Notes about 19th Century

April 24, 2012 permalink

Rives Bfk Acronym Explained

As an art person I’ve enjoyed a good amount of time around lithography and other drawing media, and now I’m engaged to a children’s book illustrator who largely works in watercolor, so I’ve spent a fair amount of time at art supply shops buying paper. One thing has bugged me for years about our fine rag paper purchases, though: what’s up with the “BFK” in “Rives Arches BFK”? I’ve asked professors, professional printers, other artists, and even the Internet, with no great leads, but I finally coaxed the answer out of Google today. From The Albumen & Salted Paper Book: The history and practice of photographic printing, 1840-1895:

It is no wonder that only two paper mills in the world managed to consistently produce a paper of the necessary quality, and these two mills were able to maintain their monopoly from the 1860’s until approximately World War I. They were the above-mentioned Blanchet Frères et Klébler Co. in Rives, France (hence their product was known as the “Rives” paper) and Steinbach and Company, located in Malmedy, Belgium (at that time part of Germany). Steinbach paper was known outside Germany as “Saxe” paper.

The product that established their paper monopoly (duopoly?) — the exploding new field of photography! More to the point, 3D stereography, the Victorian postcard origin of a Tumblr meme:

In the late 1850’s and especially after 1860, two new factors in photographic technology and practice generated a great demand for albumen paper. The first of these was the stereograph; its ability to transport the viewer to distant scenes with the illusion of three-dimensional reality depended largely on the smooth surface and fine detail of albumen paper. Stereo views were extremely popular, and created a corresponding demand for albumen paper. Nearly all stereo views before 1890 were made on albumen paper.

This 3D thing will catch on one of these days…

January 23, 2012 permalink

Bell Labs Hamlet from 1885

Seen above is a green disc, wax on brass, with an early recording of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be…” soliloquy, that likely hasn’t been heard in over 125 years. Created by Alexander Graham Bell’s Volta Laboratory in the late 19th Century and sent to the Smithsonian for archiving as they were created, the paranoid Bell failed to provide a playback mechanism for these discs, for fear that his competitors would appropriate his innovations.

Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories are working on recovering these early audio recordings with a system called IRENE/3D that creates 3D optical scans of the old record-like discs:

Using methods derived from our work on instrumentation for particle physics we have investigated the problem of audio reconstruction from mechanical recordings.  The idea was to acquire digital maps of the surface of the media, without contact, and then apply image analysis methods to recover the audio data and reduce noise.

The nifty thing about this form of hands-off scanning is that it can accommodate many types of otherwise mechanically incompatible media, from discs made of metal or glass to wax cylinders (quick, someone set this up to scan the Lazarus bowl!!). The 18-second snippet of Hamlet audio from the green disc above (maybe the voice of Bell himself?) has been posted on YouTube, or you can download more examples from the project in WAV and MP3 format.

(Via PhysOrg)