The American Carbon Manual/Preface


One of the greatest hindrances to the progress of the art of Photography, is the doubtful permanency of its productions. It will become an immense power if we can overcome this objection. Its votaries have learned how to secure beautiful lights and shades; brilliant chemical effects and most artistic and pleasing pictures. Never before has our art shown greater promise of improvement; never before has there been such a thirst for information and thorough training exercised as at present; and yet what a mortification to every earnest photographer to feel that his efforts can produce nothing that will bear him honor and credit longer than a few short years!

With this in view, constantly staring us in the face, is it not strange that the growth of photography has been so great as it has, and its improvement so evident as it is?

It would be so, were it not that one ray of hope has beckoned us on for a number of years back, i.e., the hope that at no distant period we might produce permanent results. That hope is now fully realized in the Carbon printing process, several of which are described herein, by which we may produce permanent photographic prints.

Many, however, are debarred from its practice by the want of a proper practical manual of instruction.

The object of this work is to observe, collate, and condense, as far as possible, the best and most practical thoughts of the few who have experimented with, and written on this process, not only abroad but at home, and to combine them with my own experience and observation.

I am particularly indebted to my friend G. Wharton Simpson, A.M., editor of the “Photographic News,” London, whose excellent manual “On the Production of Photographs in Pigments — Swan's Process” — has recently been given to the world, and who is one of the earliest experimenters in the process. I also gratefully acknowledge the receipt of some useful and practical ideas from Dr. Herman Vogel, editor of the Photo. Mittheilungen, Berlin, translator and author of a revise of Mr. Simpson's work.

By careful and extended experiment I am able to indorse their views, and to add a few notes here and there of what has occurred to me in my own practice, and several other matters which I trust will be found useful. It is more difficult to sift out from a large amount of thought and record that which is most important to know—using one's brains as a sieve or filter to separate the good grain from the tares—the sediment from the pure solution, as it were—than to scatter the seed—to distribute the mixture—as one has gathered it from one's own experience and experiment. I have endeavored, however, to compile and write such matter for these pages as will make the novel, fascinating and valuable Carbon Process, plain, practical and easy to all workers in photography.

Although it will be seen by the historical notes that follow, that many carbon processes have been worked more or less, yet to Mr. Joseph Wilson Swan, New Castle-upon-Tyne, England, we are indebted for the most practical and perfect one, and to this I will ask you to give your especial attention. It is now practised considerably and successfully in this country, as our specimen will testify, and most largely abroad, by Messrs, Swan, Braun, and others.

Like many other useful discoveries, this process has been perfected only by slow degrees, and by the laborious and patient research of many individuals. As early as 1814 M. Niepce made experiments in Carbon printing, and to him it owes its origin; but after all the manifold experiments by the many who shall be named in proper place, to Mr. Swan is due the honor and praise for having simplified, perfected, and made easy of practice, a process for photographic printing, where every beauty of management and manipulation is preserved perfectly and permanently.

Those who endeavor to practise it will find it entirely different from the silver process—no gold, no silver, no hyposulphite, entering the construction of a carbon print—yet quite as easy and possessed of many advantages. If what follows should not meet every case, any who may be troubled with failures I shall be glad to answer through the columns of the Philadelphia Photographer, wherein also notes of future experiments, improvements and discoveries in the process shall be regularly recorded.

Edward L. Wilson.
Philadelphia, May, 1868.