Scope and Content
Title: Cased photographs selected from the collections of the California History Section of the California State Library
78 photographs (in 74 cases)
California State Library
Shelf location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library's online catalog.
Abstract: 78 cased photographs selected from the collections of the California State Library. Includes daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and
tintypes (also called ferrotypes) dating from the late 1840s to the mid-1860s. Subject matter is chiefly portraits of California
pioneers and mining scenes, mining districts, and towns of the California gold rush.
Items from various sources, including gifts to the library and library purchases.
Restricted originals. Viewing prints available for most items. Use of originals by permission of the Curator of Special Collections.
Copyright has not been assigned to California State Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts
must be submitted in writing. Permission for publication is given on behalf of California State Library as the owner of the
physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by
[Identification of item], Cased photographs selected from the collections of the California History Section of the California
State Library, California State Library
Scope and Content
Items selected from the California State Library's cased photograph collection. Media present are daguerreotypes (photographs
on silver-plated copper dating from the 1840s to the late 1850s), ambrotypes (photographs on glass dating from ca. 1854 to
the early 1860s), and tintypes (photographs on blackened iron plates, dating from ca. 1856 through the 1860s). Collectively,
these are referred to as "cased photographs" because they were intended to be presented in miniature cases.
Selection for inclusion in the present finding aid was based upon historical importance and physical condition. Subject matter
is chiefly portraits of California pioneers and others significant in the history of California's gold rush and early statehood
era. The selection also includes numerous California gold mining scenes, mining districts, and some California city and town
views of the 1850's. One view of a stagecoach in Nebraska is also included.
This finding aid was created as part of a one-year collaborative project with The Bancroft Library of the University of California,
Berkeley. It was funded by a grant to The Bancroft Library under the Library Systems and Technology Act, from October 1999
through September 2000. This project's intent was to create the foundation of a virtual collection of cased photographs and
related early photographic objects found in repositories across the state of California.
The work of 1999-2000 resulted in conservation, photographic documentation, digitization, and cataloging of all of the cased
daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, and related photographs in The Bancroft Library. Staff of the Berkeley libraries also
digitized 78 items selected from the cased photographs of the California State Library. A conservator had stabilized the majority
of these items from the State Library in the 1980's, therefore only description and digitization were carried out in the course
of the project. State Library staff provided cataloging descriptions, and these descriptions were converted into the present
EAD finding aid by staff of the U.C. Berkeley libraries.
Digitization was performed by Library Photographic Services of U.C. Berkeley. Direct digital capture was done using a digital
camera, and selected additional scans were made from existing 4x5 transparencies. These transparencies had been taken of some
objects during conservation treatment in the 1980s in order to document the bare daguerreotype, ambrotype, or tintype plates
at the time they were removed from their cases and mats. Only bare plate transparencies for images otherwise partially obscured
by mats were selected for digitization.
To search the combined holdings of cased photographs from the California State Library and The Bancroft Library, please see
finding aid for the combined cased photograph collections.
The present finding aid is made up of descriptions for individual items selected from the collections of the California State
Library. The descriptions have been arranged by call number. Since only selected items are presented, gaps in the number range
will be present.
Glossary of Terms:
- collodion positive photograph on glass. The ambrotype plate is actually a glass collodion negative that is underexposed or
bleached. It appears positive when viewed against a black backing, which was achieved using any number of materials, including
asphaltum applied to the plate, a blackened metal backing plate, dark fabric, or use of a dark ruby or violet colored glass.
The process was patented in 1854 and was popular in the United States until the middle of the 1860s. Like the daguerreotype,
an ambrotype is a unique image, the plate being exposed directly in the camera, therefore not resulting from an intermediary
- Clear glass:
- most common, with black backing to make the image appear positive.
- Colored glass:
- collodion on dark colored glass; may be red ("ruby"), violet, or blue in color. .
- In relievo:
- the black backing was not applied to the entire plate, but only behind the image area. A white or colored or patterned backing
could then be added to appear as a backdrop and give a slight three-dimensional effect. .
- Cutting's Patent:
- a process intended to protect the image from water damage. The ambrotype plate was sealed to a second glass plate using a
layer of balsam. The image plate's emulsion side faced the glass backing plate or cover plate. Usually, the image plate was
on top, the backing plate was blackened with asphaltum, and no cover glass was used. Many examples of imitations or infractions
of this patent have been found, with peculiar variations on the idea of sealing two glass plates together. A typical form
of deterioration often visible is a fern-like separation of the image plate from the backing plate..
