Collodion what?


Yesterday I was puzzling over the rise in the use of the word collodion as a term for early photographs. The term derives from the collodion process (or wet plate process) which allowed photographs to be made using glass plates rather than the metal plates used in daguerreotypes.

The collodion process meant that multiple images could be made from a single negative, rather than daguerreotypes which only allowed you to make a single image at a time.

Not surprisingly, the invention of the collodion process in 1851 took the world by storm and rapidly displaced the daguerreotype as the preferred photographic process. As can be seen from the advert above (from the Cardiff and Merthyr Guardian on 10 November 1854), people who continued to style themselves as daguerreotypists (because people knew what than meant) advertised that they in fact used the newer collodion process in their work.

The collodion process was what Lewis Carroll, an enthusiastic amateur photographer used to take his pictures of Alice Liddell.

So, in what contexts was the word collodion used?

I looked at Welsh Newspapers Online between 1850 and 1860 to look and see what word followed collodion. I only looked at the English language newspapers – the Welsh language newspapers are a confusing mixture of Welsh editorial and mixed English and Welsh language adverts.

And this is what I found

Collodion 7
Collodion Photographic 3
Collodion Plate 2
Collodion Picture 2
Collodion Process 10
Collodion Portraits 8

Most of the uses of collodion referred the mechanics of the process, plate, process, and so on, but quite a number referred to the use it was being put to, eg Collodion Portraits, to emphasise that the images were being taken with this new technique …

So I then used the Google Ngram viewer with the British English Corpus for the period 1850-60 to compare the use of the terms collodion, collodion portrait and collodion plate with the terms daguerreotype and photograph


Which basically shows that the change was from daguerreotype to photograph. While collodion in combination with various words was used, this was in contexts to emphasise that the new process was used, rather then for the images themselves …

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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