METROPOLITAN POSTCARD CLUB OF NEW YORK CITY GUIDE TO VARIATIONS

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Guide to
Real Photo Postcards


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This guide is meant to aid the collector in identifying and dating real photo postcards, and to act as a reminder that it is impossible to do so with great accuracy.


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Although real photo postcards were made in a variety of ways, they hold one identifiable feature in common. The tonalities of photos are completely continuous to the eye producing true greys, for they are created by the reaction of individual photosensitive molecules to light rather than the transfer of ink from a plate. In printed images the grey areas are usually made up of black marks that are spaced to create the optical illusion of greys. Though most of us today are familiar with the concept of photo grain, this is mostly because we have experienced very large prints made from small 35mm negatives. But even here the effect is more of a softening of detail than a observable texture. Early real photo postcards are small by their very nature and since most were contact printed, not enlarged, there is no visible texture. 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. 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 sure and quick and sure way of telling if you are looking at a real photo.

Real Photo Postcard detail

Real Photo Postcard - enlarged detail
(Note: remember you are viewing this over a pixilated screen)

A common problem with real photo postcards is that they are often devoid of any descriptive text. The printing of the photographer’s or manufacturer’s name on the back of real photos was an expensive proposition. 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. Some companies were still printing real photo postcards in the 1970’s from negatives taken in the 1890’s. 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.

NOTE: 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 450 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. Kodak controlled 80% of the paper market with their brands Artura, Azo, Aristo, EKC. Solio, and Velox. Cyko by Ansco, Argo by Defender, and Kruxo by Kilborn comprised most of the remaining market. Many other brands of photo paper were also manufactured in Europe but rarely left the continent.

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PRINTING OUT PAPER

The very first photographs made were on printing out paper. Light energy alone, usually from the sun, reacted with the light sensitive chemicals on the paper’s surface to produce an image. 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.


SALTED PAPER

Real Photo Postcard

Iron Salt Prints - This process was invented in 1842, but its first known use for a postcard was in 1888. 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.

Cyanotype     1888 - 1920’s   Deep Prussian blue color from near black to purple
Kallitype	   1889 - 1920’s   Silver to red-brown in color, often highly faded
Palladiotype   1916 - 1941   Silver to brown in color
Platinotype     1873 - 1941   Blueish silver in color, sepia tones since 1878
Satista	   1913 - 1917   Cold black or sepia in color (not very stable)

NOTE: Kodak stopped producing platinum paper in 1916.



EMULSION PAPERS

Carte de Viste

Albumen Prints - Photo prints utilized albumen based emulsions since 1850, 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. They were so familiar to the public eye that albumen became synonymous with photography. While the following generation of papers were technically superior they purposefully tried to imitate the color of albumen to match the public’s expectations.




Real Photo Postcard

Collodion Prints - SOLIO paper was introduced along with the new daylight loading cameras. 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. Most collodion papers fell out of common use before real photo postcards were made.

SOLIO	  1892 - 1907   (no markings on back)
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SOLIO	  1908 - 1920’s   (on card stock, two variations)
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ARISTO	  1905 - 1907   (three variations to the back)
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ARISTO	  1908
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ARISTO	  Unknown
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SELTONA   1908 - 1940

NOTE: Solio paper was replaced by Studio Proof Paper, manufactured until 1987. It was not meant for postcards and had no postcard back.




Real Photo Postcard

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. 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.

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AZO	1904 - 1918   (two variations to the back)
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AZO	1907 - 1909
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AZO	1917 - 1930
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AZO	1922 - 1926
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AZO	1926 - 1940’s   First stable emulsion

NOTE: Azo paper without postcard backs continued to be made until 2006.

