# 13238

Photographer unknown.

[GOLD RUSH] Ambrotype of Samuel and Elizabeth Bates, emigrants to Australia, 1855

$1,350.00 AUD

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[United Kingdom or France] : [s.n.], 1855. Quarter plate ambrotype photograph with hand colouring, 130 x 105 mm, with original passe-partout frame comprising the cover glass (180 x 140 mm) and papered chip-board preserver with oval cut-out and gold painted border; the ambrotype with the original blackened backing paper intact, affixed to the back of the ambrotype’s top edge with the original spots of glue (this uppermost part of the ambrotype is not exposed in the oval frame), original cloth covered thick card backing, with contemporary manuscript label inscribed “Samuel Bates and Lizzy his Wife, 1st January 1855. Left for Austrilla (sic) soon after”; although all of the ambrotype’s original components are present, the frame’s cloth border has perished, meaning that the components are now separated (this actually provides a good opportunity to observe how this type of “uncased” ambrotype was assembled); the cover glass has a short diagonal scratch at the right hand edge, not impinging on the main image; the ambrotype itself is in very good condition, a beautifully composed portrait with rich tonal range and delicate colouring.

The ambrotype, a cheaper alternative to the daguerreotype, became popular in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America from around 1853. A glass plate covered with a thin layer of collodion, then dipped in a silver nitrate solution, was exposed to the subject while still wet, then developed and fixed. When the reverse of this negative image was coated with a dark emulsion such as varnish or paint (or, as in the present example, covered with a sheet of blackened paper), the resulting image appeared as a positive. The process required the expertise and experience of a professional photographer. The majority of ambrotypes, like daguerreotypes, were sold to the client in a custom case made of either leather covered wood or thermoplastic, which was usually lined with velvet, with an ornamental ormulu border framing the image itself; the plainer and less expensive uncased ambrotype, produced in a passe-partout frame as a ready-to-display photograph, was more popular in continental Europe and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, than in North America.

The portrait ambrotype of Samuel and Elizabeth Bates which we offer here was most likely taken by a British or French studio. Samuel and Lizzy evidently joined the rush to the Australian goldfields, probably departing from England early in 1855.