- black tar-like backing often applied to blacken the backs of ambrotype plates. Application methods varied, and it can appear
as a thin varnish or a thick coating.
- Bare plate:
- term used in the current project to indicate an image plate without its preserver, mat, cover glass, or other packaging. Bare
plates were photographed as part of the preservation treatment process when image details were revealed that would otherwise
be obscured within the image package.
- see Salt Print.
- usual containment for cased photographs, typically made of leather over wood or paper over wood, thermoplastic, papier mache,
velvet, or sometimes tortoise shell or mother of pearl. They generally are decorated with a motif or scene: geometric patterns,
floral arrangements, and historical or mythological figures are typical. Thermoplastic "union cases" represent the earliest
commercial use of plastic, and they date from 1853. These cases are often mistakenly referred to as "gutta percha", which
- Case motif:
- the decorative pattern on the exterior of the case. In the Bancroft cased photograph project, an attempt was made to identify
cases and locate them in one of four reference sources on miniature cases. (See Bibliography for works by Berg, Krainik, and
Rinhart). Under Case Notes on each item record in the finding aid, a motif has been described and, if it was located, the
reference source was noted, followed by a code or plate number, such as "Rinhart 135". Users should note that Rinhart numbers
230 and higher are found in their work The American Daguerreotype rather than their American Miniature Case Art, which contains
the lower plate numbers.
- Case well:
- the recessed area of a case that holds the image, generally on the right side as the case is opened. Double cases have two
wells, with an image in each. The image package is set snugly in the well.
- Cloth photograph:
- see Pannotype.
- Cover glass:
- protective glass covering surface of daguerreotypes and most cased ambrotypes and tintypes. Cover glass was placed over the
brass mat and, generally, sealed to the plate with a paper tape around its edges. The brass preserver was then placed around
this package. Some ambrotypes were cased without cover glass, with the brass mat at the surface. For the Bancroft Library
collection, a protective cover glass was added over the mat of such objects. See also: Salting.
- albumen photographic print (on paper) adhered to the inside of convex glass, waxed or oiled for transparency, and hand colored
from behind. An additional convex backing glass may be added. This process was popular later than the cased photograph era,
and examples date from the 1870s to ca. 1900 or later.
- photograph on silver-plated copper. This is the earliest viable form of photography, and its introduction is usually dated
to 1839, although successful experiments in the process predate this by some years. It is named for Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre
(1787-1851). A daguerreotype is a unique photographic object, the plate being exposed directly in the camera, with no intermediary
negative and therefore no multiple "prints". It is "wrong reading" (the image is reversed) unless it has been copied, or a
reversing prism was used. The daguerreotype was the dominant photographic process well into the 1850s, at which time the ambrotype,
the tintype (also called the ferrotype), and the paper photograph contributed to its decline. The daguerreotype process was
largely out of use by about 1860.
- Die maker (or die-engraver):
- the maker of the die cylinders (or molds, for thermoplastic cases) used to emboss a particular decorative motif in the leather,
paper, or cloth case covering. Occasionally the name of the die maker appears in very small letters on case exteriors.
- see Tintype.
- Half plate:
- see Plate sizes.
- Image Package:
- term used in the present finding aid to refer to the elements immediately surrounding or sealed together with the image plate.
The term is not in general use, but has been applied here as a matter of convenience. As a unit, the image package would be
set in the case well. It may consist of some or all of the following: image plate, brass mat, cover glass, brass preserver,
paper seal, and possibly a backing of glass, metal, paper, fabric, or other material.
- Image well:
- see Case well.
- Leather Photograph:
- collodion positive photograph on blackened leather, similar to a pannotype. In a case and under glass, they may be indistinguishable
from tintypes and ambrotypes.
- see Photographer.
- brass mats are almost always present on cased photographs, and are usually sealed between the image plate and a cover glass.
- see Tintype
- Ninth plate:
- see Plate sizes.
- Opalotype (or Opal Picture):
- carbon transfer or collodion positive on white glass, known as milk glass or porcelain glass.
- the fabric surface inside the case cover, generally made of silk or velvet over batting. Velvet pads were often embossed with
decorative motifs or the name and address of the photographer.
- collodion positive photograph on cloth (oil cloth or linen) blackened with asphaltum or similar black, waxy substance. They
are closely related to leather photographs. In a case and under glass, they may be indistinguishable from tintypes and ambrotypes.
