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Traditional Valuables

Some crafts don't benefit from modern conveniences.

Collodion processSomewhere between the daguerreotype and the Polaroid on the timeline of photographic technology you'll find the wet-plate collodion process. Collodion photography involves coating a piece of glass with a chemical solution, exposing it to light through a camera, and then placing the glass in a development bath, which transforms it into a photographic negative. Unlike the techniques that preceded it, collodion was inexpensive; had a relatively quick exposure time (a few seconds versus several minutes); and the negative allowed for multiple, identical prints. But there was one enormous drawback: Because the entire process had to be completed while the solution was still wet, it left the photographer with fewer than 10 minutes to coat the plate, shoot the subject, and develop the negative. Despite these limitations, the technique has seen a resurgence in recent years-especially in fine art circles, most notably in the work of Sally Mann (featured at top), which The New York Times has described as "murky," "evocative," and "ethereal."GuédelonIt's easy to see how a massive skyscraper is erected: with cranes and beams and power tools. But the monumental architecture of earlier eras can be even more awe-inspiring in terms of the inscrutability of its methods. In Burgundy, France, about two hours from Paris, archaeologists are attempting to build a 13th-century castle, which they are calling Guédelon, using only techniques available at that time. This involves quarrying their own stone, hewing their own oak beams, and hefting materials with ropes and pulleys. The archaeologists behind Guédelon hope the undertaking will lead to discoveries about how our ancestors managed to make such massive, impenetrable buildings with seemingly primitive technology.Pictorial Webster'sAfter discovering a century-old copy of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary in his grandfather's house, the printer John Carrera became fascinated with the small, engraved illustrations contained therein-and the idea that the methods used to assemble such a volume might be lost to history. After contacting the dictionary company and obtaining the engravings, Carrera used a 1968 Linotype machine to print 100 copies of his 512-page Pictorial Webster's. An arrestingly beautiful copy of the book, finished using painstaking and detailed non-automated bookbinding techniques (the bindings are hand-sewn, the finger tabs cut manually) costs a mere $3,100. The whole process took 10 years.Photo: A deteriorated wet-plate featuring Theodore Roosevelt.


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