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Collection: Centennial Photographic Company

The Centennial Board of Commissioners awarded the sole license for photography at the exposition to Edward L. Wilson, editor of the journal, The Philadelphia Photographer, and his good friend William Notman, a prominent Scottish-born Canadian photographer. Notman served as president of the Centennial Photographic Company (CPC) and Wilson as Superintendent and Treasurer. The other officers of the CPC were W. Irving Adams of New York City, who served as Vice-President, and Notman's Toronto business partner, John A. Fraser, who served as Art Superintendent. A CPC catalog lists 2,820 photographs for sale to the public, many in more than one size. Stereoviews were sold for $.25 each; 5x8" photographs sold for $.50; 8x10" photographs went for $1.00; 13x16" prints for $2.50; and 17x21" photographs for $5.00 each. Exhibitors were charged substantially more for the first print but were offered bulk discounts of up to 20% off the rate charged the public for 50 copies.

All of the CPC photographs are silver albumen prints and were made using the wet-plate process in which glass plates were first coated with a collodion solution of gun-cotton dissolved in alcohol and ether and then sensitized with a solution of silver nitrate. The glass plate negatives had to be exposed while still wet and developed and fixed soon after exposure. Contact prints were then developed in the Company's processing room using albumen paper (paper coated with a mixture of egg whites and ammonium chloride). The prints were then mounted on card stock for sale. This process was both complex and cumbersome. It required lots of supplies, equipment and manpower. However, the process captured images in exquisite detail on the negative plates. The exposure times for the treated glass plate negatives averaged twenty minutes, according to reports by one of the Company's photographers, John L. Gihon, whose "rambling remarks" appeared in every issue of The Philadelphia Photographer during 1877. Exposure times as long as 2 hours were reported, made necessary by the lack of good lighting in many of the Centennial buildings.

The Company was apparently quite successful and their photographs were in great demand both during and after the Centennial. In the book The World of William Notman, Roger Hall, Gordon Dodds and Stanley Triggs estimate that the Centennial Photographic Company made a sizeable profit during the Centennial.


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