Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback

Chapter 15 : STAMPS

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A stamp can be one of the most significant parts of a photograph. The stamping can help tell us much, who was the photographer, the company the photo was made for (magazine, Associated Press), why and when it was made. Sometimes a stamp will tell us the age of the photo.

While a stamp or tag does not in and of itself authenticate a photo (stamps are rarely forged), it helps the collector in making a judgment. While a new collector might not know a platinum print from a hole in the wall, the rubber stamp on the photo's back is something she can get a handle on. The stamp of George Burke with his Belmont Avenue Chicago address will rightly communicate to this new collector that the photograph was made or otherwise authorized by the famous baseball photographer. In general, a photographer's rubber or dry stamp (embossed with no ink) is a reliable sign that the photo was either made or otherwise authorized by the photographer. It also shows that the photograph was official, recognized by the photographer as legitimate. Photographers often included their stamp as a copyright, essentially and sometimes literally saying "This is my photo and you can't copy it without my permission."

All things equivalent, a photo with a good stamp from the photographer or company, the photographer's signature or similar identification marker will be worth more than a photo without such easy identifiers.

A stamp is often from the photographer, but can also be from an organization (Sports Illustrated, Associated Press, the photographer's agency) or other owner (university library, historical archives). Some photos will have the stamp of both the photographer and a company. A stamp from a magazine, newspaper or news service tells the collector that the photo is legitimate and was made or owned by that organization. Stamps from famous organizations can increase value ('Property of The New York Yankees.').
Many 1800s and early 1900s cabinet cards, cartes de visite and other mounted photographs have the name and address of the photographer or photography studio on the front and/or back of the mount. This makes identifying photos by famous photographers simple. A Joseph Hall cabinet is easy to identify, because his name will be on the mount.

Realize that many photographers and companies made printed later and later generation photos. This means that the presence of a photographer's or magazine's stamp does not in and of itself indicate the photo is vintage or original. Looking at other qualities, including paper, image and getting a second opinion will help determine if the photo is original.

The collector should study and keep record (if just mental) of he various stamps in his or her collecting area. Following the auctions and sales is great way to see a variety of stamps. Asking fellow photograph aficionados for their input on a stamp is good.

Study the history of companies and biography of photographers. Learned baseball photo collectors look for the stamp of the New York photographer George Grantham Bain. Not only is Bain famous for his images of Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson and other baseball legends, but he died in 1941. This means his stamp proves a photo is old. For Hollywood movie fans, the great MGM studio photographer Ruth Harriett Louise died in 1944. If you find a sharp Greta Garbo photo with Louise's stamp on back, you can be confident the photo is old.

A later chapter covers in more details stamping on news service photographs.


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Photo Paper Branding

Some photographic paper has the manufacturer's brand name printed on the back. Knowledge and study of the different brandings is useful in dating photo paper.

The manufacturer's branding is that wallpaper-like printing across the back of a photo. If you turn over the modern color snapshots on your refrigerator you will see branding. It might say "Fuji color Crystal Archives Paper" or "Kodak Professional Endura Paper" or "Kodak Perfect Touch Paper." There have been hundreds of different brands on paper over the years.

Photo paper with branding can be dated to a general or specific time as the text and graphic design was changed regularly by the manufacturers. This is particularly important when you are looking at a modern photo, where the image and paper difference between a 1975 photo and a 1995 reprint may not be obvious.
There are way too many brandings to be listed and discussed here. It would take a book to catalog and date all the brandings ever used. You should keep a notebook or digital image file of the different brandings you come across. This includes brandings on all the recent photos you have. You can be assured that the branding on the back of last years's wedding photo will not appear on a vintage 1965 Willie Mays photo. By observing today's brandings, you will be able to quickly identify many modern reprints.

Kodak and AGFA branding on the back of modern stnapshots.

Four Common Kodak Brandings

* If the back of a photo has the printing 'Velox,' the photo dates circa 1940s-50s.

* If the back of the photo has the three line printing 'Kodak/Velox/Paper,' the photo dates circa 1950s-60s.

* The printing 'A Kodak Paper' was commonly used in the 1960s and early 1970s.

* The thee lined printing "THIS PAPER / MANUFACTURED / BY KODAK" was commonly used in the 1970s-80s. If you have a photo that is advertised as being from 1979, the presence of this branding doesn't prove the specific year of 1979 but is consistent with the date.

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Count the digits in the zip code

The zip code in the photo stamp can identify many photos printed years after the image was shot. Many photographers and publishers included their mailing address in the photo stamp. If a stamp has an address with a 5 digit United States zip code, the stamp dates to 1962 or later. The United States changed the zip code from 2 to 5 digits in 1962.

The stamp shown on the right is on a photo showing the Irish writer James Joyce in 1929. The five digit zip code clearly shows that the photo was printed many years after the image was shot. main

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