Many press photos have stamping or similar identification
marks on the back and occasionally on the front. Most stamps
identify the maker or issuer of the photograph. This can include
the news service, newspaper, photographer, music label, fashion
company or television studio. The stamp often includes a variety
of information, such as address, copyright information and terms
of use ("To be used in magazine or newspaper only. Not
for advertising"). The vast majority of stamps are in ink,
but dry stamps (embossed/pressed in without ink) are occasionally
A company's stamp can help date a photograph to a general
era, but usually won't give a precise date. For example, if
a photograph has the old time 'Bain News Service' stamp, this
won't by itself say the photograph was from 1915 or 1923, but
it will prove that the photograph is old, as the company went
out of business decades ago. If other information, such as
the physical qualities of the paper and image and the caption
tag suggests the photograph is from 1949, the vintage ACME stamp
won't prove that particular date but is consistent with a photograph
from that time.
Especially in the early years there were many news services,
large and small, including countless local newspapers. On an
old photograph you will occasionally find a stamp for a photo
service or other company that you have never heard of before
and that went out of business many decades ago.
Below are some most common US news and photo services.
1923 to 1950s. Early on known as United Newspictures. Was bought
out by United Press in the 1950s.
Associated Press (AP). AP Photos started in 1927, still
exists. AP wirephotos existed 1935-1970s. AP Laserphotos 1970s-90.
Bain News Service, 1898-1940s. One of the earlier news
services. Founded by famous photographer George Grantham Bain.
Many of Bain's photos are snapshot sized.
Central Press Association, of Cleveland, existed for many
years starting in the early 1900s. Their stamp often includes
the date, which makes for easy dating of their photos.
Culver Pictures Inc, of New York City, was formed in the
early 1900s and exists today. This means the Culver stamp can
appear on both an early and a modern photo. Culver bought out
much of the Bain News Service archives, so many Bain photos can
also have a Culver stamp.
International News Photos, a division of International
News Service (INS). This started in the early 1900s and, in
1958, merged with United Press (UP) to become United Press International
Keystone View Company, New York. Existed in the early
1900s. Also famous for their commercially sold stereoview photographs.
N.A.E. Synonymous with ACME Newspictures. An ACME photo
will often also have an N.A.E. stamp. The N.A.E. stamp exists
on vintage photos.
Pacific & Atlantic Photos: Existed briefly before
World War II.
Underwood & Underwood, aka Underwood. 1898-1955.
United Press (UP) or United Press Association (UPA). This
started in the early 1900s and, in 1958, merged with INS to become
Universal Press International (UPI), 1958 - Today.
World Wide Photos, End date is unknown, but the stamp
is commonly found on old photographs.
Looking at the just listed news services and their dates of
existence, you can see why some stamps will give a boost in price.
While AP existed for a long time, collectors know that a Keystone
View or International News Photos stamp assures that the photograph
Some photos will not have stamps, either because they faded
away or were never placed on the back. This can make it difficult
to identify their source and even whether or not they press photographs.
Sometimes a photograph has different stamps. For example,
there can be a stamp for the photographer and a stamp for the
news service he worked for. If a news service obtained the archives
of an out of business news service or photographic archives,
a photograph can have stamps from two different time periods.
With some exceptions, if there is a UPI stamp on the photograph
without an earlier stamp or original caption tag (see next chapter),
it is safest to assume the photograph was made 1958 or after.
If an address in the stamp has a 5 digit zip code, the stamp
itself is from 1962 or after. The 5 digit zip code was introduced
in the US in 1962.
If there are two stamps on a photograph and one conflicts
in date with the other, the earlier date is the most reliable.
For example, if a photograph was both a new UPI and an old ACME
stamp, it can be assumed that the photo is from the ACME era.
In fact, UPI and ACME stamps or UPI stamps and ACME original
caption tags on a photograph are not uncommon. It appears that,
after ACME and UP combined to form UPI, UPI placed their news
stamps on many of the old photos.
If the stamp conflicts in date with an original and unaltered
lunch bag brown paper tag, the paper tag should be considered
more reliable. This is particularly true if the photograph's
general appearance is vintage.
The date and time was sometimes stamped on the back of the
photo. A photograph can be much older than the date, but can't
be newer. A stamped date of, for example, July 7th 1920 means
the photograph is at least that old. If there are different
date stamps (which will happen, as photographs were occasionally
reused for printing or recataloged over the years), the photograph
is at least as old as the earliest stamp.
A vintage date stamp on a photograph is highly desirable as
it is strong evidence that it is old.
PAPER TAGS AND SHEETS
Some press photos have paper tags, often called paper captions
or bio sheets. The tags are usually affixed to the back, but
can be found on the front. These tags are helpful as they can
help identify and date the photograph. They contain a variety
of information including the maker of the photo, the date and
a detailed description of the image. Many press photos have
both a paper tag and a stamp.
The original old tags on news service photos and many other
old press photos usually are lunch bag brown paper, having turned
that color with age. The older, the darker and more brittle.
The text was typed or teletyped. Teletyping looks much like
typing but has a slightly different font. In either case, the
printing is usually black, but also can be dark blue or purple.
The tags were flimsy and easily removed and it is common to see
the brown paper remnants from where the tag was glued. In more
modern times, tags are typically made of white paper, but can
be found in yellow and other colors. A few tags from as early
as the 1950s can be the modern bright yellow, though companion
stamps from ACME or other news services will confirm that the
photo is old.
As the paper tags can easily be removed, and sometimes placed
on other photographs, the tag cannot be considered totally reliable.
However, for vintage news service photos (UP, AP, etc) if the
tag appears to be original (typed or teletyped on brown paper)
and unaltered, the photograph's appearance and any stamping is
consistent with the period, the paper caption can be considered
an exact dating (+ or - a few days) of the photograph. For
any press photo, a brown paper tag is evidence of old age.
If there are the brown paper remnants still stuck to the back
of a news service photograph, this is evidence the photo is old.
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