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Gelatin Dry-Plate Glass negatives in the San Antonio Light Photograph Collection

October 6, 2017

Shortly after purchasing the San Antonio Light in 1924, Hearst newspapers hired Jack Specht to be their first full-time staff photographer for the daily paper. Specht used a Graflex camera with 4×5 inch glass negatives to capture the image. The negatives were ordered from photographic supply companies. Since the camera was bulky and the glass negatives somewhat expensive, Specht often took only one photograph to accompany most news stories. Specht and the other staff photographers processed approximately 23,500 glass plates before switching to film negatives in 1936. The Hearst Corporation donated the glass negatives to our collection in 1979.

Specht established a routine that was followed by subsequent photographers. The photographer returned from the assignment and immediately developed and fixed the glass plate in chemical solutions. Once the plate was dry, he wrote the names of the subjects in graphite in the margins on the emulsion side—a procedure that often confuses viewers because the inscriptions appear in reverse.  After the negative was printed, it was given to the San Antonio Light librarian to be stored for possible use at a later time.


Gelatin dry-plate glass negative showing boy scouts posing outside their headquarters at 2519 Broadway. Photograph by Jack Specht, February 1930. (MS 359: L-0073-C)


Emulsion side of a glass negative, inscribed with subject’s name and file box number.


Jack Specht uses his Graflex camera, with glass-plate holder, to photograph a rattlesnake, ca. 1928. (MS 359: L-0072-H)


Boxes for glass negatives manufactured by Gevaert Photo-Producten, Mortsel, Belgium.


Box for glass negatives by Thomas Illingworth & Co. Ltd., photographic materials manufacturers, London, U.K.


Box for glass negatives by Wellington & Ward Ltd., photographic materials manufacturers, Elstree, Hertfordshire, U.K. and purchased from Medo Photo Supply Corp., New York.


Empty boxes that were numbered and used as permanent storage boxes for the negatives.  With them are the index cards used to access the images in the library at the San Antonio Light.


Scan of a glass negative of the excavation of the San Antonio River cutoff channel, circa 1929 (MS 359: L-0562-D). This important negative was stained due to the emulsion-side being stored long-term in direct contact with the lid of the acidic cardboard box. While most of the negatives remained in good condition, some were permanently damaged before rehousing in individual archival sleeves.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2017 11:18 am

    Reblogged this on stillness of heart and commented:
    What an incredibly fascinating collection.

  2. Julianna Barrera-Gomez permalink*
    October 11, 2017 8:03 am

    A small sample (currently ~8,500 of 1.5 million) of this amazing collection can be viewed online:

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