Photochrom Color Pictures are Really Cool

Why isn't there a photochrom Instagram filter yet?

Voyager

While the three color process that led to modern color photography was suggested in 1851 by Physicist James Clerk Maxwell, another more complex method of producing color images was popular during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The photochrom process, a spin-off of chromolithography, used six or more ‘tint stones’ to add color to an image, creating a finished print.

Pictures created using the photochrom process look a ton like modern color images, but with a strange coloration that feels both historic and whimsical. The process was commonly used in the 20th century to create postcards of historic buildings, which are very cool, and have an artistic feel that our modern high-def images lack.

Here’s a description and history of the photochrom process via Wikipedia:

  PROCESS  

A tablet of¬†lithographic limestone¬†called a “litho stone” was coated with a light-sensitive surface composed of a thin layer of purified¬†bitumen¬†dissolved in¬†benzene. A reversed¬†halftone¬†negative was then pressed against the coating and exposed to daylight (ten to thirty minutes in summer, up to several hours in winter), causing the bitumen to harden in proportion to the amount of light passing through each portion of the negative. Then a solvent such as¬†turpentine¬†was applied to remove the unhardened bitumen and¬†retouch¬†the¬†tonal scale, strengthening or softening tones as required. Thus the image became imprinted on the stone in bitumen. Each tint was applied using a separate stone that bore the appropriate retouched image. The finished print was produced using at least six, but more commonly ten to fifteen, tint stones.

  HISTORY  

The process was invented in the 1880s by Hans Jakob Schmid (1856‚Äď1924), an employee of the Swiss company¬†Orell Gessner F√ľssli‚ÄĒa printing firm whose history began in the 16th century.¬†F√ľssli founded the stock company Photochrom Z√ľrich (later¬†Photoglob Z√ľrich AG) as the business vehicle for the commercial exploitation of the process and both F√ľssli¬†and Photoglob continue to exist today. From the mid-1890s the process was licensed by other companies, including the¬†Detroit Photographic Company¬†in the US (making it the basis of their “phostint” process),¬†and the Photochrom Company of London.

The photochrom process was most popular in the 1890s, when true color photography was first developed but was still commercially impractical.

In 1898 the US Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which let private publishers produce postcards. These could be mailed for one cent each, while the letter rate was two cents. Publishers created thousands of photochrom prints, usually of cities or landscapes, and sold them as postcards. In this format, photochrom reproductions became popular. The Detroit Photographic Company reportedly produced as many as seven million photochrom prints in some years, and ten to thirty thousand different views were offered.

After World War One, which ended the craze for collecting Photochrom postcards, the chief use of the process was for posters and art reproductions. The last Photochrom printer operated up to 1970.

  Examples  

The first Shakespeare Memorial theatre complex, c. 1890s
Detroit Publishing Company – original photochrom / Adam Cuerden – restoration
Belgian milk peddlers with a dogcart, c. 1890s
Detroit Photograph Company
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany, c. 1890s
Detroit Photograph Company

Bergen, Norway, c. 1890s

ūüöÄ  Trump Announces He's Going to Release the Remaining JFK Assassination Files
By Unknown / United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division
The elavated at 11th street, New York City, c. 1900
Detroit Photographic Co.
Cliff House, San Francisco
Detroit Photographic Co.
The L — Wabash Ave. north from Adams Street, Chicago
Detroit Photographic Co.
A sailboat on the Nile river in Cairo, Egypt, c. 1899
Library of Congress
Resting Bedouins at the Grand Pyramid, Cairo, Egypt, c. 1899
Library of Congress
A mosque in, Kairouan, Tunisia, c. 1899
Library of Congress
State Street north from Madison Street, Chicago, Illinois
Detroit Photographic Co.
Sapphire Pools, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Detroit Photographic Co.
Coolvest, Rotterdam, Holland, c. 1890s
Detroit Publishing Co.

Voorstraatshaven, Dordrecht, Holland, c. 1890s

Detroit Publishing Co.
Hardanger Fjord, Norway, c. 1890s
Detroit Publishing Co.
Gol Stave Church, Christiania, Norway, c. 1890s
Detroit Publishing Co.
Fantoft Church, Bergen, Norway, c. 1890s
Detroit Publishing Co.
The harbor at¬†Warnem√ľnde, Germany
Library of Congress
General Art and Industrial Exposition of Stockholm of 1897
Detroit Publishing Co.
The Cross and Rows, Chester, Cheshire, England, c. 1895
Library of Congress

  Keep Reading  

Flickr Photochrom Travel Views

Wikimedia Commons Photochrom Pictures

Robinhood