Sunday, February 12, 2017

Printing with vintage photo papers

As the old saying goes, what's old is new again, late last year I was given some old photographic print paper, which I think would be considered 'vintage'. Three packages of this photographic print paper belonged to the late Alec Merriman, a well known Victoria newspaperman noted for his outdoor writing and photography.

So recently on a couple of cold snowy winter days I squirreled myself away in my little darkroom and made some contact prints, I also wanted to try out the contacting printing frame that I made last year using some exotic woods that I had laying around my wood shop ( see photo ). Into the mix, I added one more package of photo paper, that I had bought myself as a teenager in 1974 or 75 when I first began my interest in photography. Out of the four packages of photo print paper, two of the packages of paper had never been opened. One had an expiry date of January 1, 1948, the other was had an expiry date of May 1958.

For chemistry I used a standard Kodak Dektol off-the-shelf paper developer ( mixed 1:2 ), stop bath, and Ilford Rapid fixer, for the toning process I used plain hypo then a dilution of hypo-clearing agent and Kodak Selenium toner mixed 1:15 in which I toned each print for 5 minutes ( except one ).

Here is a list of the papers that I tried and the results that I got:

1) — Kodak Kodabromide: This twelve sheet package of 8" x 10" had never been opened. Single weight F-2  ( grade two, glossy surface  ) expiry date of January 1, 1948. I must say when I was quite elated in knowing that this paper had been sealed for the last 70 plus years. Upon sliding my hand inside under the orange/red glow of my safe light I found the first two sheets stuck together face to face ( emulsion side to emulsion side ), so two down, ten to go. I found one sheet went completely black when I went to develop the print after exposing a negative via contact printing. Others showed some image results, all though it had excessive curl and was difficult to hold down flat even in my contact printer with heavy glass in locked down position. The paper also showed heavy age-fog so all the highlights were a light gray maybe somewhere around zone VII.

2) — Kodak Kodabromide: This was a 25 sheet package of 8 x 10 that had been opened and had about 10 sheets left,  Single weight  E-3 ( low contrast luster surface ) expiry date of June 1, 1958. I found a few sheets where fogged totally black but others were usable, like the other Kodabromide, this also showed heavy age-fog effects, all the highlights were a light gray.

3) — Ansco Cykora: This twenty-five sheet package of 5" x 7" had never been opened. Single weight GL-4  ( grade 4, glossy surface  ) expiry date of May 1958. This was the surprise of the lot, a beautiful glossy surface, The paper showed little or no age-fog characteristics, the whites were nice and clean even after 6 decades, I had to search my files to find some lower contrast negatives that would work well with the grade four contrast. I pulled those from a recent project where I had been photographing Charlie's Trail near the Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island, I shot some of these photos with Kodak T-Max film and Ilford HP5. They contact printed well, I was really surprised when I slid the first print in the developer expecting another grey looking print, but the highlights held, it was as if I had gone down to the local photo store and bought the print paper last week. However out of all the papers once it had dried it had an excessive amount of curl, even when I dry mounted the print on 4 ply museum rag board it still wanted to curl. I was very happy with the toning process and how the finished prints looked.

4) — Ilford Ilfobrom: This was a 10 sheet package of 8 x 10 that had been opened and had about 6 sheets left. Single weight glossy grade 2.I bought this myself as a teenager in 1974 or 75 when I first got interested in photography, my parent's were very supportive of my new fascination with photography, they allowed me to build a darkroom in one of the closets in our home. I'm not sure of the exact expiration date on this paper, I had written " Print paper is still usable as Dec.21/78"  I found that the paper was still usable as of February 2017, although I found that the grade two was more like a grade one as my prints came out quite flat looking.

In conclusion, I found that there is quite a lot of vintage print paper out there if one goes looking for it on places like eBay, it sells for anywhere $25 and up depending on the print paper size and a number of sheets and if it is unopened and the age. I also understand from further research that one may have used specialized paper developers with an added chemical restrainer to counteract the age fogging effects of old print paper. For this project, I just wanted to have fun with what I had on hand and see what would come out. I have some other newer but older photo print paper so I may try some more contact printing with silver gelatin papers in the future. It's a beautiful and traditional way of making prints.

This article also appears on my blog:
Here is a link to antique print papers:

My contact printing frame (up to 8 x10 film) for the construction I used various woods including, cocobolo, ebony, black want and yellow cedar. 

A picture combo showing the Ilford Ilfobrom on the top and the selenium-toned Kodak Kodabromide (1948) on the bottom. 

A picture combo showing the selenium-toned Ilford Ilfobrom on the top and the untoned Kodak Kodabromide (1958) on the bottom. 

A picture combo showing the beautifully selenium-toned Ansco Cykora (1958). 

A picture combo showing the beautifully selenium-toned Ansco Cykora (1958).

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