will that be matt or glossy?

Old Spaghetti Factory, Toronto c1979

Toronto. In the early 1950s I was a member of our high school camera club. At the time we could buy a single sheet of 8×10 double weight Kodak photographic paper for a dime. If we washed and dried the paper (after exposure from the enlarger of course) the surface was matt and the contrast a bit soft.

If we placed it face down on a ferrotype plate (not to be confused with an 1800s ferrotype/tintype image), rolled/squeegeed the back, and put the sheet on a heater (held there by a canvas and metal rod affair) until dry, the print would be glossy and the contrast sparkling. The chrome plated iron sheet flatted the paper’s surface and made it appear to have a glossy shine. Any spots not rolled enough would form a blister on the surface and affect the print.

Drying and ferrotyping prints were the final steps in the old film darkroom days of printing negative under the light of an enlarger.

When black and white was king, the surface and tone of the paper was wide so one could choose surface, weight, grade, maker, etc. in a confusing array of choices. Print and processing labs chose a particular brand and simply offered matt or glossy finish. Early colour prints were such poor resolution that they often came from the lab with an embossed pattern. While the black and white films and papers allowed a wide range of artistic choices, the best one could do with colour was to just ‘get it right’.

Note: The post title is a riff on the old pre-VISA credit card days slogan, “Will That be Cash or Chargex?“.

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