Way back in the mid 1970's I worked part time for Crenshaw's Studio in Denison, Texas. The studio was owned by Allen Crenshaw, probably the best wedding and portrait photographer I ever met. His photography was astounding and I learned a lot from Allen (we are good friends to this day). Allen was working on a Masters degree in photography and decided that recreating some of the old photo processes would be just dandy. Me, being an engineer and having some scientific knowledge about chemistry and such other mundane topics, I volunteered to work with him in this endeavor. Besides being technical it also helps to be a little crazy and love photography which is ME! Our first venture was to learn how to make sensitive plates and shoot a Daguerreotype. That was a huge mistake, both expensive and a time consumer. We acquired some flat copper sheets and had them cut into 4 x 5 pieces. These were polished to a mirror finish. We then sent the plates off to be silver plated and polished again to a mirror finish. These plates were like, well Silver! Expensive to say the least. Anything for science, right? To make the plates sensitive we needed to expose them to certain chemicals, fumes of Iodine (label on the bottle had a skull and cross bones, wonder what that means?), and the fumes of Bromine (also containing all kinds of warnings about death and deformed children), so what's to worry about? We set up in the studio at night and used the illumination of "one candle" for light based on what we could find out at library searches. This was way before Allen and I invented the internet.
We built a crude rack and supported the plate over a beaker of Iodine, heated to drive off fumes, for several minutes in the semi-darkness. Next we took out the iodine and switched to the deadly bromine for a few minutes, then back to iodine as a "kicker" to bring the ISO up to a respectable value of 1. Without the iodine kicker we read that the ISO would be less than 1/4; less than 1/4!!!
Once the plate was sensitized, we put it in a plate holder and made an exposure outside in the sunlight with a view camera Allen owned. Waited until dark again then developed the plate in, are you ready for this? The fumes of mercury which we all know causes blindness and brain loss (if you are not a crazy photographer before hand you will be afterwards). After a development time of one minute we washed the plate then ran it thru a regular fix bath from a normal darkroom. And there before us was a shiny plate, no IMAGE! We figured we needed more exposure so we made another plate that night, shot it the next day with double the exposure, processed it that night and we had another shiny plate. Then it dawned on us that MORE light just made it brighter. These things are DIRECT POSITIVES! We made another plate the following night, put it in the holder and the next day made a much shorter exposure, somewhere around 10 seconds at f/5.6. When we developed that plate we had an image, nothing startling but an IMAGE!!!! We jumped around and danced like new fathers in a waiting room with twin baby boys! Wow! We made an actual Daguerreotype!
Next we experimented with other processes and loved the look of the tintypes plus the cost was more inline with our budget. We figured the Daguerreotype cost us about $200 each not counting our labor which was going for about $0.01 and hour. Thus was born the Great Tintype Conglomerate. Stay tuned for next installment of this thrilling story....