A62_822a.jpg Elizabeth Bosworth (about 1855-1860s). Collection of Puke Ariki (A62.822).

In 1854, James Ambrose Cutting (1814-67) from Boston, United States of America, patented the ambrotype. Made on a glass support, ambrotypes are one-of-a-kind photographic images. They are created using a wet-plate collodion process, where a liquid collodion emulsion made from guncotton mixed with alcohol and ether forms a light-sensitive surface on glass. The whole process from coating the plate to developing the image must be done before the plate dries, giving it the name “wet plate”. The resulting image is seen as a negative, becoming positive only when backed by something dark like black cloth or paint.

Popular from 1855 until around 1865, ambrotypes were eventually superseded by newer and simpler photographic technologies. Because they are made on glass ambrotypes are very fragile. As such, they were traditionally enclosed in custom-made cases like the one seen here.

This ambrotype case is covered in embossed leather and has a decorative velvet lining. The portrait of Elizabeth Bosworth has also been coloured by hand to give the scene a more life-life appearance. The background has been given a green hue, Elizabeth’s cheeks have a rosy glow and her jewellery has been enhanced with a touch of gold.

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