Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback


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This chapter lists other kinds of 'hard' photographs. The collector will come across a fair number glass negatives, slides, and orotones, while the others rare. The photographs are presented in alphabetical order.





Quick keys to identification: True color image on a pane of glass. Early 1900s subjects.

The autochrome was the first true color photograph, with the image on a pane of glass. If you project the image large or look very closely you can see a mosaic pattern of multi color grains. Sports examples are rare and highly desirable.

Autochrome was introduced in 1907 and existed, with closely related glass color photos, until the 1930s. The image can be lush and beautiful, though usually darker than today's color photos. The images are often faded. There were different brands of color glass photos that existed around the same time. The different brand names will have the same general appearance, age and scarcity, though the tiny color grains in the image are in different patterns.

Magnified of autochrome view showing the color grains of an autochrome



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Quick identification Keys: negative black qand white image on glass. Used 1800s to early 1900s.

Almost all early negatives used to make photographic prints were glass. Glass negatives were slowly discontinued around the 1930s. In modern times photographic negatives are made out of plastic film, easily distinguishable from glass. If you find a glass negative with an old time image, it almost always is antique. They quit using glass a long time ago.

Due to the physical appearance and feel it is not difficult to differentiate the later glass negatives from the early ones. The later negatives (say 1920s) are thinner, machine cut and with a smooth surface. The early glass negatives (say 1860s-70s) are thicker, hand cut and have a rougher surface.





Quick keys to identification: 1800s photograph on fake ivory, hand colored and framed to look like a small painting.

The ivorytype was a photographic image made on fake ivory and typically framed. It usually was hand painted to have the appearance of a miniature painting. It was invented in London in 1855 and was most popular in the mid to late 1800s century.


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Key to identification: Early slides made out of glass. Used in 1800s and early 1900s.

Originating in the late 1800s glass photographic slides are like modern vacation slides, except the image is on a pane of glass instead of plastic film. The glass is held in a frame usually made of cardboard. The images were projected onto a screen or wall. The black and white photographic images are sometimes brightly hand colored. During the silent movie era, colorful movie slides were used in the theatres to advertise products including upcoming movies (see above). Slide images were projected on the screen for group sing alongs intermissions.

Some news services owned glass slides. Glass slides are easy to identify as antique, as only old photographic slides were made of glass.

1930s glass slide of boxer Jack Dempsey


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Quick key to identification: Glass photograph with distinct gold tone.

Popular in the 1800s and early 1900s, the orotone- also known as goldtone and Curtistone- is similar in appearance to the ambrotype, with the image on a pane of glass. The eye catching difference is that the orotone is backed in real gold. Oro is Spanish for gold. This gives the image a unique and often beautiful golden appearance. Some collectors rank orotones as the most beautiful photograph. Orotones can be much larger than the ambrotype and are usually housed in special frames or cases. The back of the frame will often have a paper seal with the photographer's information.

Orotones in general are limited but not rare.


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There are examples of other, even more obscure 'hard' photographs. This includes images on steel, wood, cloth and leather. Most of these are from the 1800s and are rarely seen. main

(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved


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