Glass Plate Negatives: Yesterday and Today

One of the largest and most valuable collections in the Peabody archives contains more than 10,000 19th-century glass plate negatives. The earliest images in this unique collection were taken at Copan, Honduras, and are part of this exhibition, “Fragile Memories.”

The Copan glass plate negatives are “dry plate,” a process introduced in the 1870s of coating glass plates with a light-sensitive gelatin. As long as the fragile plate itself was not broken, the medium was hardy—relatively resistant to temperature and humidity fluctuations. Indeed, for more than 115 years the Copan negatives have endured, surviving the tropical climate of Central America, where they were shot, as well as transportation to and storage in the United States.

The digitization of the Peabody Museum’s glass plate negatives, which took two years, has opened a new chapter in the investigation of Copan by revealing new archaeological details and information.

This exhibition highlights the importance of preserving a rich photographic archive, and shows how yesterday’s technology can be highly valuable in today’s rapidly changing and creative technological landscape.