Dating vintage photo postcards

Collotypes, which provide the finest detail of all printing methods are sometimes confused with real photo postcards. But even collotypes will exhibit a discernible grain when magnified. And of course any image that contain a regularly patterned series of dots is not a photograph at all but a ink printed image. Some halftone cards were printed on high gloss paper to resemble a photograph but their screen patterns will give them away if one is vigilant.

Most old photo papers used silver in their emulsions.


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As time passes this silver tends to migrate to the surface of the print creating tell-tale metallic patches. Observing this shiny crust, no mater what the color, is a quick and sure way of telling if you are looking at a real photo. Real Photo Postcard - enlarged detail Note: A common problem with real photo postcards is that they are often devoid of any descriptive text. This practice was only cost effective on cards printed in large numbers; individuals and small photo studios could rarely afford to do so.

Sometimes a photographer might expose a logo onto the image or hand stamp a name to the back of the card. Embossing was also used as a cheap alternative. More often than not the card was just left blank. While many amateur photographers numbered their cards this was most often done by larger studios. Numbering was an essential way of keeping tract of large inventory. The presence of a photographers name is not a definite indication of when a card was made or even who made it.

If the name appears on the photo itself, it is because the negative was scratched into or written upon but it could have been printed at any time. A studio sometimes grew to the point where additional photographers were hired but all the photographs produced were published with the original photographers name. At other times a studio might buy out the negative inventory of older photographers and reprinted their images under the current studio name.

This could go on for generations, and it is not uncommon to find the same photograph attributed to three different artists. While today this would lead to lawsuits, copyright was uncommon and rarely enforced at the turn of the 20th century. Today there are many real photo postcards of unknown origin and date. When no postmark is available, the type of materials used can often aid in narrowing down the years it may have been produced in. This too is not foolproof for many publishers had large stocks of photo papers using them for decades after they stopped being manufactured.

There were many other photo papers manufactured in addition to those listed on this page, and even these could be made in different finishes from matte to glossy. At least different real photo postcard backs can be found but as of this time there is a lack of accurate information regarding all their dates of use, or they were used in very limited quantities.

Many other brands of photo paper were also manufactured in Europe but rarely left the continent. The very first photographs made were on printing out paper. They only needed to be fixed to preserve the exposed image. The simplicity of the process made it very attractive to amateur photographers.

Printing out papers fall into two categories, those coated with metallic salts, and those with coated with an emulsion. Iron Salt Prints - This process was invented in , but its first known use for a postcard was in No commercial paper was needed, though eventually manufactured, as card stock could be photosensitized at home and printed out. All iron salt prints are contact printed.

Variations on this process were developed over the years that followed. The photosensitive solution used in this process soaks into the paper, so the original paper surface remains dominant in the final print. This gives these images a very matte look not normally associated with photography, and making some easy to confuse with collotypes.

They still maintain a continuous tone and their colors may provide some clarification. Sometimes instead of using masks the emulsion solution would not be applied to areas where white tabs were desired leaving behind a rough brushstroke edge. None of these papers were made with postcard backs. Kodak stopped producing platinum paper in Albumen Prints - Photo prints utilized albumen based emulsions since , but its undesirable characteristics took it out of general use by the time real photo postcards came into production.

The rare photo card that may have been printed on albumen paper comes from a period where these cards would be considered novelties. Because this paper was thin and tended to curl they were usually pasted onto card stock or board, as in cabinet cards. The thin paper was also easy to cut and paste and pieces of these photos were commonly collaged into scrapbooks and sometimes pasted onto postcards.

All albumen prints were made by contact printing and printed out. Albumen prints are categorized by warm tones that should now have considerable yellowing. They were almost always toned to improve their sour yellow look. Gold toning created a red to purple brown cast or a blue black.

Platinum toning created a brown look. When double toned with gold and platinum the print would remain neutral. The paper itself was often dyed pink; though blue, green, and violet were also common. About 85 percent of all photographs made in the 19th century were albumen prints.

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They were so familiar to the public eye that albumen became synonymous with photography. It was not very light sensitive and was only used for contact printing with direct exposure to the sun. This silver chloride paper had a collodion emulsion that could be washed out with water after exposure. As this paper was manufactured before the advent of real photo postcards, its first release was on thin paper stock.

Collodion emulsions produced prints with a very fine tonal range and sharp details. Collodion however was highly flammable, which detracted from its popularity.

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Most collodion papers fell out of common use before real photo postcards were made. Solio paper was replaced by Studio Proof Paper, manufactured until It was not meant for postcards and had no postcard back. Gelatin Prints - These chloride papers were made with very small particles of silver suspended in a gelatin emulsion. They tend to be vulnerable to contamination and can easily deteriorate.

PIONEER ERA (1893-1898)

They were much faster than collodion based papers and were able to be exposed indoors under gaslight lamps gaslight paper , but they remained slow enough to be used only in contact printing. Its ease of use made it the most popular paper on the market for real photo postcards. They were manufactured with postcard backs. Azo paper without postcard backs continued to be made until Because this required guess work to judge exposure time, these papers were not as popular at first as printing out papers.

In Kodak introduced a developing machine for professional and amateur alike, and between and photo processing services for postcards were also offered to encouraged sales. These papers were , times more light sensitive than print out papers and eventually became the paper of choice. Their speed not only allowed them to be used with an enlarger but it increased production speed as well. Bromide Prints - Bromide prints are developed out producing a very stable image due to their large silver particles. They have a warm to blue-black color and are highly subject to tarnishing. While permanent bromide paper was developed alongside chloride papers, its cost, difficulty to process, and lower tonal range kept it from being widely used in America.

Determining Postcard Age

Large quantities could also be produced in consistant color because they did not require toning. However there was no demand for mass production until real photo postcards became popular. Bromide paper was relatively fast and was meant to be used with an enlarger. Rotograph and Kodak both manufactured bromide paper. All cards during this era had undivided backs of privately printed cards. All cards during this era had undivided backs and only the address was to appear on the back. The message, therefore, had to be written on the front picture side of the card.

For this reason, there is writing on the face of many cards; this is becoming more acceptable on cards of this era. This era came into being on March 1, The divided back made it possible for both the address and the message to be on the back of the card.

This prevented the face of the card from being written on and proved to be a great boon for collectors. Normally the view colors or images filled the entire card with no white border. The White Border Era brought an end to the postcard craze era. The golden age ended as imports from Germany ceased and publishers in the U. The cards were very poor quality and many were reprints of earlier Divided Back Era cards.

These are easily distinguished by the white border around the pictured area. Improvements in America printing technology brought improved card quality. Publishers began using a linen-like paper containing a high rag content but used very cheap inks in most instances. Until recently, collectors considered these cards very cheap.

Now they are very popular with collectors of roadside America, Blacks, Comics, and Advertising. Views are also becoming more popular as collectors realize that this era too is a part of out history, and these cards help to illustrate the changes in the geographic structure of America.

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Determining the Age of Vintage Postcards

Publishers, such as Mike Roberts, Dexter Press, Curt Teich, and Plastichrome, began producing cards that had very beautiful chrome colors and were very appealing to collectors. The growth of this group has been spectacular in recent years, so much so that there are now many postcard dealers who specialize only in chromes. Real Photo postcards were in use as early as It is sometimes very hard to date a card unless it has been postally used or dated by the photographer. Careful study of photo cards is essential to make sure they have not been reproduced.

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