FADING of prints

Though (unlike Wedgwood), the early photographers had learned to remove the unused light-sensitive solutions by fixing prints, they still had a major problem in that many of the early photographs had a tendency to fade.

So serious was the problem that in 1855 the Photographic Society formed a committee to examine the causes of fading; this committee, chaired by Roger Fenton, received support from an equally concerned Prince Albert, who contributed £50 to its funds.

The major causes of fading which were identified by the committee included the presence of sulphur in the prints, the presence of fixer because of insufficient washing, and (in some instances) the type of mounting used. They recommended more careful washing of prints. Most members of the committee concluded that gold toning would enhance the life of prints (which indeed it did) and also that some experimenting with protective coatings on the print might be helpful.

In 1856 Robert Howlett published a booklet on the preservation of prints. In the 1860s the carbon print process, using pigment, became popular, the process being perfected by Sir Joseph Wilson Swan in 1866.

© Robert Leggat, 2000.