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Dry Plates

From George Eastman House : Notes On Photographs

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When gelatin finally replaced collodion as a binder for silver halides in the 1880s, most commercial photographers were familiar with wet collodion technology. They called the new technology dry plate photography to differentiate the two processes. The common assumption by most writers on the technical evolution of photography is that dry plate refers only to these silver bromide gelatin emulsion plates. The term gelatin dry plate is actually redundant since there were no gelatin wet plates; nevertheless the term is usually associated with gelatin emulsion plates.

The introduction of the gelatin dry plate marked a new era in photography. There is some difference of opinion as to who was the actual inventor—Burgess, Maddox, Kennett, Wratten, and others were all working at the same time in practically the same direction. It was, however, on September 8, 1871, when Dr. Maddox published an account of his experiments that the first hint was given. On July 18, 1873, J. Burgess, of Peckham, England advertised ready-made emulsion, with which photographers could coat glass to make their own dry plates; Kennett followed suit and on November 20 of the same year took out a patent for “pellicle,” with which photographers could make their own plates.

Improvements followed rapidly, Bolton, Sayce, Wratten, Mawdsley, Berkeley, Abney, Bennett, and others doing much to bring the dry plate to perfection and to make it an article of commerce. As far as can be ascertained, the first ready-made dry plates were advertised in April 1878 by Wratten and Wainwright and the Liverpool Dry-Plate Company (Peter Mawdsley), the plates by the latter being called “Bennett” plates. It was not until 1880 that gelatin dry plates became popular. There were, however, other dry plate processes in the 19th century. The albumen-on-glass negative and positive processes could be exposed either wet or dry. The collodion process was also practiced in several dry variants. There were also collodion emulsion dry plates introduced in the 1880s and dye-sensitized variants that were used after the turn of the century for process work.[1]


  1. Osterman, Mark. 2007. Dry Plates. In The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography: Digital Imaging, Theory and Applications, History, and Science, ed. Michael R. Peres, 71, Focal Press.