Making Daguerreotype, ambrotype, and tintype mats

Andy Richmond over on the Wet Plate Collodion forum has posted an in-depth tutorial on the creation of replicated engraved mats and package preservers and followed it up with some great examples here. This is something that I’ve been meaning to get into for some time and I’m glad that Andy has saved me a great deal of the leg work!

My own process for making plain mats has been to machine them from thick n’ chunky .039″ brass sheet on my CNC machine (lately) or have them cut via wire EDM at a service bureau such as emachineshop.com. Once cut, of course, there’s still much to be done before the mat is ready for its plate package but that’s all part of the fun, right?

I want to take this opportunity to explain some of my feelings about this pursuit.  I’ve often said in these pages that I’m not into this medium for its historical value.  Although interesting and important, keeping the process alive is not one of my goals.  Reenactors, living history practitioners, &c. are deep wells of knowledge and some of them have managed to merge two hobbies: history and photography.  In saying all of this I mean no disrespect or malevolence.  Quite the contrary.

The daguerreotype case serves a functional purpose: protection.  Beyond protection all else is ornamental.  I’ve made cases from binder’s board, plywood, solid wood, and aluminum.  I’ve covered cases in wood veneers, lambskin, goatskin, calfskin, shagreen, elephant hide, aluminum sheet.  Where practical I’ve taken a page from the luthier’s trade and inlaid some cases with mother of pearl, paua, and other exotic shells.  I even have designs for some pre-ban ivory.

So, suffice it to say that I’ve made cases in all manner of sizes, colors, and textures.  With a few exceptions most of what I make I’ve never seen anything like in my history books.

Daguerre’s contemporary, Auguste Comte, put it this way: “Love our principle, order our foundation, progress our goal” (Système de Politique Positive).  In order for us to advance our art we must understand its roots.  I had to make up a lot of new rules and procedures but the 19th century DNA is evident in my case designs.  Why not advance your art if you love it and can do so?  Push the boundaries and show people that these photographs don’t have to be stuffy or historically accurate!

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