Abraham Lincoln, Opalotype Photograph by Henry Warren
Unique to Lincoln Photographica
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Abraham Lincoln Opalotype Photograph, by Henry Warren, taken on 6 March 1865.
Warren, of Waltham, Mass., had tricked “Tad” into getting his dad to pose for a photograph. He succeeded, but by the expression on Lincoln’s face, the President was none too pleased at that chicanery. (Warren seems to have a penchant for catching people when they’re angry. Grant appears to be annoyed, too!)
Warren’s albumen photographs were first titled “The Latest Photograph of Abraham Lincoln” and, after the assassination, changed to “The Last…..” They were produced in three sizes and remain both uncommon and desirable today.
This is the first time we’ve seen Warren experimenting with the then relatively new Opalotype or “milk glass” photographic technique. This artifact is literally unique to the Lincoln field, as no other “opalotypes” of Lincoln are extant.
Opalotypes were printed on sheets of opaque, translucent white glass. Opalotypes use a wet collodion and silver gelatin and was first patented in 1857 by Glover and Bold of Liverpool. The two basic techniques are either the transfer of a carbon print onto glass or the exposure of light-sensitive emulsion on the glass surface to the negative. “Milk glass positive” is an alternative term for an opalotype. “Opalotype portraits…for beauty delicacy, and detail, are equal to ivory miniatures.” –Helmut Gernsheim, Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960. NY: 1991).
The edges of the collodion emulsion placed on the glass are clearly visible, thus showing the process Warren used to produce this likeness. The gentleness of what the milk glass process produces offsets the annoyance in Lincoln’s face – though perhaps it was just plain weariness.
The lack of collodion at the lower right-hand corner attests to where Warren held the glass as he poured and spread the emulsion over the glass surface. There are a few small spots on the glass where there was no emulsion, or perhaps where it flaked off. However this does not mar Lincoln’s image at all.
Warren, Henry R. (Photographer) ABRAHAM LINCOLN. The White House, Washington: 6 March 1865. 1-3/8 x 1-5/8 inches (image); 4-3/16 x 5-7/16 inches (overall). (O-112)