A very telling photograph

A busy and exciting week since our last posting at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, near Yeovil.

We enjoyed the company of the Somerset Finds Liaison Officer from Taunton for our Archaeological Finds Afternoon and we have received donations related to Seavington St. Michael, near South Petherton and World War Two Instructions given to H.C.C. Batten, Yeovil Town Clerk.

We also experienced a strange occurence just before Easter, when we discovered a strange odour from a photograph in our collection. We are in the process of digitizing our photographic collection and during this process, the rather intriguing aroma occurred. The golden rule is never to sniff anything that is uncertain, as the effect can be hazardous. We did take a little close attention to determine the type of odour, which was closest to an adhesive aroma. Interestingly, this was the first time this had happened after around 500 photographs. Therefore this seemed to rule out, the actual scanning causing the problem, or the change in temperature from the store to the research room; which would suggest something in the photograph itself.

Therefore, we sought professional advice – and as we had scanned the photograph, we could email a copy of the ‘offending’ item across.

We isolated the image in a metal cabinet and this is some of the advice we received.

It wasn’t a camphor type odour? That’s an aromatic smell – think of camphor wood and old mothballs (not the naptha type).

If it was more of an animal-glue type smell, then it may well have been the remains of an adhesive you’re smelling, which might imply it’s a little damp. However, I don’t think anyone would have applied that to the surface of the image. It might be a varnish, which would have been used on a wet plate collodion image and would usually be shellac or a mix of natural resins including sandarac.

Is the image a negative or positive, and is it on glass, metal, paperor flexible clear film? Is there any discolouration or is it black and white (black and clear?)

I’ve copied this to our wonderful photo conservator to see what she thinks.

The photograph in question:623421

Lufton Roman Villa excavations, 1951





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