Welcome to the exciting and unique process we now refer to as the Curtis goldtone or orotone.
The goldtone process was not created by Curtis, but he refined the technique to the extent that he eventually was considered the greatest master of the process. In fact, Curtis named these images after himself calling them Curt-Tones. In simple terms a goldtone is a positive image on glass, while most photographic prints are a positive image on paper. The process Curtis used was to take a clear plate of optical glass and spread a liquid emulsion onto the surface of the plate. He then projected his negative onto the glass to create a positive image. The highlights and shadows, however could not be seen unless there was some type of backing on the image. Mixing a combination of banana oils and bronzing powers to create a sepia or a goldtone effect, Curtis then spread this mixture onto the dried emulsion. The final process involved backing the glass image to so that all the chemicals bonded together. For those familiar with early photographic processes, there was a similar technique known as an ambrotype which was also an emulsion on glass; however, this process used black paint or cloth as backing. The framing of the goldtone was the final element of the completed piece, which was also necessary in order to crate and ship the finished photographic work. When viewed next to a paper print, the Curt-Tone/goldtone/orotone truly has a three-dimensional quality that transcends our normal perception of a photograph. When Edward S. Curtis was asked to describe the Curt-Tone process he said:
"The ordinary photographic print, however good, lacks depth and transparency, or more strictly speaking, translucency.We all know how beautiful are the stones and pebbles in the limpid brook of the forest where the water absorbs the blue of the sky and the green of the foliage, yet when we take the same iridescent pebbles from the water and dry them they are dull and lifeless, so it is with the ordinary photographic print, but in the Curt-Tones all the transparency is retained and they are as full of life and sparkle as an opal."
An early catalog, created by Curtis in an attempt to promote the Curt-Tones, illustrates 32 different images available in the following sizes:
Size 8 x 10, framed ...$10
Size 11 x 14, framed ...$15
Size 14 x 17, framed ...$30
Size 18 x 22, framed ...$50
(No Curt-Tones sold unframed)
Needless to say, one could not buy just a glass photographic image without some protection, therefore, the framing of the goldtones was an important and integral part of the image.
Curtis offered two basic styles of frame. The gilded plastered corners showed a distinctive similarity to a spread winged bat. (see illustration). The second frame is known as a "pie crust" frame. This style has the plastered corners coming up and over the frame giving the appearance of a lip. (see illustration) Each style of frame of Curtis used is equally collectable and there is no difference in valuation.