What's in a name? In the case of the Chicago Albumen Works, 35 years of history and accumulated experience, and a roster of successfully completed projects.

Here is a (not so) brief history:

1976. The Chicago Albumen Works is founded in Chicago with the express intent of producing and selling modern, authentic albumen prints made by printing original glass plate negatives obtained from archives and historical societies. Our first publication was Eadweard Muybridge, Yosemite Photographs, 1872, produced in conjunction with the Yosemite Natural History Association. California. It contained 10 mammoth plate albumen prints of Muybridge's 1872 expedition.

The Muybridge portfolio was followed soon thereafter by the publication of 21 individual mammoth plate albumen prints printed directly from the original William Henry Jackson negatives in the Colorado Historical Society.

In 1978, CAW was asked to print a sales edition of 12 Eugène Atget negatives for sale through the Department of Photographs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Other vintage media printing projects included individual prints by Francis Frith (albumen), Éduard Baldus (salted paper); approximately 100 exhibition prints for the Museum of Modern Art, New York City, exhibition series The Work of Atget (albumen); exhibition prints of the Meserve/Kunhardt Civil War cdv glass plates at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (albumen); a portfolio, Fred E. Miller: Photographer of the Crows (gelatin POP); prints for the limited edition publication of American Frontiers: The Photographs of Timothy H. O'Sullivan, 1876-1874 (albumen); and a master set from the Jacob Riis glass plates at the Museum of the City of New York.

For some of these projects, we were allowed only limited access to the original glass plates. This fostered intense investigation into the making of accurate duplicate negatives: negatives that would print on a given medium as if they were the original glass or film.

As a result of this work, in 1980 the Library of Congress contracted CAW to begin duplicating as-yet-undeteriorated cellulose acetate negatives by Frances Benjamin Johnston. For the next two decades, CAW was considered preeminent in the field of archival negative duplication, duplicating collections of glass plate, nitrate, and acetate negatives so the originals could be removed from everyday service and stored in proper archival conditions, which for film negatives means cold storage at 0° F.

A sample of our major duplicating projects includes:

The Civil War and Western Exploration collodion negative collections at the National Archives and
Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
The Civil War cartes de visite collection at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington,D.C.
The William Henry Jackson mammoth dry plate collection at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
The glass plate negatives of H. H. Bennett at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin
The Jack London Negative Collection at Jack London State Historical Park, Glen Ellen, California
Negatives from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, Austin, Texas
Negatives from the Metropolitan Opera Association, New York City
Negatives from the National Archives and Records Administration, Pacific Alaska Region, Anchorage,
Alaska; Pacific Region, Laguna Niguel, California; Pacific Region, San Francisco, California;
and Southeast Region, East Point, Georgia
Negatives from the National Park Service, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida; Glacier
National Park, Montana; and San Juan Historic Site, Puerto Rico
The Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Glass plate and film negatives from collections at the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia
Glass plate negatives from The New Jersey Historical Society, Newark, New Jersey

By the early 1980s, the question of what to do with already deteriorated cellulose acetate negatives remained unanswered, and CAW was in a unique position to offer a solution. The problems associated with the recovery of emulsion layers from deteriorated acetate negatives did not have to do with removing the emulsion itself, rather, it was what to do next. The procedures tested up to then produced a free-floating emulsion layer that was grossly fragile and unstable. If it could be unfolded and aligned, it could only be re-adhered to glass.

Addressing these two drawbacks, CAW melded the acetate stripping procedures into its already accurate and highly calibrated negative duplicating facility. By rigorously controlling the amount of water in the stripping routine, CAW eliminated the problems of fragility and dimensional stability. Furthermore, the new procedure allowed the recovered image pellicle to dry directly in an archival paper sling without adhering to it, and the duplicating procedure produced a preservation interpositive and an accurate working negative.

Below are a few of the larger projects involving the recovery of severely deteriorated acetate negatives:

Deteriorated negatives in the Walker Evans Archive, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Deteriorated medical X-rays of Avatar Meher Baba from the Sheriar Foundation, North Myrtle
Beach, South Carolina
Deteriorated negatives in the Lucas/Monroe Theater Collection and the Gottscho-Schleisner
Collection, Museum of the City of New York
Deteriorated negatives in the Carnegie Survey of the South, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
Deteriorated negatives in the Norfolk and Western Historical Photograph Collection, Norfolk
Southern Corporation, Norfolk, Virginia
Deteriorated microfilms from the US Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Deteriorated X-rays from the US Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, Hickam AFB, Hawaii
Deteriorated negatives in the Bill Brandt Archive, London, UK.
Deteriorated negatives in the Type Photograph Collection [of botanical specimens] at the Field
Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Illinois

By the year 2000, the digital tsunami had hit. Institutions were dismantling their wet labs and replacing them with digital studios and print labs. The negative preservation doctrine of "duplicate and freeze" was giving way to "digitize and freeze."

In response to these movements, CAW embraced digital technology, acquiring top-of-the line digital cameras, scanners, printers and film recorders, and hiring staff whose experience blended digital expertise with traditional photographic sensibilities.

Today, CAW produces archive quality digital files of all types of 2-dimensional media.

Through our film recorders, we make archive quality duplicate and copy negatives.
Through our digital printers, we make museum quality fine art reproductions.
In our wet labs, we produce silver halide POP (salt, albumen, and gelatin) and DOP prints for exhibition.
In our acetate stripping labs, we recover and digitize deteriorated films of all sizes.


Some of the digital projects we have done over the past decade:
Digitized 11,000 glass plate and film negatives from the Wurts Brothers Collection, Museum
of the City of New York.
Digitized and made LVT duplicate negative outputs of 500 negatives in the Lucas-Monroe
Theatre Collection, Museum of the City of New York
Made LVT copy negative outputs of 4,200 digital files from the Carl Sandburg Collection,
University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois
Digitized 18,000 original negatives from the Norman Rockwell Studio Collection, Norman
Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Digitized and made LVT copy negatives and traditional silver prints of 8,500 prints in the 1934
Aerial Survey Collection, Connecticut State Library, Hartford, Connecticut
Digitized 5,000 nitrate negatives from the Sidney D. Gamble Collection, Duke University,
Durham, North Carolina
Printed the entire exhibition Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera, Norman Rockwell Museum,
Stockbridge, Massachusetts and the Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
Digitized, conserved, and constructed surrogate copies of a 7' by 9' assemblage of panoramic
glass plate transparency views of Deadwood, for the City of Deadwood, South Dakota
Digitized on-site 12,000 glass plate negatives from the Department of Bridges Collection,
Municipal Archives, New York City Department of Records and Information Services, New York City

The Chicago Albumen Works remains committed to the values it brought to photograph preservation in the 1980s and 1990s. While working in a digital environment expands the services we can offer, it does not diminish the attention we pay to the photographic and fine art objects we work with, nor to the needs of the institutions and individuals that are our clients. Every phase of our history has had a role in informing how we approach the next challenge --and every challenge is an opportunity to bring our experience forward.