Wet Plate Equipment


Portrait of cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber

This is a new tintype of my friend and cellist Sharon Mulfinger Gerber of Greenville, SC.  She and her daughters visited the studio last Saturday and sat for portraits.  I also made ambrotypes of them during that session.  Image details:  whole plate (6.5″ x 8.5″), 19th century wet plate collodion process.  Shot with a reproduction E. & H. T. Anothony tailboard camera, made by Ray Morganweck of Star camera Company, using an original 1872 brass barrel Ross portrait lens (f/4).  I used two stands of 6500K UV tubes (12 tubes total, 2 of which were black lights).  Exposure time 10 seconds — could have been done in 8 seconds, though.

During John Coffer’s wet plate workshop at Camp Tintype  last May, he set up his 20 x 24 camera and gave a brief demonstration of how it works.  It’s just a really big view camera with some movement (front rise and fall).  John mounted the camera on a small wagon chassis in order to move it to nearby locations where he photographs.  The most difficult part of using this camera is, of course, pouring collodion on the mammoth 20 x 24 plate.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any footage online of John pouring a mammoth plate; but many people who have seen him do it speak of his technique with awe.

 

John Coffer's 20 x 24 Wet Plate Camera

John Coffer's 20 x 24 Wet Plate Camera

 

 

Coffer in Action With Mammoth Plate Holder

Coffer in Action With Mammoth Plate Holder

 

 

The 20 x 24 camera was made by Ray Morgenweck of The Star Camera Company.  His calls it  “The Mathew B. Brady 20×24 Majestic Imperial Wetplate Camera.”  Morgenweck has been making a wide range of  Daguerrotype and wet plate cameras for a number of years.  He is in high demand; and there is often a waiting period of several months.  So if you order from him, you’ll have to be patient. Oh, and unless you’re John Coffer, don’t even think about asking for the 20 x 24.  Ray will just laugh.  

 

Description of The Mathew B. Brady 20×24 Majestic Imperial Wetplate Camera

From The Star Camera Website

 

All great things are named after significant people, and indeed this camera is worthy of carrying the name of Mathew B. Brady. Possibly the largest wet plate camera available, the Brady is capable of making 20X24 Wetplate or Tintype images. It is built on the pattern of the early 1900’s Cycle cameras, which have a retracting rise and fall lensboard carrier and a front door which folds up and creates a ‘case’ for the camera. This is NOT a camera for those just beginning the process, and indeed this particular camera went to the man I feel who is most able to handle it, Mr. John Coffer of Dundee NY. This camera uses a Dallmayer 30″ Camera Obscura Lens, and future ones will require a lens similar to this in size and focal length. In addition to the rise and fall lensboard, the camera has a bellows tilt adapter on the rear which can carry the plateholder for greater control over the foreground in your images. Available only on SPECIAL ORDER.

 

The Mathew B. Brady 20x24 Majestic Imperial Wetplate Camera

The Mathew B. Brady 20x24 Majestic Imperial Wetplate Camera. Asking Price: $8,700.00.

 

 

 

 

The Mathew B. Brady 20x24 Majestic Imperial Wetplate Camera

Front Standard Retracts Into Camera Casing.

 

 

 

 

Closes Up Nicely And You're Ready for the Airport!

Closes Up Nicely And You're Ready for the Airport!

Yesterday, I got a call from Steve Silipigni, an excellent wood craftsman and wet plate photographer from Rochester, whom I’d met at John Coffer’s Jamboree.  Steve is making my darkbox for wet plate collodion field use; and he wanted to let me know that it was ready to be shipped.  I’m so eager to begin working with it.  After seeing several of Steve’s darkboxes at Jamboree, two of his own and one that he had made for  Todd Harrington, I was convinced that they were well-constructed and would provide maximum convenience in the field.    

My darkbox and accesories are really beautiful pieces. The pegged box is pine, supporting table top is pine with an oak edge (legs are oak), while the sunken silver nitrate bath is made of walnut. Each component is finished with an English chestnut stain. There are cast iron handles on each long side of the box and one on top for easy portability. Weighing in at 44lbs., the box will accomodate plate sizes up to 8 x 10. However, Steve does make a smaller box for up to whole plate, which is somewhat lighter. The box opens by a small latch on the side; and there are removable supports to hold the red shroud securely in place when working with plates inside. In addition to the darkbox and table, I ordered a fixer bath, drying rack and storage box for whole plate – all walnut.  Steve made the jpegs below prior to shipping.


 

 

 


In an earlier entry, I posted jpegs of Quinn Jacobson’s field darkbox made by Steve Silipigni, a wet plate photographer from Rochester, NY.  I have been corresponding with Steve by email and met him at John Coffer’s Jamboree this month.  He brought along his own darkbox made of poplar, assembled with pegs and finished with an English chestnut stain.  I decided to order that exact version for myself.  It will accomodate plate sizes up to 8 x 10.  

