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Albumen Prints

The process of creating albumen prints was invented in the mid 1800s in Lille, France by Louis Blanquart-Evrard. At this time, photographers were still overcoming challenges with the chemistry of fixing images. Albumen paper was used primarily for the very popular carte-de-visite, a small portrait photograph that was commonly traded between friends in the 1860s onward.

Blanquart-Evrard's process involved coating paper with a mixture of egg white and chemicals that were put in contact with a glass negative and then exposed to the sun. The resulting image was washed to stop the chemical reaction, and toned with another solution to give it a rich gold-brown hue.

The inexpensive nature of the albumen print process made portraiture, typically reserved for the wealthy aristocracy, accessible to a new middle class. Full-length portraits were the most popular pose, but busts of celebrities and religious figures such as Queen Victoria and Sarah Bernhardt were collected and stored in albums. The carte-de-visite was replaced by the larger format cabinet card in the 1870s, but both cards were typically albumen prints.

Quick Facts

  • 19th century factories produced albumen paper commercially and sold it in bulk to photographers. The process required a tremendous amount of eggs, sometimes more than 60,000 a day, for which the yolks and whites were hand separated by factory workers
  • André Adolphe Eugene Disderí, the inventor of the carte-de-visite, developed a way to take eight exposures on a single negative, thus creating eight albumen print portraits at a time. He made a fortune with this process, sometimes selling several thousand francs worth of small portraits in a day
  • The albumen process, and the carte-de-visite, spread to the United States shortly after gaining popularity in France. The cards were popular during the Civil War, as the prints could be inexpensively produced and sent to soldiers from their loved ones at home

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