Photograph Identification Guide
by David Rudd Cycleback

23) press and publishing photos : PRODUCTION MARKS

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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.

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(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved


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