Antique negatives and prints

I haven’t put a new message here in a while since I’ve been very busy. My grandfather, David Morgan Wright, took a lot of pictures and we’re lucky that many of them have been saved both as prints and as negatives.

He wasn’t the greatest photographer. A lot of his pictures are over or under exposed, out of focus, double exposed, or badly framed.

He used various cameras and film formats. We’re not so lucky in that we have none of his cameras. But the film formats are interesting. They are a part of the history of consumer photography beginning around 1910 with the earliest photos and negatives we have.

The oldest negatives are large – about 3.5″ x 5.5″ – I think this is 122 film which is a postcard format. This seemed to be his favorite format and negatives in this size range from the earliest (~1910) to the last we have that are identified as being his in 1951. I really wish I knew what kind of camera he used!

(All film information is from a Wikipedia chart on still film formats.)

Then there are the  negatives that come in in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Some may be 120 negatives and are in two different sizes – a 2-1/8″ square image and one that is 2-1/8″ wide by 3-3/8″ long. The square images are newer and there is only one set of images in that format.

There is a possibility that the longer images are 105 format – it was introduced before 1900 and discontinued in 1949. 105 format film measures 2.25″ x 3.25″ and was available in the same time frame as 120 film.

The 127 film is a certainty – many of those negatives were in envelopes from the photo shop and labeled as 127. Those negatives are much narrower – 1⅝” × 2½” and show up much later.

After World War II a very few rolls of 35mm film appear in the collection. This was obviously not a favorite format.


The prints are interesting, also. Most of them seem to be contact prints since they are the same size as the negatives. It’s not until the late 1920s that envelopes had orders for prints of a different size, usually just “jumbo” without a measurement given.

When I’ve found both the negative and the print of an image it’s interesting to see which gives me a better quality scan. It is not predictable – some of the negatives are damaged by scratches or mold and the old prints provide a clearer copy. Sometimes the original prints were not great and the negatives are in better shape.

Sometimes the original negative was over or under exposed and the very basic developing processes of the time did not yield a good print. With PhotoShop and only a little tweaking I’ve gotten good or usable images from some of those bad negatives.

I’m still sorting my scans and trying to match up duplicate images from different sources so I can compare.


David Morgan Wright Photographs


The first albums are up! Made with jAlbum, they are very simple. There are only two so far from these recent scans – one from around 1910 in a group labeled “Houghton and Iron County” [Michigan] seems to be from my grandfather’s college days at the Michigan College of Mines.

The second album is a dump of over 400 images from when he worked as a civil engineer out of New Orleans. Those include a lot of pictures of the process of levee building, dredging, pile driving and other engineering work. There are pictures of “Lake Ponchartrain Yacht Races” and of people and places in the New Orleans area.

I plan to divide the New Orleans album into sub-albums and hope to identify duplicates so I can select the best version of each image and reduce the number of pictures in the album.

Identifying people and places will be the hard part. None of the images have labels for people and only a few have labels for places. One hundred years on, it may be impossible to come up with names!

Leave a Reply