Volunteers Photograph Album Page

The craze for photography took off in the mid-Victorian era, with people who could afford it having their portraits taken and swapping the images with their friends and family. Of course having these photographs loose in a box was hardly ideal so manufacturers soon started issuing albums for the images to be stored in. These rapidly became larger and more ornate, with each page of the album having beautifully lithographed (or more likely zincographed) images on the more expensive versions. Plants and floral designs were the most popular images for albums, but other topics were also sold, including some with a military flavour. Today we are looking at a page from a late Victorian photo album that illustrates some of the uniforms worn by the volunteers at the time:

The oval in the middle is of course where the photograph would sit. The page is made of heavy card with a cut out behind for the image and paper around it to hold it in. The page itself has a variety of different Volunteer uniforms depicted in full colour:

The top half of the page depicts the ‘Easter Review on Brighton Downs’ with Volunteers involved in a mock attack up a hill towards a farmstead:

The page is probably printed using zincography, a cheaper version of lithography. Zinc plates could be obtained for less expense than fine lithographic limestone, and could be acquired at very large scale. Zinc was coated with a solution containing gallic acid and phosphoric acid that caused hygroscopic salts to form on the plate’s surface. A printer would then cover the zinc plate with a coating of asphalt varnish, expose it under a drawing and develop it. The zinc affected by the lines of the drawing proof would be coated with hygroscopic salts. Bathing the plate in acetic acid resulted in the dissolution of the salts, the asphalt varnish protecting the remaining surfaces of the plate. Then the printer would coat the plate with a colored lacquer varnish called fuchsine, dried, dipped in benzene. This would dissolve the varnishes, leaving only the fuchsine varnish in the areas associated with the drawn lines, and hygroscopic salts elsewhere. The printer then wet the plate, the water localizing on the salts. As in lithography, ink applied to the plate was repelled by the hygroscopic areas, and attracted to the fuchsine areas. Sometimes zincographic printers created printing proofs on specially coated papers.

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