Assignment: Read chapter 10 (Early Mounted Photographs) in the textbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here).
In general, mounted photos are dated by a combination of the image subject, the process (albumen = 1800s, gelatin silver usually 1900s) and the style of the mount. Many fakes are identified when the mount and subject don’t match (ala a 1910 image of Teddy Roosevelt on an 1860s cabinet mount). Also realize that in the old days many famous images (Abe Lincoln, Custer, George Washington) were reprinted years later, so you can find a genuine 1890s cabinet card showing, say, Lincoln in the 1860s. That the image is albumen demonstrates the cabinet is vintage 1890s, and not some modern forgery.
Though photographic images are by far most common, CDVs and cabinets can be found with etchings, engravings, lithographs and other ink and printing press prints affixed to them instead of photos. These are also collectible.
Some fakes have a digital reprint of a desirable image (famous baseball player, famous Western outlaw, other) pasted to a genuine antique mount. The digital print is pasted over the old image. The print itself can be identified as fake by the dot pattern under magnification or black light test, and often the image and mount don’t match up (ala 1910s image on 1860s mount).
The mounts themselves are usually easy to identify as genuine/antique, as they were factory cut, often professionally embossed and gilded and show signs of age– toning, foxing, smell old and musty, bone dry.
Assignment: Read chapters 11 (real photo postcards) in the textbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here).
Antique photomechanical postcards with photorealstic images
Beyond real photo postcards, in the old days there were many photo-realistic postcards made from photomechanical (ink and printing press not photography) postcards that resemble real photo cards. They are identified as photomechanical by the ink and printing patterns under magnification. Though ink and printing press prints are really beyond the topic of this course, this post will look at the common antique photomechanical postcards. These are also popularly collected.
Collotype: Collotype real photo postcards have a matte suface and under the microscope have a distinct reticulated pattern, meaning an assortment of different shape pieces. I often say it looks like a bowl of noodles. At normal naked eye level, the images are usually sepia or black and white. Albertype was a company that made collotype printing, so the Albertye Co. name on back will identify a collotype.
Photoengraving. Many antique photorealistic postcards are photoengravings. Under the microscope the printing has a dot pattern a distinct dark rim to the edges, from how the ink as physically pressed to the edges during printing. Any text on the postcard will have a similar dark edge or rim to th printing. Photoengraving is still used in the fine art, but hasn’t used commercially for many years, so this ink pattern demonstrates the old age of a postcard.
Photogravure/gravure/rotogravure. This type of antique printing made excellent photoreastic images. There are two main types. Photogravure has speckly quality under the microscope while rotogravure has a distinct mesh-like pattern.
The key is if you have an otherwise antique looking postcard that matches the above, you can be confident it is antique.
Also note that these processes aren’t reserved only for postcards, but other antique prints and the fine arts. Many old magazines, premiums and prints are made from these processes.
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Homework questions for assignment #7
28) According to chapter 11, what are the differences (both in physical look and time period) between a ‘Postcard Era’ postcard and a ‘Divided Back’ postcard?
29) According to the stampbox listing in the chapter, what era does the ‘AZO (2 triangles up, 2 triangles down)’ stampbox come from?
Assignment: Read chapters 9 (c-prints) and 14 (rarer paper processes) in the textbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here).
Though few photo collectors know it, it’s an easy lesson to learn.
There are four standard color photographic processes/prints: c-print (chromogentic), dye-transfer, Cibachrome and Polaroid. The popular significance attached to each process is the quality and durability of the images. Some have better images than others, and some images last longer than others. Brief summary is as follows:
chromogenic print (also known as c-print). Very common– most color snap shots, 8x10s, family photos, graduation photos, etc are c-prints. Early c-prints have a matte/fiber based back and glossy front, while more modern have smooth/plasticy backs and gossy fronts. They often have various Kodak, Fuji, Agfa and other photopaper brandings on back. The dye transfers and cibachromes don’t have these brandings. Older c-prints tend to fade and gain a magenta tone, while dye transfers and cibarchromes barely fade with age.
Polaroid: Common. Distinct look. Backs are plasticy and say Polaroid, Fuji Polaroid or Fujifilm on the back, the front border is matte while the central image area is glossy. They often have a larger bottom white border than the sides and top. Each photo is unique and almost always original.
Dye-transfer: Rare and high end/expensive. Used by fine art and for exhibits. Matte texture front and back. High quality images and do not fade over time. Digital prints can be on matte paper.
Cibachrome (aka Illfachrome): Scarce and high end. High quality, long lasting images, used in fine art and for exhibit photos. Ultra glossy fronts, common jet black borders, smooth plasticy backs. No photobranding (Kodak, Agfa, Fuji, other) on back. The fronts are so glossy it seems to be like the surface of a pool of water, and the images often have a 3D-like quality. My favorite process.
