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J. T. Sandell (Photographer)

Little is known about the personal life of J. T. Sandell beyond that the Englishman was married and he and his wife had eight children. A chemist by trade, Mr. Sandell was employed by R. W. Thomas and Company. He was later promoted to manager and became the guiding force behind the lantern plate known as "the Thomas plates." Encouraged by this success, he developed his own line of double-film and triple-film plates that were manufactured by a company that bore his name, Sandell Dry Plates and Films Ltd., based in South Norwood. Mr. Sandell was most comfortable either inside his laboratory or outside taking landscape photographs. His photographs of the Pharmaceutical Society were exhibited on his multi-coated plates.

Mr. Sandell received a patent for his cristoid film, which was marketed shortly thereafter in December 1899. A sheet constructed of hardened gelatin, it needed no support from glass or plastic. A fast and light-sensitive silver gelatin emulsion was superimposed onto a slow, thick, and comparatively insensitive emulsion. The result was a flat film that was considerably more opaque than its celluloid roll film counterpart. Another notable difference is that celluloid was extremely sensitive to heat, whereas cristoid was inflammable. It could be supplied in either spools or cut sizes, but slides needed to be handled carefully by the corners because heat and moisture could cause crinkling. Mr. Sandell's developer of choice for cristoid film required a pyrocatechin solution comprised of 1 ounce of pyrocatechin, 30 grains of potassium bromide, 4 ounces of sulfite soda, 1/2 ounce of caustic soda, and 20 ounces of distilled or boiled water. The developer was a mixture of the pyrocatechin solution with 7 parts of water. Mr. Sandell recommended using the visible image on the slow side as a guide to the proper exposure. If the film density was discovered to be insufficient when held up to the light, the developer should be strengthened. Highly protective of his plates, Mr. Sandell marketed them and demonstrated their preparation to the public personally. However, despite their perfection, his plates never achieved the commercial success they deserved because their development took more time and required greater technical precision than their easier and less expensive counterparts.

Like most visionaries, Mr. Sandell proved to be a poor businessman. His association with Sandell Films and Plates ended badly in 1902, and shortly thereafter his health began failing rapidly. J. T. Sandell died virtually penniless on December 29, 1906. Fortunately for his wife and children, his many friends within the photographic industry established a memorial fund on their behalf, which collected more than £257,000. Mr. Sandell's crowning achievement, his cristoid film, continued to be manufactured until 1914.


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