Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback


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It was not uncommon for a news service, newspaper or magazine to reuse an image over the years. Upon Babe Ruth's death in 1948, Associated Press may have reproduced a 1922 photo of the baseball star hitting a famous homerun so newspapers across the country could show him in his heyday. Associated Press may have reproduced it again in 1970. If Gone With the Wind was re-issued for movie theatres decades later, the studio would make new press photos and stills.

With other qualities equivalent the vintage original photograph will always have financial value greater than the later generation or printed later versions. This is why collectors go to great lengths to identify the originals.

Though of lesser value, later generation press photographs should not be idly dismissed. They were official photographs, usually with stamping on the back. While some images are poor, many that were made from the original negatives can have beautiful crystal clear images. Just like their older counterparts, only a handful of each was made and distributed.
Many collectors can't afford that original 1922 Babe Ruth photograph, but they can the 1960 version. For collectors who are looking for nice photographs to matt with autographs or to display in the office or den, later generations are a great way to go.

As age is important to collectors, the age difference between the original and the later generation photo affects value. A 1980 photo with a 1920 subject will usually be worth less than a 1950 photo with the same image. The average collector will look at the two and give value to the 1950 version, as it is older.

Identifying Later Generation Press Photos

A later generation press photo photograph is identified by examining all the qualities of the photograph, including stamping, captions and overall appearance.

Especially with old subjects, later generation photos are usually clearly inconsistent with a vintage photograph. This can include modern stamping or text (a UPI stamp or a 1995 copyright date on a photo with a 1910 image), modern appearing paper and images with signs of reproduction. Signs of reproduction can include cracks from the negative, tears or scratches that are in the photographic image rather than actually on the photograph (a photo of a tear rather than the damage physically on the photo) and a general sense that the photograph was copied. A black light will quickly identify many modern made photos.

Remember that some later generation photographs were made from the original negatives and can have crystal clear images.
With experience, the collector will find that many later generation photos in their area of collecting will stand out like sore thumbs.

There will be cases that are hard to determine. A photo may not have clear stamping. The photo paper may appear to be from the right time, but you aren't a hundred percent sure. In the end, there's nothing wrong with giving an honest but inexact answer. There's nothing wrong with offering for sale a photograph, describing it as "Appears to be from the 1930-50s, but can't give a specific date. Does not look like an original, but appears to be old none the less."

Identifying Original Press Photos

All other qualities equivalent, the original photograph is the most desirable.

Originals are identified as they are vintage and have images with detail and clarity consistent with being original.

If a photo has vintage stamping, the original paper caption and the images appears to be first generation, it's most likely an original. If the photograph has no markings, but the paper and image are vintage and the image is crystal clear, it's likely an original. Remember, only the original negative can create the image with the highest quality. Later generation negatives and wirephotos will produce lesser images. main

(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved


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