M. Carey Lea opalotypes and manuscripts
Held at: The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute [Contact Us]222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA, 19103
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Matthew Carey Lea (1823-1897) was a lawyer and chemist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his later years, Lea focused specifically on the chemistry of photography and made a number of contributions to the field, including publishing several hundred articles and a book on photography and developing a photochemical called Carey Lea Silver.
M. Carey Lea was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1823 to Isaac Lea (1792-1886) and Frances Ann Carey (1799-1873), a botanist and the daughter of Philadelphia publisher Matthew Carey (1760-1839). In 1825, Isaac Lea and his brother-in-law Henry Carey took over Matthew Carey's publishing business, making it one of the most successful publishing houses in the nation for a time.
M. Carey Lea was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1847, but was more interested in chemistry. He worked in the laboratory of chemist James C. Booth and also set up a laboratory in his Chestnut Hill home. Lea published his first paper in 1841 in the American Journal of Science and Arts (now the American Journal of Science). Lea would publish other papers related to chemistry, but later in his career he became focused on the chemistry of photography. He experimented with chemical reactions in different types of photography and published approximately three hundred papers in the British Journal of Photography and other publications. Several of his articles were on the chemical action of light. He also wrote a book on photography and developed a photochemical called Carey Lea Silver.
M. Carey Lea married Elizabeth Jaudon (1827-1881) and they had one son, George Henry Lea (1853-1915). After his wife's death in 1881, M. Carey Lea married Eva Lovering. M. Carey Lea passed away in 1897 and is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia. His research notebooks were destroyed after his death, as per his wishes.
Opalotype, or opaltype, is an early technique of photography. Alternatively called "milk glass positives," opalotypes were printed on sheets of opaque, translucent white glass. The basic opalotype technique, involving wet collodion and silver gelatin, was patented in 1857 by Glover and Bold of Liverpool, England. Opalotype photography was not very common and disappeared in the 1930s.
Takacs, Laszlo. "M. Carey Lea, The Father of Mechanochemistry." Bulletin for the History of Chemistry 28, no. 1 (2003): 26-34. Accessed September 7, 2016. http://www.scs.illinois.edu/~mainzv/HIST/bulletin_open_access/v28-1/v28-1%20p26-34.pdf.
M. Carey Lea opalotypes and manuscripts, circa 1840s-1890s, consists of just over forty opalotype photographs and two manuscripts. The opalotype images are of women, men, children, and artworks. The first manuscript in the collection is an 1841 unpublished handwritten book by Lea titled Photogenic Drawings of Plants Indigenous to the Vicinity of Philadelphia. The second manuscript is a paper written by Lea that was published in the American Journal of Science in 1889 entitled "On the Properties of Allotropic Silver."
Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.
In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute directly for more information.
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- Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
- This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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