Detail of a studio photograph of John Gerrish Pulsifer against a landscape backdrop painted by Frederick B. Nichols.

Photography was invented in the early 1800’s, but was rarely used outside of a studio setting as the equipment was too heavy and expensive.

Sepia-toned photograph of Waverley from Laidlaw’s Hill.

A view of Waverley from Laidlaw’s Hill, 1866 by J.B. Leedham

NSA: negative no. N-214

Photography became a more useful documentation tool after the invention of photographic film in 1889. Until then, drawings and paintings were the primary way to record an image.

Photograph of two miners with three batteries of a stamp mill.

Three batteries of the 30 stamp crusher, Lakeview Gold Corp., Waverley, 1891.

Photograph by E. R. Faribault. Geological Survey of Canada Photo #5234.

Photograph of a stamp mill and tailings.

Stamp mill and tailings, Empress Gold Mining Co., Renfrew, 1896.

Photograph by E. R. Faribault. Geological Survey of Canada Photo #5263.

Photograph of a stamp mill and engine house with large rock pile at the rear of the building.

H. S. McKay's Gold Mine stamp mill and engine house, Wine Harbour, 1897.

Photograph by E. R. Faribault. Geological Survey of Canada Photo #5289.


Chrysotype ("gold print") is a photographic process invented in 1842 which uses gold suspended in a solution to record images on paper. Unlike photographs printed with silver - which tarnish black - gold printed photographs resisted fading. However, the quality of the photographs was never as good as other photographic printing processes developed at the time, and so it is rare to encounter a gold-printed photograph.

The question of photographic permanence was of such importance during the earliest days of photography that the Photographic Society set up the "Fading Committee" of 1850. Among their recommendations was to "tone" prints with gold salts. This coated the silver particles with a protective layer of gold, preventing discolouration and fading.

Adding a Touch of Gold

Because early photographs were monochrome (black and white), photographs - like prints - would frequently be hand-coloured to create a greater realism. The ultimate touch of class was to use gold to touch-up the jewellery worn in the photograph.

Detail of the photographic portrait showing the woman’s gold-painted earrings, necklace and brooch.

This image is called an ambrotype – a type of photography popular in the 1850s. Hand-painting gold over photographed jewellery was a common practice highlighting the wealth and prosperity of the subjects.

NSM History Collection: 76.56.3

Today, gold is found in camera equipment. Since the metal does not corrode and is highly conductive, both digital and film cameras use it in their electronic components.