Centennial Photographic Company Albumen Prints


Centennial Photographic Company Albumen Prints


Centennial Photographic Company
Albumen prints
Historic buildings - Virginia - Williamsburg


Some of the earliest pre-restoration photos held in the library's archives are albumen prints. Dating to circa 1875, the photos were produced by the Centennial Photographic Company in conjunction with the celebration of America's Centennial. Edward L. Wilson, a photo editor, and William Notman, a Scottish-Canadian photographer, served as the chief officers of the Centennial Photographic Company and directed its efforts after winning the license to take and market souvenir photos of the Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia. The company also sold keepsake photos of former Civil War battlefields and the towns located near them. This set of photos is thought to be part of the Civil War series and documents some of the colonial era buildings still standing in Reconstruction Era Williamsburg, as well as earthworks remaining just outside of town that bear witness to Civil War battle maneuvers.

The quiet, backwater town that had lost its prominence after the state capital was moved to Richmond in 1780 suddenly began to attract some historical attention again due to its associations with the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862 and subsequent Union occupation. As photographers entered the area to commemorate these events, they discovered remnants of stirring colonial history via extant buildings such as the Courthouse of 1770, the Powder Magazine, Bruton Parish Church and cemetery, and the Wren Building at the College of William and Mary.

Invented by French photographer Louis Desire Blanquart Evrard in 1850, the albumen print became a dominant photographic process between 1855-1895. A wet-plate process, it involved sensitizing salted paper in a silver nitrate bath, drying it, and then placing the paper in a frame that could then be put in contact with a glass-collodian negative. When exposed to daylight, the photographic image would begin to appear on the paper. An egg white binder aided in distributing the light sensitive particles in a smooth manner across the paper. This binder is what helps give albumen prints a glossy surface and their trademark yellow or reddish brown cast.

Collection Items

William and Mary College, Williamsburgh, Va.
Begun in 1695, the construction of the Wren Building marked the birth of an academic center in colonial Virginia. A series of fires in 1705, 1859, and 1862 damaged parts of the structure but never completely destroyed exterior walls.

During the…

Fort Magruder, Williamsburgh, Va.
This photo captures several men sitting atop redoubts as they contemplate the events that took place not so long ago at the site of Fort Magruder, the most important Confederate defense line immediately east of Williamsburg. They are seated upon a…

College Creek, Williamsburgh, Va.
Once known as Archer's Hope Creek, College Creek is a tributary of the James River located in Williamsburg, Virginia. The creek bounded one side of the palisade of Middle Plantation, the 17th-century settlement that preceded Williamsburg. Along with…

Old Court House, Williamsburgh, Va.
A prominent colonial building still standing in Williamsburg in 1875, the Courthouse had played a more recent role in the Civil War as a hospital and morgue after the Battle of Williamsburg. Portions of the interior received significant damage during…

Bruton Parish Church Cemetery
Tombstones and monuments of important historical figures fill the cemetery of Bruton Parish Church. The efforts of the Centennial Photographic Company to document the graves of earlier inhabitants underscores its mission to visually record historic…

Bruton Parish Church
Since 1715, Bruton Parish Church has served continuously as a house of worship for the Williamsburg community. Like many other public buildings in the town, the church became a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. The sanctuary housed injured…

Main Street, Williamsburgh, Va
This view looking west down Duke of Gloucester Street from the site of the Capitol captures the quiet, slightly dilapidated atmosphere of Reconstruction Era Williamsburg. The Palmer House is visible on the left, and what Colonial Williamsburg…

Old Powder Magazine, Williamsburgh, Va.
The Powder Magazine, another extant colonial building, stood in dilapidated condition by 1870. It was constructed in 1715 to store the arms and ammunition sent for protection of the colony by Queen Anne. This view, looking southeast, shows the…
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