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Online Collection: McLeod Glass Plates

The images shown here represent just a sample of the photographs, documents and artifacts accumulated by the McLeod family, who farmed in Chinguacousy township (now part of the Town of Caledon) for several generations. Through the generosity of the family, this significant collection was given to the Peel Heritage Complex (now known as PAMA) in 2010.

Photo Gallery: McLeodCollection will appear here on the public site.


Photography in the dry plate era: 1870 - 1920

These images taken by Robert Carter McLeod (1885-1969) represent an interesting era in photography. From about 1870 to 1920, many photographers used fragile glass negatives to capture images of daily life.

These glass negatives were called dry plates. A box of plates, factory-coated with a gelatin emulsion of silver bromide, were available in this area through mail order or at stores in large villages such as Brampton. The photographer loaded one negative at a time into the camera, made the exposure, and stored the negative until he or she developed it in a home darkroom.

Dry plates became available in the 1870s, and were very popular around the turn of the last century. When properly exposed, the large negative size created very detailed prints. The downside was the fragility of the glass. If the negatives were dropped, they were destroyed. Variations in the chemical processing of the negatives show up as flaws in the prints, particularly around the margins.

Roll film was invented at the same time, and by the 1920s it had taken over dry plates in popularity. Photographers loved the fact that they didn't have to load each negative, and cameras became increasingly light and portable. Specialized use of dry plates in areas such as medical technology continued until the 1950s.