you can’t read the label on it, because the ones I saw at the George Eastman House were labeled with something like “H. E. Ives Improved R. W. Wood Diffractive Photographs”. Yes, it is the same H. E. Ives of the 1907 Astrophysical Journal Lippmann article fame, who was a student of Wood and the son of Frederick Ives, regarded as one of the pioneers of the dotted half-tone reproduction process.

When the checks started rolling in from the half-tone royalties, Ives & Son took on a curious hobby; the production of color photographic images without using pigments. Ives Sr. came out with a system called “The KromSkop” with long marks over both o’s, (interesting how they butchered the English language over a hundred years ago, not unlike today’s Ti-D-Bol to keep your toilet clean). This is not a KromSkop image, as there would be 3 color-separated B & W transparencies with a label, and they would need to be put on a KromSkop viewer to see a full-color 3-D image. Ives Jr. dabbled in Lippmann photos and this Wood thing.

Robert Williams Wood was a true genius, as evidenced by his accomplishments chronicled in his biography, entitled “R. W. Wood: The Story of an All-American Boy who became one of the World’s Great Physicists (But Refused to Grow Up!)” I keep looking for it in Amazon. He inherited Rowland’s grating ruling engine at Johns Hopkins University, and kept it running until he died or retired.

So his diffractive color process is what we would call in holography land a 2-D surface grating. He took RGB separations and contact copied them onto a glass plate with diffraction gratings of different pitches to match where R, G, and B light would be diffracted to blend colors holographically before the word was even coined. So there is no pigment involved!

The ones at the Eastman House were lantern-slide sized, bound with tape, a label proclaiming the above, and had to be viewed in a certain way. The curators took a long filament light, with a clear bulb, like what would illuminate a display case, oriented the filament horizontally, put the plate in front of it, and you would have to look at the light source through the plate and Voila! A decent color image was revealed!

There was a lens involved somewhere along the line, and I would have to dig deep into the bowels of my archives to find the slide of the rig. Maybe to image the filament somewhere, like the slit in a rainbow hologram… Forgive me, itchyritchie, if I’m going too deep for you, but you did stumble upon a holographic web site.

But you might on an off-chance have one of these! Probably even rarer than Lippmann photos. Judging by the sample at GEH/IMP, they must have mass-produced some batches of them, as it looked like a professional stock image photo-curio of the early 20th century.

If yours is one of these things, under decent magnification you would see in some areas horizontal lines which would indicate a diffraction grating. Looking at a fluorescent light through this thing might reveal brighter colors. Of course I might just be barking up a wrong tree not seeing this thing, and right now I don’t know if this thing is a transparency or a print. But it would super if this is what you have!

Any more clues you can post would be helpful!


Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by itchyrichie » Fri Apr 03, 2009 6:42 pm


Thanks for the very thorough explanation. This slide is lantern slide-size, 3 1/4 inches square. The label is handwritten in pencil with the single word, Lincoln. which from my experience says it is a one-of-a-kind, rather than mass-produced slide. The image is silver based, with no screen or pattern of any sort. Viewing with fluorescent light does not reveal anything unusual nor does it enhance color. Modern photos show many of the houses as red brick, while others are not.

I found an almost identical modern photo here:

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl= ... 8%26um%3D1

...that shows the colors of the various buildings, and indeed the red brick houses in my antique slide have a reddish hue that the warmer colored stone buildings others do not. The area of the cathedral below the spires is not red, but my extreme enhancement colors it as such. The enhanced photo I posted previously colors all of the buildings reddish. But viewing the slide as-is with a loupe reveals that there are very subtle color variations...the red brick houses are indeed reddish, while the yellow or warmer color stone buildings are not reddish. I am attaching a photo to show the slide as-is, in it's faded, or bleached as you called it, condition. But the colors are extremely subtle, and I have not been able to use Photoshop tools to enhance these reddish buildings while keeping the non-reddish buildings their original hue.
LincolnCathedrallite.jpg (48.34 KiB) Viewed 7251 times

Ed Wesly

Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by Ed Wesly » Tue Apr 07, 2009 3:58 pm

I thought I had posted this on Friday, luckily I saved a copy.

Drats! All that typing for nought! It looks like some sort of amateur photo then, because if it was brought back as a souvenir there would be some ID as to who made it. So I am not sure what kinds of processes there would be out there at that time frame for photog's to be dabbling with.

It's time to bring out the big guns! Check out the American Museum of Photography at http://photographymuseum.com/. Enjoy the exhibits, and send an e-mail to the director who is a total photo history buff, who was my photo-history teacher a million years ago at the University of Illinois. His name is Bill Becker, and see if he can shed some light on this.

Now my theory is that it might have been hand-colored with dyes, which are prone to fading, but usually you can tell when things are hand colored as the borders are sloppy, which I am not really seeing in the scans you have sent. If it were dyed, then that would explain the overall lack of density.

Good luck! Let us know what you find!


Unknown Color Photo Plate

Post by itchyrichie » Tue Apr 07, 2009 4:25 pm

Thanks, Ed. I will follow up and see what I can find. I appreciate all your input.