Salted paper prints - Identification
Salted paper prints cover a wide range of dates and were made by different photographers using many different techniques. There is no real clear distinction between salted paper and matte albumen prints, and many salted paper prints actually contain albumen, as well as various other materials. The term 'albumen print' is generally confined to prints with a gloss surface, and which show the typical surface quality and cracking of albumen prints.
If the print has the above characteristics and the age of the print is known or can be deduced, then the following applies:
- matte finish (always)
- warm brown or purplish brown tone (almost always)
- visible fading in parts of image (almost always)
- visible yellowing in parts of image (almost always)
In general prints that show deep brown-black tones tend to be described as matte albumen, and those lacking these as salt prints. However it is possible to make strong prints without the use of albumen, and distinctions made on this basis are at best speculative. There seems to me to be little point in any case in trying to make them.
- before 1850 – almost certainly salted paper
- 1850 - 1890 – either salted paper or matt albumen
Other plain paper printing techniques were also in during the second period of salted paper use, including platinum (1873) and kallitype (1899) as well as a number of hybrid methods, making identification of prints from this era difficult, unless information is provided.
Fortunately most modern salted paper prints will have the process name written on the reverse of the print.
Salted paper prints - Possible confusion
Salted paper prints are sometimes wrongly called calotypes. The calotype process produces a paper negative, and these were printed as salted paper prints.
As noted in the 'Identification' section, prints described as 'matte albumen' may well be salted paper prints with no albumen content, while equally those described as 'salted paper' may contain albumen. In the absence of definitive information (such as the photographer's own description of the printing process or chemical tests) it is probably best not to use the description 'matte albumen.'