This chapter is a quick
overview to the rest of the book.
* * * *
Photographic process: The way in which a photographic
image is made. A particular process is distinguished by its unique
use of chemicals, substances and methods.
Photographic print: The image created by the photographic
process. A particular print is made by a particular process.
For example, the albumen print is created by the albumen process,
while the gelatin-silver process creates the gelatin-silver print.
Photographic style or type: The combination of the
photographic print and the manner in which it is displayed. The
cabinet card is a style of photograph which is comprised of a
photographic print pasted to a larger cardboard mount measuring
about 4-1/2" X 6-1/2". The panorama is a different
style, with a long photographic print usually giving a sweeping
view of a town, stadium or line of people.
* * * *
Photography is the process of creating an image on a chemically
sensitized surface by interaction with light. The resulting image
is usually called a photographic print.
Over history there have been many different photographic processes.
Some processes were used long ago, some recently, some had a
long duration, some short, some processes were widely used, while
others were obscure. Each process produces a unique photographic
print that can be identified. Qualities such as color, surface
texture and type of aging help us distinguish one type of print
from another. For example, the cyanotype has a bright blue image
on matte paper, while the cibachrome has a true color image on
ultra glossy paper. The image can also be examined under a microscope
in order to uncover tiny clues.
A particular process and its print share the same name. The
gum bichromate print was produced by the gum bichromate process,
the platinotype process produced the platinotype print.
Different photographic processes produce prints
with different image colors.
* * * *
Photographs come in various styles and types. The style or
type is determined by many things, including size, shape, parts
and use. For example, a real photo postcard (a postcard with
a photographic image on the back) is a style obviously distinct
from a 20 by 20 inches photo that is matted, framed and hung
from the wall.
As with processes and prints, each style of photograph has its
own history, usually influenced by a combination of fashion,
necessity and technology.
Many prints and styles could be interchanged. For example
the carte de visite (a style where a small photographic print
was pasted to a card) usually used the albumen print, but it
sometimes used different types of prints.
Many early photographs weren't made of paper, but glass and
metal. Well known metal and glass photographs include the 1800s
Daguerreotype (image on silver coated copper), ambrotype (image
on glass), tintype (image on iron resembling tin) and glass negative
(negative image on glass). These are popular with collectors
and, due to their non-paper material, easy to identify.
Identifying and dating photographs
Sports photographs are identified and dated by looking at
all the qualities of the photograph. This includes the image
subject (baseball player, track runner, Green Bay Packer football
team), photographic style, photographic process and other indications
Photographic processes and styles have distinct histories
that help us to date a photograph. For example, almost all albumen
prints are from the 1800s while the Polaroid was invented in
1963. The American real photo postcard was introduced in 1901,
while the cabinet card was used in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Knowledge of processes and styles is essential to identify and
If the subject of the photograph is from the 1880s, the style
is from the 1880s and the photographic process is the kind used
in the 1880s, it would appear the photograph is from the 1880s.
Particularly at sale or auction, the photograph will already
be labeled and you will judge whether or not the label is accurate.
If the seller says the baseball photo is from the 1860s, you
look at the player's uniform and equipment and style of cabinet
to determine if the sport and date is accurate. If the seller
is a well known and respected photograph dealer, her opinion
may hold great weight. You may feel that the seller is more of
an expert on the particular sport than you. If the eBay seller
has horrible feedback and no history of selling photographs,
you will be skeptical of his word.
Forgeries and reprints are identified because qualities of
the photograph are in major conflict with each other. If the
image is of Babe Ruth in the 1920s but the paper is modern, the
photo is a reprint.
Many fakes are genuine photographs that are significantly
misidentified. Many 'baseball tintypes' are genuine 1800s tintypes
but do not picture a baseball player. It may picture an 1870s
fireman, firemen of the time having similar uniforms as baseball
players. The seller with a case of wishful thinking may call
a farmer's heavy work glove a baseball glove.
While an eBay photo may be an original cabinet card of a boxer,
the seller may have misdated it. Considering an 1860s cabinet
card is rarer than a 1910s cabinet card, the misdating may effect
Many photographs have stamps, tags and stickers that help
in identification. These can identify the photographer, issuer
(magazine, sports team, other) and help give a date. If the authentic
stamp is from a photo agency that went out of business in 1940,
that would show that the photograph was made in 1940 or earlier.
If the back of a Jim Thorpe 8x10 photo has 1990s Kodak photo
paper printing, the photo is identified as a modern reprint.
As described in a later chapter, a black light is an easy
to use tool to identify many reprints and forgeries, as it identifies
modern photo paper.
(c) david rudd cycleback, cyclback.com
all rights reserved