Assignment: Read chapters 15 (stamps), 20 (news photos stamps) and 21 (news photos paper caption) in the textbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here).
The great thing about stamps and tags is they are something you can judge in an online auction. Paper quality, gloss and black light fluorescence are something judged in person, but you can read and a photos stamps in an online image. Many online photos are identified as modern reprints or vintage by the stampings. If you can read and understand stamping, you will be more confident in your online purchases.
The reading includes a dating listing for standard new service stamps (ACME, AP, UPI, etc). Referencing this listing, you will be able to date many news photos of anyone from Ty Cobb to John F. Kennedy.
Of course rubber stamps and tags can be forged, so you should judge the entire photo and not just go by a stamp. You should always judge photos by the totality of evidence and not focus on just one quality. This includes the clarity of the imae, the appearance of the paper, signs of aging etc, knowledge of the seller, provenance, etc.
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Here’s an example of judging an online auction photo by reading the stamping.
The above photo was auctioned online as an original 1975 newspaper photo of American football player Joe Namath. The image is sharp and clear, while the back has various vintage stamps and paper captions, plus the 1975 date stamp. This all points to the photo being authentic and original.
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The photograph was auction as an original 1924 photo of sculptor Gleb Derujinksy and silent movie actress Lillian Gish. The front image is sharp and clear, while the back has a brown dated paper caption sheet and 1924 date stamp. This all points to the photo indeed being original.
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The above photo was offered as an original photo of actress Norma Shearer by famed photographer George Hurrell. The front image is sharp and clear. The back has Hurrell’s stamp and a 1935 date stamp, along with paper toning. The photo appears original and vintage.
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The following show the stamps or other markers of famous photographers
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With famous photographers, their stamp or other personal identifier will significantly raise the value of the photo.
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AGFA photo branding
* According to photo conservationist Paul Messier on his
“Prior to the mid 1950’s Agfa used a two part logo (manufacturer name “Agfa” and the brand name, i.e. “Brovira”). After the mid-fifties, Agfa dropped the brand name. Therefore, if you have a paper with a two part Agfa logo it was produced before the mid 1950’s.”
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Below is a link to an article I wrote on famous baseball photograph George Burke’s photos. He consistently stamped his various types of photos and, as he moved he moved his studio at one point, the address in a Burke Stamp shows whether the photo is old or more modern.
The George Burke photos are as simple as this
Geo. Burke stamp w/ Belmont Ave address = 1920s-40s
‘Burke & Brace’ Stamp w/ different address = 1948-51
‘Burke Photos’ stamp w/ different address = after 1951
For this thread read, read Chapters 12 and 13 in the texbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here).
There are all the details of cases, dating and all that, but these different photos are not at all hard to identify.
Daguerreotype = on a mirror-surface. It really is like the image is on a mirror, and the image appears and disappears as you change the angle. Tintypes = on dull, usually brownish metal. Tintypes area attracted to a magnet, while Daguerreotypes are not. Ambrotype = on glass, usually clear glass (sometimes but not often tinted rose colored). The back sometimes has black lacquer on it. Opalotype (scarce) = on milky white glass. Has an obvious white appearance, though can sometimes be hand tinted or colored. Ivorytype (rare!) is on ivory or faux ivory. Usually hand painted to resemble a little painting. Orotone = backed in genuine gold, so will have golden appearance and the back will be covered in gold. Autochrome = early color photo on a pane of glass. Glass negatives and slides. Glass for slides and negatives was replaced by plastic film in the 1930s, so if you see a photo on glass you can be confident it’s antique. Glass = old.
If you take the photo out of its case or frame, you will have no trouble identifying it. Sometimes if it has the original paper seal on back, people prefer to leave it as is. However, if you remove the photo from its case or frame, you can put it back together with no trouble
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Tintype albums. The tintypes were slipped into albums pages with openings for the images to be viewed. You can easily remove the tintypes, as they are not glued in. The albums are leather bound and have latches.
Gem tintype albums mean they have gem tintypes– or tintypes that are stamp sized. You can find these for sale on ebay elsewhere. Gem tintypes were either slipped into albums such as these or into CDV-style holders. The tintype CDVs looks just like regular CDVS, except the have tintypes. The backs will have the standard photography studio info.
You can also find albums that hold tintype CDVs. They pages were often designed so both the front and back of the CDV is shown through openings– so you can see the studio info on the backs by flipping the pages.
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Here are some youtube videos showing the different types of photos:
A problem with gelatin silver prints is, while albumen prints are almost exclusively from the the 1800s (which means if you identify something as a albumen print you can be near certain it is form the 1800s), gelatin silver prints have been made from the turn of the century to today. This means, identifying something as a gelatin silver print means it could be have been made at any time over a long duration.
