Numismatic and History Discussions > Coin Photography, Conservation and Storage

Collotype plate problem back in 1922

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Steve Moulding:
Hi all - I'm not sure whether this goes under Books & References, or Coin Photography...but as it's a photographic-process question, I'll ask it on the photography board. Please move, if needed.

It seems coin plates in many (most?) of the early 20thC catalogs were collotypes, produced by (from what I've read) a quite complicated process. The results are usually very nice and today scan very well, even at 1200dpi. 

However, looking in detail at the plates in the 1922 Naville IV Sale it's clear that for the first 8 plates something went wrong and I'm wondering what happened. Basically, all coin images for Plates I - VIII are criss-crossed by a web of seemingly random lines. By Plate IX, everything is fine.

It's not damage to my catalog as you can see the same thing on the Heidelberg online copy if you zoom in.  From my limited reading, I understand the collotype process involves coating plates with gelatins and, at some point, drying them. I'm wondering if it was the drying process that went awry, and cracks or wrinkles developed.
It's curious as Naville plates were usually very good - they weren't a cheap house. I don't recall seeing this before.

Do any photographic-process experts have any insights?

Thanks,

Steve

Ron C2:
A couple of things I would point out.

Firstly, in 1922, they didn't have good macro-photography flash technology available to them, and shiny coins (gold and silver especially) couldn't be photographed well without looking washed out or over-exposed.  From what I've read, they got around this by making plaster casts of the coins, painting those a neutral flat color, and then photographing these casts, likely using daylight for the exposures.  This is perhaps the process you are talking about.

If, instead, you mean the process of reproducing photographs in a book format, there is a great read on the evolution of that process here:

https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/photographically-illustrated-books-and-photobooks.html

I don't think any of that would explain the artifacts on the plates though. 

You also have to remember, that in those days, they would photograph with a large frame film camera, not 35mm, and because film was expensive, a good many coins would be on the same oversized negative.  When those negatives were later used to create photographs suitable for printing operations, any issues with the celluloid negative fabric would show as "scratches" on the exposed image, much like you see in your catalogue.

If I were a betting man, I'd say the negative got scratched before the catalogue went to print, and for cost or schedule reasons, they used the images anyway, instead of re-shooting the coins.  This could easily happen if, for example, someone pulled the negative in and out of an envelope carelessly, rested heavy objects on it in the office, dropped it on a dirty floor and then brushed it off, or whatever.  They were fragile items. 

Back in the day, these plates were used to sell coins - they likely weren't produced thinking someone would still be referencing it 100 years later. If the images were good enough to sell the coin, then they were good enough to serve their purpose.

esnible:
I don't know the answer.

Collotype had a lot of steps that could get screwed up.  The photo negative, the positive transparency, the gel, the stone ... any one of them could get scratched or streaked.

Collotype is said to have only been good for about 1000 copies, and the early copies are said to look better.  This is due to fading, not scratching, I believe.

Steve Moulding:
Hi Ron and Ed.


--- Quote from: Ron C2 on January 08, 2022, 10:47:18 pm ---
If, instead, you mean the process of reproducing photographs in a book format, there is a great read on the evolution of that process here:

https://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/photographically-illustrated-books-and-photobooks.html

I don't think any of that would explain the artifacts on the plates though. 


--- End quote ---

Ron, yes I meant more the collotype photography process, as opposed to the plaster casting of the coins, though they were both popular back then, the plaster casts for the very good reasons you mention.  Thanks for the reference too...I look forward to reading that!


--- Quote from: Ron C2 on January 08, 2022, 10:47:18 pm ---
You also have to remember, that in those days, they would photograph with a large frame film camera, not 35mm, and because film was expensive, a good many coins would be on the same oversized negative.  When those negatives were later used to create photographs suitable for printing operations, any issues with the celluloid negative fabric would show as "scratches" on the exposed image, much like you see in your catalogue.

If I were a betting man, I'd say the negative got scratched before the catalogue went to print, and for cost or schedule reasons, they used the images anyway, instead of re-shooting the coins.  This could easily happen if, for example, someone pulled the negative in and out of an envelope carelessly, rested heavy objects on it in the office, dropped it on a dirty floor and then brushed it off, or whatever.  They were fragile items. 


--- End quote ---


--- Quote from: esnible on January 08, 2022, 11:15:35 pm ---I don't know the answer.

Collotype had a lot of steps that could get screwed up.  The photo negative, the positive transparency, the gel, the stone ... any one of them could get scratched or streaked.

Collotype is said to have only been good for about 1000 copies, and the early copies are said to look better.  This is due to fading, not scratching, I believe.

--- End quote ---

Scratches do seem the most plausible and as I've now learned from Ed, any number of things could get scratched along the way.  My original thought was not scratches but a wrinkling during the gel drying process. However, that kind of damage I'd guess would be much coarser, get noticed immediately, and thrown out. And these really do just look like scratches. I'd side with your bet and say the first 8 large format negatives somehow got scratched too late in the process / too costly to go back and re-shoot.

I guess we'll never know but it's a good prod for me to go learn more about collotype, given that I look at it so much.

Thank you again gentlemen for the suggestions and for taking the time to answer this.

Steve

esnible:
I read a great article on Collotype, but I can't remember the title or where it was published.

A related article that you would like is Oliver Hoover's article "Paper, Plaster, Sulfur, Foil: A Brief History of Numismatic Data Transmission", although it only has a few paragraphs on Collotype.

https://www.academia.edu/28753342/Paper_Plaster_Sulfur_Foil_A_Brief_History_of_Numismatic_Data_Transmission

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