Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Oh, I do enjoy research so much - the real, old-fashioned kind where you sit in a library all day long, and order up hard-to-find books and pamphlets, and then have to read the rarest of them, in all their yellowing glory, on dark purple plush blocks, as though one were about to read from them in a very elaborate church service.   And - maybe because it's a photographic history library - they are quite happy with one taking photographs, so I've amassed a whole little cache of pictures of very late C19th /early C20th equipment for flash photography.

What's more, I've found that the regular story - first there was magnesium, and then - flash! - in 1887 there was the so-much-better blitzpulver - a compound involving magnesium and potssium chlorate and antimony sulphide - isn't as simple as all that.   People carried on using powdered magnesium - or strips of magnesium ribbon - well into the C20th, and there were little instruments, rather like scent bottles, that one used to ignite the magnesium powder.   And there were things called flash-candles.   And Kodak (of course, this being the Eastman House archive, there's an awful lot of Kodak material) made things called Flash Sheets that one could attach to long sticks, and light.   And things called sachets ├ęclairs - like tea bags - that one could light using a long fuse.   Blitzpulver itself came in its component parts, ready to be mixed (don't use metal! use a stiff feather!), or in cylindrical lozenges (be careful not to cause them undue friction...).

But ... I find all this completely compelling: my inner geek, my I'm-an-engineer's-daughter-and-I-want-to-know-how-things-work side kicks in.   But it's hard to imagine that everyone will find this the riveting reading that I do - it's hard to find what I'd demand from my students, an argument in this.   Nonetheless, 
at least I get a huge amount of pleasure from this arcane trivia before I decide what I need to do with it ...

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