called telephotos, were made by major news services, also known
as wire services, like Associated Press, ACME Newspictures and
United Press. Despite common misuse of the term, a wirephoto
is only the photograph created by the wirephoto process/machine.
If the Associated Press put an original photograph in its wirephoto
machine and sent a copy via wire to the San Francisco Chronicle,
only the Chronicle's received copy is a wirephoto. The AP's original
is not a wirephoto.
Some wirephotos were re-sent, which means that both the source
and the received photos can be wirephotos. For example, AP's
New York office may have received a wirephoto from its Los Angeles
office, then forwarded that image via wirephoto to San Francisco.
This can make things complicated. Luckily, as the following described
qualities show, wirephotos are easily identified and dated.
The original photograph will be more desirable than the wirephoto
copy. Originality is itself a prized quality and the original
will have better image clarity. However, wirephotos are popularly
collected and examples of significant events can be valuable.
Wirephotos often, but don't always, have the news service's
stamp on back. They sometimes have paper tags.
Qualities that identify wirephotos
** Tiny horizontal or vertical lines in the image. The wirephotos
were developed in lines, much like a computer print or television
image. In fact, the wirephoto machine was the father of the television.
In the receiving wirephoto machine, the emitted light was slowly
passed over the photographic paper line by line. Under close
inspection the wirephoto will often have a line pattern. Sometimes
it can be seen up close with the naked eye. Sometimes a magnifying
glass is needed. It often appears as jaggedness to a person or
car's edge in the image. If there was an interruption in the
telephone line during transmission, there sometimes is an obvious
'break' line, squiggles or similar marks in the image. The line
pattern is the ultimate way to identify wirephotos.
** A photograph of the caption, rather than the physical caption.
During the making of many wirephotos, they would place the paper
caption strip at the bottom of the source photograph, and that
would be part of the scanned image sent through the telephone
wires. The resulting wirephoto will have the caption as part
of the photographic image. If you run your fingers across the
caption you won't feel it.
Wirephotos that have the caption in the front image are almost
always vintage to the date given to the caption ('AP Wirepoto,
12-1-1962: John F. Kennedy visits with
"). This means
it's easy to date most wirephotos.
** Oversized, irregular borders. If you've ever put a document
in a Xerox machine or computer scanner you know that if the document
is smaller than the scanning bed you will end up with a Xerox
or scan showing the document surrounded by a background. If you
are making a digital image for an auction, you will often crop
out the background clutter. This is often the case with wirephotos.
The wirephoto machine's bed was often bigger than the source
photo, and the resulting wirephoto can have a 'picture within
a picture' effect or white borders with irregular dimensions
(e.g., one edge much wider than the others). Some wirephotos
have normal borders.
** Lesser quality than the source. Wirephotos often have nice
and presentable images, but many wirephotos have faded or muddy
images. At first glance, they will usually appear less crisp
and rich than an original image. This in part explains why the
original photo is more desirable than the wirephoto made from
it. If a vintage ACME or AP photo has a crystal clear image,
it is an original photograph. If the photo has a less clear image,
with blemishes and little squiggles or marks and less image detail,
it probably is a wirephoto.
Laserphotos, which were the replacement to wirephotos,
existed from the 1970s-90s. They have the same general appearance
as wirephotos. They will ordinarily have in-the-image captions
that state they are laserphotos, along with the irregular white
Few buyers and sellers correctly use the term 'wirephoto.' They
usually use the term to describe all sorts of photos, including
true wirephotos, original photos, newspaper photos and other
press photos. I have seen sellers offer '1910s wirephotos.' The
problem being that the wirephoto process wasn't invented until
This means that when an online seller is offering a '1955
Mickey Mantle original wirephoto,' you can't always be sure what
is being offered. Does the seller mean it's a wirephoto? Does
the seller mean by 'original' it was the original photo the wirephoto
was made from (and of better image quality and desirability)?
It can be a guessing game for the potential bidder.
1960s UPI and AP wirephotos with the
irregular border dimensions and pictures-only of the caption
(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com
all rights reserved