[alt-photo] historic gum pigments

Christina Anderson zphoto at montana.net
Thu Aug 11 14:38:51 GMT 2011

Good morning all!
Someone a loooong while ago asked what colors were historically accurate with gum. While researching casein, I came across this wonderful section in the book, below. It is quite surprising, because it lists so many colors other than black, brown, red, ochre, that one would assume would be used in the gum process. This does not mean all of these colors were used, but perhaps they were?

What is also,to me, astonishing, is the date of the mention: 1858. Supposedly Poitevin in France patented gum in 1855. Pouncy in England said he had been working independently on gum for years before but no patent/no proof. So this was written shortly after Poitevin came out with his discovery in France (authors were British, but during that time most of the info was hotly shared between photographic societies in the varying European countries, so it very well could be that the authors' information was directly from France though no country is mentioned).

Gum is a bit sketchy to research because when it first was discovered it didn't have an exact name, sometimes being called carbon printing, direct carbon, pigment printing, etc. When carbon printing came to mean carbon printing, and gum certainly didn't always use carbon as a pigment as evidenced below, it got its current name.

I find it also fascinating that gum was the possible antidote to the fading of prints at that time. Of course, we know the rest, gum got a bad rap and was relegated to the fine art field when Pictorialism came into being in the late 1800's, and silver won out.

Anyway, maybe this is of use to someone, and probably the colors can be compared with Cornelius and Sons website who do sell historic pigments to see which of these can be had today. I'm sure someone who manufactures pigments might find these descriptions comical at the least and informative at the most. And some of the pigments I would not use because they are not transparent or they are not lightfast.

Now if I could only be so lucky as to find casein so readily in the literature...though I did buy two old books via Abebooks, one for $1 and one for $3, so obviously books about casein are not too precious :)

A Dictionary of Photography by Thomas Sutton, John Worden, Francis Peabody 1858 pp. 329-331.

Pigments. Positive prints may now be obtained in various pigments, by mixing them with an organic substance, and bichromate of potass,— applying the mixture evenly to the entire surface of a sheet of paper, drying it, and exposing it under a negative,— then washing it in water or a suitable solvent, which removes the pigment from those parts of the paper which have not been acted on by light and leaves it firmly cemented to the paper in the parts which have been so acted on. The process of printing in pigments has not yet received much attention and the results are at present more or less imperfect as compared with those by the old processes; but since prints by the methods in common use are extremely liable, if not certain, to fade, it is of the utmost importance that the methods of printing in carbon and permanent pigments should be so far improved as to yield results artistically equal to the others.

 The following is a brief account of some of the common pigments:

Black. Ivory black is made by calcining ivory dust in a close crucible.

Lamp black is the soot produced by the combustion of oils, resins, and other vegetable substances.

Umber. A brown mineral found in the island of Cyprus; it is composed of silica, alumina, and oxide of iron and manganese. When calcined for half an hour at a red heat the pigment called burnt umber is produced.

Asphaltum. A fine rich brown pigment. See Asphaltum.

Sienna. An argillaceous mineral found in Italy, and also near Wycomb. By calcination it becomes burnt sienna.

Smalt blue. A glass coloured with oxide of cobalt, and pulverized.

Cobalt. Hydrate of alumina mixed with hydrated oxide of cobalt, dried and calcined.

Sulphate of Indigo. Chemic blue. Saxony blue. Indigo dissolved in about six times its weight of sulphuric acid, then diluted with water, and neutralized with potass.

Prussian blue. A compound of cyanogen and iron. It is not considered a permanent pigment.

Stone blue. Finely powdered indigo mixed with starch paste, and made into lumps. Copper blue. A mixture of carbonate of copper and chalk, exposed to the air until it assumes the proper colour.

Ultramarine. A pigment composed chiefly of a costly mineral called Lupis lazuli, brought from China and Persia.

Artificial ultramarine. A pigment containing sulphide of sodium, obtained by fusing together in a crucible, porcelain clay, sulphur, and carbonate of soda. French photographic papers are tinted with this villanous alkaline sulphide, which is enough of itself to cause the fading of any photograph.

Blue verditer. Nitrate of copper mixed with chalk.

Copper green. Native sub-carbonate of copper

Brunswick green. Carbonate of copper mixed with calcareous matters.

Vienna green. A mixture of arsenious acid and verdigris.

Green verditer. An accidental variety of blue verditer.

Sap green. The juice of the berries of buckthorn, black alder, or ever-green privet , mixed with lime water and gum Arabic, and evaporated until quite thick.

Iris green. The juice of the petals of the iris added to quick lime.

Carmine. An extract from the cochineal insect.

Lake. The colouring matter of raw shellac.

Brazil wood-lake. A mixture of a decoction of logwood, alum, and chloride of tin, to which carbonate of soda is added to form a precipitate.

Madder. A colouring matter obtained from the root of the Rubia tinctorum, which grows in the South of Europe.

Brown pink. To a decoction of French berries and fustic, boiled with potass in a tinned vessel, alum is added. The precipitate is “brown pink.”

Dutch pink. Turmeric is substituted for fustic, and whiting for alum, in the preceding formula.

Orange red. Sandix.  White lead calcined.

Red lead. Minium. Litharge (oxide of lead) roasted in a reverberatory furnace.

Indian red. Peroxide of iron.

Red chalk. Clay iron ore.

Venetian red. Oxide of iron.

Alum white. A calcined mixture of honey and alum.

White lead. Basic carbonate of lead.

Permanent white. Carbonate of baryta.

Zinc white. Oxide of zinc.

Chrome yellow. Chromate of lead.

Indian yellow. A concretion formed in the intestines of the camel.

King's yellow. Sulphide of arsenic.

Naples yellow. A calcined mixture of lead, antimony, alum, and salt.

Patent yellow. Chloride of lead.

Queen’ s yellow. Turpith mineral or sub sulphate of mercury.

Yellow lake. French berries boiled with potass, and precipitated with alum.

Ochres. Native oxides of iron mixed with argillaceous and calcareous earths. Verdigris. Acetate of copper.

Indigo. A product obtained from the indigo plant.

Sepia. The black liquid contained in the cuttle fish. It consists of carbon, along with albumen, gelatine, and phosphate of lime.

Vermilion. Cinnabar. Protosulphide of mercury.

Terra verte. Silicate and phosphate of protoxide of iron.

Christina Z. Anderson

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