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A Peek Into Our Collections Room: Glass Plate Negatives

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

by Alexandria O'Brien

Have you ever wondered what will happen to your family photos when you're no longer living one day? Perhaps you will leave them to your children, to pass along to their children. Will they be put into photo albums on display or stored carefully in a closet? Imagine that they didn't remain in your family but instead, are donated to a local museum!

One special donation that the Galveston County Museum received in the last five years is 180 glass plate negatives that were taken between the 1890s and 1930s. These negatives were of families mostly, but fashion, advertisements, and scenery at the time were also included. UHCL Intern, Karalyn Clark comments that her favorite part of working with these photos is the connection she makes with the people in them.

"History can often feel detached with all of the changes made over the last 100 years. But we can see through these photos that some things are still very much the same. We also have childhood portraits and go to the beach or grab a picture with our friends when we see them. We can look at photos like this and experience a real human connection to the people in them, even though there is over a century between us." Karalyn Clark.

Scanned photos of the glass plate negatives in GCM's Collections Room

Not only are the photos in the collection interesting, but the glass plates themselves are incredible. After a brief internet search, I have found that there are two types of glass plate negatives, collodion wet and gelatin dry plates. Wet plates were invented initially, in the 1850s and had to be developed within 5 minutes while they were still 'wet'. This restricted photographers to be close to their darkrooms, in order to complete the process in time. Dry plates on the other hand, (invented 20 years later in 1871) were more convenient because photographers could store the plates until they were ready to develop them.

If you are interested in seeing more glass plate negatives from this donation, please schedule a private tour of the Galveston County Museum by visiting the website or clicking here. There are also glass plate negatives on display, an exhibit put together by another UHCL intern, Leslie Lenio. These can be seen on the private tour or a regular walk-in visit. The museum has numerous fascinating artifacts such as these, so stayed tuned into our blog for another behind-the-scenes look into The Collections Room!

Left: UHCL Intern, Karalyn Clark - GCM Collections Room

Below: UHCL Intern, Leslie Lenio - GCM Exhibit

UHCL Intern, Karalyn Clark with glass negative plates in Galveston County Museum's Collections Room

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