Luckily, there are various qualities that help you pinpoint an era, including the following:
Stamping helps date photos. This will be covered more later, but news service, studio and photography stamps help date photos to an era. Some photos even have a date stamp date that pinpoints a date. Photos also can have paper tags or stickers that help point time. If you are familiar with the different types of stamps, you can be confident in ages.
Many early early gelatin silver photos have silvering, which is a very strong sign of old age. If an otherwise seemingly old photo has silvering and a crystal clear image, it is more than likely original.
If a photo has a matte finish (as opposed to the normal glossy finish), the silvering might not be obvious or be there. Also, silvering is as apparent in photos that are underdeveloped.
Below is a video showing silvering:
Early gelatin silver photos are on thin paper, well dried out and often brittle. The paper generally got thicker over time.
A majority, probably over 90 percent, of photos made after the mid 1950s glows brightly under a blacklight. A simple way to definitively identify modern reprints.
Photos with on resin coated paper (plasticy, smooth backs) are from the late 1960s and after. An earlier photo should have a papery back. An easy way to identify modern reprints.
The tone of the backs is generally a good way to judge age. In general (with exceptions), the older the photo the more off-white the back should be. The back of a 1990s photos should be much whiter than the back of a 1950s photo. The back of a 1920s-30s photos will be even dark still. There will be variations due to how photos are stored, so it’s not an exact science but a good rule. Snow white backs are almost often modern, because modern photo paper is often bleached.
Without any stamping, it can be difficult to pinpoint the date of a photo with, say, a 1940s image. It may be difficult to impossible to be sure whether that photo was printed in the 1940s or 50s. However, if you are a collector, you can find many photo with definitive stamps and tags that show the age.
There will always be photos where you aren’t sure of the age. However, between silvering, stamping and other paper qualities, there will be many antique photos where you will be certain they are antique and original. Silvering, in particular, is a near sure sign a photo is antique. Most photos from the 1900s-20s will have silvering, so most should be easy to identify as antique. It’s for unstamped photos from the 1940s-60s where it can be more difficult. However, again, many 1940s to 60s photos have stamps or tags that will give a date or era.
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The back tone is a good guage of general age. The below shows the back of (left to right) photos from 1945, 1979 and 2004. The 1945 is clearly more toned and off white, and even the 2004 is whiter than the 1979. And these are all post war photos. A 1915 would be even darker.
It’s to do the back tone directly, by placing one photo on top of the other. On it’s own, the degree of toning/off-white may not be obvious, but with direct comparison (as above) it’s clear.
In modern times, they started bleaching the paper during manufacturer, which makes it snow white.
Also note that the right two photos have resin coated (plasticy smooth) backs and fluoresce brightly under blacklight, so are identified as modern in multiple ways.
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Homework Questions for Assignment #3
10) In general, will a 1905 gelatin-silver print be thinner or thicker than a 1980 gelatin-silver print?
11) What is silvering and what does it indicate about a photograph’s age?
12) What is resin coated photopaper and when was it introduced?
This thread is on chapter 6 and 7 in the textbook (free pdf version here or purchase hard copy here). Albumen photography is a major area of antique photos, so if you can identify an albumen photograph you are in good shape.Practice and learn how to look for paper fibers in the image. If you can see paper fibers in an 1800s photo you can be confident it is authentic.The same process uses to make the cheap albumen CDVs at an antique store or in your family collection was used to make the Peck & Snynder trade cards, Four Base Hits and Mathew Brady originals.
When authenticating an 1800s photos, the paper should be thin, almost always mounted (pasted to a backing), there should be paper fibers in the image area under magnification, and no dot pattern in the image showing its a digital reprint.
If you have troubles doing the ‘paper fiber’ test, that the paper is thin is good. Quite simple, photo paper got thicker over time.
Some forgers paste a reprint image (usually a digital print) to the front of a real mount. The dot pattern and black light test will usually identify these quickly.
1800s and early 1900s photos are bone dry. They dry out with age.
Some collectors and dealers do the ‘sniff test’ to test if they smell musty and old. This is a fair edge.
The surface of albumen prints will often show some wear, such as spots of missing gloss to the surface. Check by viewing the photo at a sharp angle to light. Photos with completely unblemished surfaces are usually new.
The below is a pink albumen, which you will find from time to time:
Below is the standard sepa tone of an albumen print
Below shows foxing on the back of a photo. Foxing is always a sign of old age
The below shows the standard sepia tone and foxing.
Albumen photos were sometimes hand tinted or colored. It was done in watercolor-like paint and usually not as ornage and detailed as here. The colors can be subtly and brash.
Below is a scarce ‘skinned’ albumen print. Someone removed it from the backing.
Below shows a microscopic shot showing the paper fibers on an albumen image
* * * * Homework Questions for Assignment #2
7) Why do photo experts look for the visual presence of paper fiber under magnification in an albumen print?
8) Most albumen prints are mounted. What does that mean?
9)Antique albumen paper is very thick: True or False.