- Usually, photographers are not identified on cased photographs. Some blind-stamped their names and/or business addresses on
their brass mats, and others embossed this information in the velvet pad within the case cover. Occasionally, a pencilled
note is found on the paper lining of the case well. Names of case and mat manufacturers or die makers are sometimes found
on cases and mats and must not be confused with photographers' marks.
- Plate (image plate vs. backing plate):
- plate, in the present finding aid, usually refers to the surface on which the image appears: the silver-plated copper plate
of a daguerreotype, the glass of an ambrotype, or the iron plate of a tintype (or ferrotype). The term "backing plate" or
"metal plate" was used for a piece of metal or glass added behind the image plate, either as a black ambrotype backing or
for strength. (Cloth or paper was also used for this purpose.) See also: Plate sizes. .
- Plate mark:
- a stamped hallmark on a daguerreotype plate that identifies the manufacturer of the plate. Smaller plates cut down from whole
plates may or may not exhibit plate marks. Plate marks typically bear a mark specific to the maker, and often a number (40)
denoting the silver content. Marks are typically symbols (stars, eagles, lambs, etc.), initials, or company names.
- Plate sizes:
- Daguerreotype plates were manufactured to (or cut down to) standard sizes, based on fractions of the whole plate. (Other sizes,
such as one third or two thirds plates were more commonly used in Europe.)
- Whole plate = 6.5 x 8.5 in.
- Half plate = 4.25 x 5.5 in.
- Quarter plate = 3.25 x 4.25 in.
- Sixth plate = 2.75 x 3.25 in.
- Ninth plate = 2 x 2.5 in.
- Sixteenth plate = 1.38 x 1.63 in.
- Preserver (Protector):
- the preserver or protector appears as the outermost brass frame around the image package. It is made of thin brass and is
crimped around the edges of the image package, and is on the exterior of the cover glass. Daguerreotypes prior to the late
1840s generally did not have preservers, but they may also be lacking from later examples.
- see Preserver.
- Quarter plate:
- see Plate sizes.
- the edges of the case and case cover, framing the image package or the pad.
- Salted paper print (Salted paper photograph or salt print):
- early form of photographic print on paper, pre-dating the albumen print which was predominant in the 19th century. More common
in England and Europe in the 1840s, most American examples date from the mid-1850s to early 1860s. Early European examples,
termed Calotypes or Talbotypes (invented by William Henry Fox Talbot), were printed from waxed paper negatives. Examples from
the American West of the 1850s were usually printed from wet collodion glass negatives.
- typical deterioration obscuring daguerreotypes. Salting may have the appearance of beads of moisture (or "weeping") or of
a dry, crystaline substance inside the cover glass. It is the result of condensation (resulting from temperature and humidity
changes) interacting with the glass, and is generally composed of silica and sodium hydroxide. (See Barger and White, p. 175-181.)
Usually it is on the cover glass and not the plate and can be easily removed by a conservator, atlhough it can cause damage
to the plate itself.
- generally, strips of paper adhered with glue or paste around the edges of plates and cover glass to seal the image from the
atmosphere. Sealing prevents tarnishing of daguerreotype plates. Original seals are often made from writing paper and may
have fragments of annotations or other text on them. Archival filmoplast seals have been used to reseal image packages in
the Bancroft Library collection.
- Sixteenth plate:
- see Plate sizes.
- Sixth plate:
- see Plate sizes.
- Tintype (or Ferrotype):
- collodion positive photograph on an iron plate. The process dates from the mid-1850s and, in different variations, was popular
in the United States well into the 20th century. Given that the plate is iron and not tin, "ferrotype" is the technically
accurate term. However, common usage in the United States is "tintype", and this is therefore the term preferred by the Library
of Congress and in the present finding aid. The earliest American tintypes often bore "melainotype" or "Neff's Patent" markings
on the plate. Like the daguerreotype and ambrotype, the tintype was a unique image, the plate being exposed directly in the
camera, therefore not resulting from an intermediary negative.
- Union case:
- common name for thermoplastic miniature cases, used generically for this type of case.
- see Case well.
- Weeping glass:
- see Salting.
- Whole plate:
- see Plate sizes.
Notes on Descriptive Cataloging:
The descriptions present in this finding aid follow rules set forth in Anglo Amercan Cataloging Rules, 2nd edition (AACR2)
and in Elisabeth Betz's Graphic Materials. However, the specialized nature of the objects and the descriptive detail that
was desired led to the creation of many local standards and descriptive conventions.
