The Ohio Medical College: Collotype, Chromolitho, or Hand-colored Silver Gelatin

Old Print, Medical College of Ohio, c. 1852

Huh?

A researcher recently asked if we had any images of the first building to house the Medical College of Ohio. Turns out we do not. Or if we do, we’re not sure where to find them. That said, we did find a beautiful image of the Medical College when it was on Sixth Street near Vine in downtown Cincinnati.

Daniel Drake founded the Medical College of Ohio in 1819 in Cincinnati and it has the distinction of being the oldest medical college west of the Allegheny Mountains. In addition, it is the second-oldest public college of medicine in the United States. The first classes at the college were held above a pharmacy reportedly owned by Drake himself. Drake left the school in 1823 and a series of different locations for the college followed.

In 1852, the college built on property it had purchased on Sixth Street and it would stay at this new address for the next forty-four years. As many already know, the Medical College of Ohio eventually became, along with the Miami Medical College, the College of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

So that ‘s the very brief story of the school depicted in the photograph, but what about the image itself. At least for us at the Winkler Center it is rare to come across a photograph this old with so much color. Unfortunately the image is in a very nice frame along with two other images pertaining to Drake. Since we are unaware of the item’s provenance we are reluctant to remove the images from the frame. If we could, it would be easy to see what kind of image specifically it is.

As the Archivist/Curator here, I am by no means an expert on photographic processes of the 19th century, so I consulted with some friends who are.  The answers I have been given are:

A) If the photo is post-1880s, it could be a hand-colored silver gelatin print. Under a microscope I would see no paper fibers in the photo. For more info on silver gelatin prints see http://www.graphicsatlas.org/guidedtour/?process_id=337.

If it was done prior to 1880, say during the 1870s, it could be a printing process that was hand colored.  Under magnification perhaps we would see the worm like pattern of the collotype print. http://www.graphicsatlas.org/guidedtour/?process_id=168? Or maybe a letterpress halftone checkered pattern.(http://www.graphicsatlas.org/guidedtour/?process_id=102)?

Regardless, it looks like we won’t find out until we remove it from the frame and put it under a microscope. In the meantime we’ll just enjoy it for what it is, a great, colorful piece of history. We’ll keep you posted.

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