Was sepia toning in the 1920s done with negatives as well as prints?
September 20, 2020 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm scanning a batch of 116 format negatives from the 1920s (still in the envelope from the lab!) that appear to be sepia toned. I was under the impression toning with silver sulfide would have only been done in printing, whereas negatives would have been only B&W metallic silver. So is the warm tone of these negatives likely a result of aging, or is it possible they were sepia toned in processing somehow?
posted by theory to Science & Nature (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: From this page about intensifying weak negatives:
130. A thin negative, if stained brown or yellow, will have better printing quality than one which is blue; therefore, a tinge of brown color is the best.
posted by DarkForest at 4:13 PM on September 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "Fine Grain" developers in the '20s would produce a warm negative image in an effort to reduce film grain (more finely divided silver particles are brownish-black.) Also, that was the heyday of film developers based on Pyrogallol ("pyro") which produced a yellow stain in proportion to the silver image, which blue-sensitive printing papers would read as a denser image.

Try scanning the B&W negative in color mode with an emphasis on the blue channel (or use e.g. Photoshop's "convert to B&W" to emphasize the yellow portion of the reversed scan) You may find there's lots more contrast and detail, as you're picking up that beneficial stain image.
posted by ReferenceDesk at 4:49 PM on September 21, 2020

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