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DEVELOP OUT PAPER

These papers utilized developing chemicals to react with the photo paper’s emulsion to bring out the image. Because this required guess work to judge exposure time, these papers were not as popular at first as printing out papers. In 1903 Kodak introduced a developing machine for professional and amateur alike, and between 1906 and 1910 photo processing services for postcards were also offered to encouraged sales. Enlargers were rare and often homemade until the mid 1920’s when small format cameras that produced negatives requiring enlarging emerged. Enlarging did not become popular until the 1930’s. These papers were 100,000 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.


Real Photo Postcard

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. Real photo postcards that used this paper usually were manufactured by large companies where mass production wasn’t inhibited by these constraints. 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. The words Bromide Print often appear on these cards rather than a brand name, or they go unlabled.

ROTOGRAPH     1902 - 1904   (no stampbox or logo on back)




Real Photo Postcard

Chloride Prints - These silver chloride papers in a gelatin emulsion were much faster than traditional papers that required sunlight exposure. They became known as gaslight papers because of their ability to be exposed indoors under gaslight. They produced a good tonal range with high detail. They were often toned a warm brown to avoid their natural red to purplish brown color. These papers were sold in heavy weights with preprinted backs for specifically creating real photo postcards. The emultion on these papers were generally applied to paper with Baryta sizing, which was only available from Germany until Kodak began to manufacture it in 1906. The brand names of these papers allow us to date many photographs today.

NOTE: A warm brown chlorobromide paper with improved tonal range started being used in Europe in 1906. Bromide also started being added to American made silver chloride prints to increase speed but not on a consistent basis.

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VELOX	       1899 - 1905   (six variations to the back)
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CYKO	       1901? - 1904   (printed on private mailing cards)
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VELOX	       1903 - 1904   (three variations to the back)
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CYKO	       1903 - 1905   (three variations to the back)
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EKKP	       1904 - 1950
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DEFENDER     1904 - 1908   (two variations to the back)
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ARGO	       1905 - 1920
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ARTURA	       1905
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ARTURA	       1905 - 1910   (three variations to the back)
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DEFENDER     1905 - 1906   (two variations to the back)
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KRUXO	       1905 - 1920’s   (six variations to the back)
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CYKO	       1906 - 1915   (six variations to the back)
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VELOX	       1906   The first velox paper to be made entirely in the U.S.
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NOKO	       1907 - 1929
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NOKO	       1907 - 1934
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NOKO	       1908 (The exact dates used beyond 1908 are uncertain)
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PMO	       1907 - 1915
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VELOX	       1907 - 1909   (two variations to the back)
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VELOX	       1907 - 1914   (two variations to the back)
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KRUXO	       1907 - 1923
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DEFENDER     1908
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KRUXO	       1909
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DEFENDER     1910 - 1920
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ARTURA	       1911 - 1921
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KRUXO	       1912   (note publishers name in box)
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CYKO	       1915 - 1919
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CYKO	       1920 - 1928
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DEFENDER     1920 - 1945
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DOPS	       1925 - 1942
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VITAVA	       1925 - 1934
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AGFA-ANSCO    1928 - 1941   (two variations to the back)

NOTE: Velox paper without a postcard back was manufactured until 1988. Some Kruxo cards have no stamp box.




Real Photo Postcard

Black & White Prints - Prior to 1926 there were no photo papers available with a stable emulsion, and most have yellowed to some degree. The sulphur Hypo solutions used to wash out excess silver and fix the print cannot be entirely washed off and they to in time yellow paper. Older papers also often had unappealing coloration so they were toned or printed on dyed paper. Older papers also often had unappealing coloration so they were toned or printed on dyed paper. Because of this it is rare to see a black & white photograph that is truly a neutral black & white before the 1930’s. The new faster papers that were made specifically for the enlarging process that became popular in the 1930’s are generally brighter and glossier but do not hold as much detail. This is parcially due to the paper quality itself and also from the diffusion of light as the image is projected onto the paper. Modern photo papers also contain optical brighteners not found in older papers. When exposed to long wave black light these new papers will glow a bright white. When newer resin coated papers entered the market real photo postcards were no longer being made in any significant number to produce postcard backs for them.

