Albumen print is known to be the earliest printing process that was capable of developing a printed photograph on paper base by using a negative. It was invented by ‘Louis Desire Blanquart –Evrard’, in the year 1850 and was also known as ‘Albumen Silver Print’.
A famous mid 19th century British photographer, J. E. Mayall, composed certain factual details about albumen. He mentioned that Albumen derives its name from Latin name for egg-white, which in Latin sounds like ‘album ovi’. He did elaborate on methods and ways to yield high quality albumen by feeding the hens with right ingredients rich in carbonate and phosphate of lime.
Albumen prints are by far the largest collection of printed photographs that pertain to the nineteenth century. These prints contains finely divided gold and silver image, strewn in an egg-white matrix. In the period from 1855 to 1895, albumen paper was much sought after photographic material across the world and continued to be so until 1920’s.
The mid 19th century witnessed a photographic revolution in the form of emerging trends and process in the world of photographic arts and sciences. One such achievement was ‘carte de visite’ a method of obtaining small photographs that was patented in France by a photographer named ‘Andre Disderi’, in the year 1854.
This method of obtaining small-sized photo-prints relied heavily upon the albumen printing process. During the second half of nineteenth century, E. & H.T. Anthony & Company were known to be the largest manufacturers and distributors of albumen photo prints and albumen photo paper across the United States.
Albumen printing paper is manufactured using 100% cotton piece of paper, which is coated with an emulsion made of egg-white (albumen) blended with ammonium chloride or sodium chloride. Once the coating on this paper dries, the albumen sealing imparts a gloss on the surface, which allows the sensitizer to rest easily on the printing surface.
The paper thus obtained is dipped in silver nitrate solution that helps in rendering a ‘UV light-sensitive’ surface on the paper, which is dried in the absence of UV light. This dried paper is placed in a frame in a close contact with the negative. Traditionally this negative used to be a glass coated with collodion emulsion, but albumen printing can be used in case of modern silver halide negatives as well.
The setup of negative and paper in a frame is exposed to light and is allowed to stand for some time to obtain desired level of darkness. Mostly sunlight was used for negative and paper exposure but it was replaced by a wider use of UV light. The use of UV light yielded more predictable results because the albumen paper is more sensitive to UV light.
At the end a sodium thiosulphate bath fixes the image and prevents it from further darkening. In order to impart a distinctly royal tone and texture to the final print, selenium or gold toning can be opted, which provides anti-fading stability to the print. Some of the nineteenth century albumen photographic prints are preserved by art lovers throughout the world, which is a clear depiction of human adroitness.