Antique Flash Photography?


TPF Noob!
Aug 20, 2013
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Here's an off-the-wall question.

I recently picked up some vintage/antique camera equipment and accessories at an estate sale. One of the items in the lot was a small bottle of what appeared to be shiny lead BBs -- the kind you load in a child's BB gun. But on closer inspection they are not metal at all. You can easily crush the "BB" with a pair of pliers, and the inside consists of a brittle white substance that crushes to powder.

Since this was in with all the antique camera accessories, I'm wondering whether it might be a form of flash powder that was used back-in-the day.

I'm very curious about this. Does anyone know whether flash powder was sold in "pill" form, with a shiny outside, resembling BBs?

Not as far as I'm aware, but I don't know a lot about it. It sounds more like a processing chemical to me; do they dissolve easily in water? (BTW, be careful, some of that old stuff can be VERY nasty!)
How antique are these cameras? If it's in an unmarked glass bottle I wonder too if it's some really old chemistry, maybe something someone removed from an original container and stored themselves in a darkroom.
It's probably not this, and it's going to sound crazy, but I swear they sound just like dragees, which are small metallic-looking balls that are used for decoration on cakes and cookies.

Never knew what they were called (and what a weird name it is!) but my mother always used to have them around when I was a girl. They came in small bottles. My sister and I used to sneak a few and just eat them straight and the silver coating would come off quite easily. Not that I suggest eating them to test out ;) but perhaps you throw a few of them in a glass of water and see if the coating soaks off. Whatever they are, it seems best to take them to a lab to check the composition.

It doesn't make any kind of sense that dragees would be included in a camera lot, but you never know if a container accidentally fell in there. I honestly can't think of any photography-related use other than the aforementioned pill-form chemicals. And I have no idea if chemicals were ever sold in that sort of pill form.
I know what those are! used on cookies and cupcakes and made out of sugar, would roll all over the kitchen counter if they got spilled. It does sound similar, I guess you never know what might have been stuck in with some old darkroom supplies.

The only really old chemistry I ever had that came in with some darkroom supplies was powder or well, maybe powder at one time, I got something that was caked and had gotten hard as a rock over the years. I don't know either what might have been in a small ball-like pellet form (or whatever you'd call it).

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