An orotone is a type of photographic print that is printed on glass and backed with a gold colored powder that is mixed with a shellac or varnish type of binding compound. Edward Curtis reportedly used banana oil (iso-amyl acetate) as the binding compound.
There are many types of photographic prints. In the early days of photography each print was unique. Daguerreotypes were an early photographic print that were a one of a kind as were ambrotypes and tintypes. It was only when negatives were used that more than one copy could be made of the same image. Although the negative was invented quite early by William Henry Fox Talbot, it didn’t come into common use until the 1850s. Early prints from negatives include those made by Talbot’s callotype process, salt prints, albumen prints, platinum prints (platinotypes), and silver prints. Curtis used his negatives to make album prints, platinum prints, orotones, and silver gelatin prints.
Most of our color and black and white prints from the 1920s to the end of the 20th century are silver gelatin prints.
Orotones first appeared in the teens of the 20th century and were made as late as the early 1970s by the Curtis studio. The Curtis studio may have made orotones as early as 1913 but had certainly begun not later than 1916.
Early photographers who made orotones included: Edward Sheriff Curtis, Norman Stewart Edson, R.H. Lesesne, Carl E. Moon, and Arthur C. Pillsbury.