The core descriptive elements, appearing at the beginning of every record, consist of:
Photographer (if known)
Title (usually supplied by cataloger and bracketed)
Date (usually approximated by cataloger and bracketed)
Physical Description (consisting of number of images, process or medium, format, and dimensions given as height x width)
Local Call Number
A series of note fields follow, in which varying degrees of detail are provided. The note fields include:
Content/Description: a summary of the subject matter of the image, or a description of the pose and clothing of a sitter in a portrait
Image Package Notes: detailed description of the physical elements that surrounded the image as they were found prior to treatment and rehousing.
The convention for Bancroft Library items was to list the original component parts, such as "plate, mat, cover glass, and
preserver", then to make separate notes on each of these parts as appopriate. Case or external containment information was
recorded in a separate Case Note.
Case Notes: description of the external containment of the plate or image package. A containment may be a standard miniature case, a frame,
locket, or any number of container types. In most instances a case is described, including the material from which it is made,
the decorative motif present, and its exterior dimensions. For paricularly interesting examples, case motifs were checked
in reference works on miniature cases (see finding aid Bibliography for Berg, Krainik, or Rinhart), and the plate number from
one of these publications was cited.
Other note fields vary by repository, but they may include General Notes, Biographical Notes, Provenance Notes, Administrative Notes, and Alternative
Form Notes (recording the location of copy prints or copy negatives, etc.)
The decision was made to de-emphasize formallized controlled access points for personal names, geographic names, and corporate
names as subjects. The keyword search environment in which EAD finding aids are mounted made this level of subject cataloging
a low priority, although standard forms of names were used within descriptive notes and titles when they could be located
in the library's online catalog.
A short list of topical subject terms was created for the project using terms from LCTGM and LCSH, and an authority list of
photographer's names was created to ensure standardization. Portraits predominate, therefore special emphasis was given to
terms for classes of people. Terms for children, young adults, men, women, aged persons, etc. were used with the hope that
they would prove useful for those interested in dress or other facets of portraiture of these broad groups. While elements
of costume are not specifically cataloged, it is assumed that those interested in dress can narrow their searches by searching
by gender or broad age group. .)
Controlled terms included are listed below, divided into terms used for people and those used for other image content.
African Americans: used for Afro-Americans, black people.
Aged persons: used for elderly, senior citizens.
Couples: used for mixed gender couples of unknown relationship as well as husbands and wives.
Fathers & children
Indians of North America
Miners: see also Gold mines and Mining.
Mothers & children
Pioneers -- California
Racially mixed children
Soldiers: used for men or boys in uniform. Most are Civil War soldiers.
University of California (1868-1952) -- Faculty.
Buildings: see also Commercial buildings, Hotels, Churches, Dwellings, and
Cabins: see also Buildings.
Carriages & coaches: see also Carts & wagons.
Carts & wagons: see also Carriages & coaches.
Cities and towns
Diversion structures (Hydraulic engineering): used for flumes and other riverbed mining structures. See also Sluices.
Gold mines and mining: see also Miners
Mining districts: used for landscapes or town views, usually in the California gold country.
Sluices: see also Diversion structures.
Stagecoaches: see also Carriages & coaches.
Barger, M. Susan and
White, William B.
The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science.Washington D.C.:
Smithsonian Institution Press, c 1991.
Berg, Paul K.
19th Century Photographic Cases and Wall Frames.
Huntington Beach (Calif.):
Huntington Valley Press, 1995.
Krainik, Clifford and
Union Cases: a Collector's Guide to the Art of America's First Plastics. Grantsburg (Wis.):
Centennial Photo Service, c1988.
Palmquist, Peter E. and
Kailbourn, Thomas R.
Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: a Biographical Dictionary 1840-1865. Stanford (Calif.):
Stanford University Press, 2000.
Rinhart, Floyd and
The American Daguerreotype. Athens (Ga.):
University of Georgia Press, c1981.
Rinhart, Floyd and
American Miniature Case Art. South Brunswick and New York:
A.S. Barnes and Company, c1969.
Rinhart, Floyd and
The American Tintype. Columbus (Ohio):
Ohio State University Press, c1999.
Encyclopedia of Printing, Photographic, and Photomechanical Processes.
Atelier, c1989. 2 volumes.
Collectors' Guide to Nineteenth-century Photographs.
Collier Books. c1976.