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Syracuse University Library Science student Abby Houston is interning at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Cincinnati, OH.

Name that Photograph: Successes at My CMC Internship

Its hard to believe that in just a couple short weeks my internship at the Cincinnati Museum Center will be coming to an end. In the time since my last post, I’ve been splitting my time between the project I described in that previous post and a new one.

For this new project, I’ve been developing an inventory of the cased photograph collection. Cased photographs are photographs such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and other early photographic processes that were housed in cases. One of my favorites (a stereoscopic ambrotype) that I’ve come across is shown below.

Unidentified man holding a cane (stereo ambrotype) from the Cincinnati Museum Center’s cased photograph collection.
Unidentified man holding a cane (stereo ambrotype) from the Cincinnati Museum Center’s cased photograph collection. Photo by Abby Houston.

To be specific, I’m going through each box of the cased photograph collection and recording certain pieces of data about them, from the size of the photographic plate to who is sitting for the photograph.

This project will again allow the curator to have intellectual control of the collection, as there are two older inventories that are incomplete and inaccurate as boxes have been changed and moved and added to.

Ambrotypes vs. Tintypes: What’s the Difference?

One of the things that I wanted to be able to do by the end of this summer was to identify a few of the more difficult photographic processes.

Ambrotypes and tintypes are incredibly similar visually, and this collection is filled with them. To tell them apart just by using your eyes, you can look to see if some of the backing has come off and made it clear that the plate is glass (an ambrotype) and not iron (a tintype).

You can also try to tilt the photograph to see if you can view the negative of the image from a certain angle. This is because ambrotypes are technically negatives that become positive when a black backing is added to the verso of the plate. The whites of ambrotypes are also milkier than those of a tintype.

Abby Houston working at the CMC.
Abby Houston working at the CMC.

Successful Identification

While I just listed three ways to tell these two processes apart, having the ability and confidence to identify these is still hard to develop.

This week, however, I made my first accurate identification of a photograph that was in an unlabelled box. After much deliberation, I determined that the photograph was an ambrotype and my supervisor concurred.

To confirm our finding, we could use a magnet to see if there was any pull to the plate, which would make it a tintype, and we are pretty confident that there would not be any magnetism if we did this test.

In the future, I’ll have to take each photograph at a time to determine what process it could be because it takes time to fully develop that skill.

Hands-on History

I’ve made it over halfway through this collection which is a milestone in itself due to the short time I’ve been working on it. I love how much this hands-on experience is complementing what I’ve learned in classes, such as ones like the preservation and management of photographic archives.

I’ve discovered this summer that I really like interacting with objects in such an intimate way. Getting to use my hands to hold pieces of history is truly extraordinary.

Abby Houston

Abby Houston

Abby is entering her third year as an LIS student at the iSchool and an Art History MA student at the College of Arts and Sciences. Throughout her first two years, she worked at the Special Collections Research Center and the Learning Commons in Bird Library and now primarily serves as a teaching assistant for HOA 105 and 106. In her spare time, Abby enjoys being in the sun and spending time with her two cats.

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