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EKC	    1930 - 1950   (sometimes tinted warm)
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DuPont Defender   1945 - 1973
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DuPont	    1945 - 1950’s
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Devolite Peerless   1950 -
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Kodak	    1950 -




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COLOR PAPER

Edmond Becquerel made the first color print in 1847 but there was no way to fix the image onto paper at that time. While some strange forms of color prints were made by Heliochromy or the Vidal process, they were crude and saw no commercial applications. Color transparencies predate real photo postcards and were in wide use in the early 20th century. But until the 1950’s there was no color photo paper for the general public to print on. The cost of processing this new type of paper was too prohibitively expensive for the production of postcards. Color photography was being used instead to create photochrome cards through offset printing and the few real photo postcards that continued to be made were produced in black & white.


Real Photo Postcard

Hand Coloring - The real photo postcards that do exist in color were colored by hand. This was done throughout their history using very subtle to garish means. Most were colored with water base paints though thinly applied oil paints were also used. Special coloring kits were eventually marketed aimed at the amateur.

Real Photo Postcard

Coloring was traditionally added to produce natural looking results, but from the 1920’s on it tended to be used in a more manneristic style. Even the toning of photographs were pushed beyond the natural for expressive purposes producing very deep blues or sepias. Many of these hand colored cards that depicted women and children were produced in Europe while in America colored views were dominant.

Real Photo Postcard

Real photo cards continued to be hand colored even after color prints were introduced. Since they cannot compete realistically with color photography or printed photochromes, hand coloring on modern cards takes on a more stylized look.


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NON PHOTO PAPER

Real Photo Postcard

Some publishers printed cards with ink to closely resemble real photo postcards. They usually have a glossy surface that reflects light off the darkly printed areas in a similar manner to the silver deposits on a photograph. Other cards were sometimes printed matte but on a textured paper to look similar to salted photos. A rough paper surface can hide tell tale characteristics of printing ink. These cards were not created to deceive the buyer, for on close examination the differences were often easy to see, but meant to entice those interested in photo cards to find these appealing as well.


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H.H. Stratton - These cards were produced with a real photo back but the image is printed with an obvious halftone screen.



BORDERS

Real Photo Postcard

To meet the public’s demand for more postcard images many early publishers tried to acquire photographic negatives wherever they could. Many real photo postcards wound up being created from negatives originally shot to create large photographic prints. To make a standard sized postcard from negatives that needed to be contact printed the image always had to be cropped. Though white borders could always be created they a more complex option so the image on most of these cards was simply bled to the edge. This continued to be true even when Kodak introduced cameras that would shoot postcard sized negatives. The most common exception to this were cards shot through a stencil to provide a decorative white border. These stencils were usually cut out of tin or heavy paper and would be sandwiched between the photo paper and negative during exposure to the sun. While these stencils could be purchased in stores and came in various designs, many forgoed the expense and made their own. Homemade stencils were rarely perfectly symmetrical and are a tell tale sign of non-commercially printed cards.

Real Photo Postcard

Another clear sign of homemade real photo postcards are the ragged edges sometimes found on cards made with salted paper where the photo sensitive emulsion is brushed on. When the effect is exaggerated it is most certain that it was done so for stylistic effect. Other cards that have an irregular or crooked line between the image and the border are more likely the sign of poor craftsmanship.

Real Photo Postcard

Although Ur-Leica readapted motion picture film to create a 35mm still camera in 1914, it was not mass marketed until the 1920&rsqu;s, and only became popular in the 1930’s. The smaller negatives required postcard sized prints to be enlarged often with the aid of an easel to hold the paper in place, and white borders became more common. Though most commercial real photo postcards had now begun to be mass produced in processing machines, the increasing number of small sized negatives from a growing variety of amateur cameras continued to be contact printed adding some unusually broad borders to real photo postcards.



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