The sample image below shows what my darkbox and supporting table should look like upon completion.  As you can see, the silver nitrate bath is sunken on the left side of the box; but placement may be in the center or on the right side of the box if you prefer.  You can get more information about Steve’s work on his website:  Black Art Woodcraft.  

 

Darkbox By Steve Silipigni Of Rochester, Ny

Darkbox By Steve Silipigni Of Rochester, NY

 

This particular darkbox was made for a client in Louisiana who happens to be a New Orleans Saints fan…hence the custom fleurs-de-lis design on the side.  The lightproof shroud is lined with a red checkered 100% cotton cloth of heavy weight.   A shelf at the bottom of the table is convenient for holding a plate rack for drying finished tintypes and glass negatives.  

Set up or take down of the entire system can be done in a matter of minutes; and all components will fit in the back seat of my car.  Portability of equipment is historically correct for the wet plate collodion process.  Mathew Brady’s field photographers during the Civil War used a darkbox mounted on the back of a wagon – jokingly referred to as a “What-Is-It?” wagon.  In the image below, the darkbox is situated at the back of the wagon with a shroud draped over it.   

 

Mathew Brady Photographic Crew Near Petersburg, VA (1864)

Mathew Brady Photographic Crew Near Petersburg, VA (1864)

 

 

 

During the first weekend of August my wife and I attended Jamboree, an annual gathering of wet plate photographers on John Coffer’s farm in Dundee, NY.  Several of the photographers at Jamboree had wet plate cameras made by Ray Morgenweck of The Star Camera Company.  Coffer owns several of Morgenweck’s cameras, which I used during the workshop back in May, and recommends them in his wet plate manual, “The Doer’s Guide.”

 

Anthony Style Tailboard Camera - Ray Morgenweck

Anthony Style Tailboard Camera - Ray Morgenweck

 

A week before Jamboree, I had contacted Morgenweck and ordered an 8 x 10 Anthony Tailboard Style Bellows Camera, a reproduction of one of the most widely used field cameras of the 19th century.  It will be made of Honduras mahogany and will include a tripod.  

Ray is making whole plate, 1/2 plate and 1/4 plate kits for my camera back so that I have a range of options; and he kindly offered to make a lens cap for my Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear lens in addition to waterhouse stops.  I expect that my equipment will be completed around the end of August.

 

The following description is taken from The Star Camera Company website:

During the Nineteenth Century, the E. and H.T. Anthony Company of New York City were the Worlds Largest supplier of Cameras and equipment. Unfortunatly for modern Wet Plate photographers, they are no longer in business. But, the design and solid reliability of their Cameras lives on in the offerings of The Star Camera Company. Very popular with both Historic Photographers and Fine Arts Photographers is our Anthony Style Tailboard Bellows Camera. We build this camera in a wide range of formats, from Half Plate to 11X14. The most versitile format by far is the square format 8X10, which gives you the ability to make large format Ambrotypes, Ferrotypes and Collodion Negatives. The camera is designed to accept interchangable lensboards, and three are supplied. You will have the ability to do a wide range of photographic work, depending on the lens you choose to use. These cameras have the solid frame and weight to support any Petzval Portrait Lens as well as the bellows extension to allow long focus landscape lenses. As with all our cameras, the Anthony Style Bellows Camera is priced without the lens, as this is a variable cost. While we prefer to build a camera using a lens supplied by the customer, we can source lenses to suit the needs of the buyer with little difficulty. Please note that this camera is available in either Honduras Mahogany or Cherry (at additional cost). For those desiring something different and unique, rare woods such as Purpleheart and Teak can also be used at additonal cost.

 

I just bought my first lens for wet plate photography, an f 7 Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear.  According to the engraved serial number (51796), this brass barrel lens with a waterhouse slot was produced in 1891.  The glass is in excellent condition and the mounting flange is intact; but the original aperture stops are missing, which is not unusual for a lens this old.  S.K. Grimes in Rhode Island will machine a set of metal stops for about $150.00 to $200.00 (current turn around time is about four weeks).  An alternative would be to make them myself from cardboard and paint them black.  

 

S.K. Grimes Waterhouse Stops

S.K. Grimes Waterhouse Stops


My Dallmeyer will cover plate sizes up to 8 x 10.  I plan to use it for landscapes.  The next lens purchase will be a petzval portrait lens for coverage up to 1/2 plate, which could also be used for 8 x 10 with some vignetting.  It would be ideal to have a Darlot petzval; but considering how steep prices have become for those, I am considering a Darlot magic lantern lens, which uses the same petzval formula and is much less expensive.  Some very experienced wet plate photographers have told me that they can tell no difference between images produced with Darlot magic lantern lenses, intended primarily for projection, and Darlot portrait lenses intended for camera use.

 

Made In London (1891)

Dallmeyer Rapid Rectilinear: Made In London (1891)