Detail of a 1950s boxing photo with silver ink
surrounding the boxer's head, This ink was to block out distracting
background visual clutter.
Whether out of curiosity or because they believe that it affects
desirability and value, many collectors want to know if their
photo was the actual 'original art' used to make a picture in
a magazine or newspaper.
The majority of press photos were not used to make a picture
in a newspaper or magazine. On a given day a newspaper may have
developed one hundred different photographs and decided to only
use ten of them. The newspaper may have made up three copies
of an image and only used one of the three to make the picture
in the next day's paper. Big news services often kept copies
for their own files, never intending them to be used for printing.
Photographs that were used to make the printed pictures, or
at least intended to be published, can be identified by a combination
of production marks and writing, including the following.
Silver, black or other color marking on the image.
This can include cropping marks, which are usually lines and
often arrows indicating how the image was to be resized. The
cropping marks are sometimes in red, orange, black ink or similar
color crayon or in pencil.
Markings can also include silver ink highlights of the central
image (person, car, etc) or silvering out of background images.
The silver areas would appear as solid in the printed picture,
so the ink was used to remove unwanted clutter and give detail.
In cases the silvering and other markings will be obvious from
first glance. In other cases, it will be subtle, and you will
have to examine the image carefully, including looking at the
photo at a nearing 180 degree angle to a light source in order
to see the difference in gloss made by the markings. In some
cases, you can feel the markings by lightly running your fingertip
across the surface.
Production writing, marks and stamps on the back. The
writing can be in pen, pencil or crayon. It can include relevant
text about how and when the image will appear in publication.
'1 col' means it will be a width of one newspaper column, '2
col' will mean it will be two columns wide. Writing can include
something like 'Monday Sports Page.' Realize that many photos
not used for printing may have different writing on the back,
such as a date or description of the image.
Often times, there will be a date stamp. If you are lucky,
there will be a clipping of the actual newspaper or magazine
picture on the back. In some cases, different clippings with
different date stamps will be present, meaning the same picture
was used several times.
General Wear and Tear. As these photos were part of
the printing process, they will ordinarily have wear and tear,
including wrinkling, border damage, stains and other signs of
handling. In some cases the photograph has irregular, hand cut
edges and clipped corners. Usually the paper caption tag was
pulled off the photograph before printing, sometimes hastily
taped on later. This means the collector can find a photograph
they she knows was used to make a printed picture, but, since
the tag was removed, has no clue where the photograph came from.
If a photograph has a strong combination of the above signs,
especially back and front markings, it can be reasonably assumed
that it was the 'original art' for a printed picture. This is
true even if you can't locate the publication. If a photograph
is in high grade, has no such markings and has an intact paper
caption on the back, it was not used to make a printed picture.
The Desirability of Production Marks
Some people dislike production marks on their photographs, others
find them appealing. Many collectors like to know that the photograph
they own was used as the original art for a publication. Many
collectors also feel that the marking is evidence of authenticity.
The irony is that the markings that make the photograph appealing
to many collectors can also make the photograph less attractive.
While some light silver highlights to the image or background
may be attractive, sometimes the clipped borders and too heavily
applied markings can be distracting. Some collectors prefer photographs
that were unpublished and feel any markings are detrimental.
It's a matter of individual taste.
(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com
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