In the previous two installments of our vintage photograph collecting series, we discussed some basic concepts and outlined considerations for collectors who are new to old photographs (see: Photography Class: Vintage Photograph Collecting Tips). We also touched upon the need for standardizing and applying terminology consistently in this genre, especially surrounding old transmitted photographs that were used by printed publications such as newspapers (see: Photography Class: On the Wire). Though the article wasn’t specifically written in conjunction with this developing series, our article, A Negative Original: Vintage Photo Fraud discusses both the fraudulent side of this collecting genre and a few specific areas to pay attention to when considering a vintage photograph for purchase.
This installment in the series is a continuation of our discussion surrounding photos that were previously employed within the printed media process and provides an introduction into back-marked or back-stamped images.
In our article regarding wire transmitted photographs, we touched upon some of the information that accompanies these photographs. In (almost) all situations with this particular type of photograph, the image will be marked on the reverse with stamps to indicate the source agency, date that the image was captured, date that the image was published and even the publications archival information. Much of this same information will also accompany press or news photos. The following list is a fairly complete collection of the most common marks found on Twentieth Century news photographs:
- ACME, ACME Newspictures, ACME Photos: 1923 to 1952. Early on known as United Newspictures. Purchased by United Press in the 1950s.
- Associated Press Photos (AP). 1926-93. AP wirephotos existed 1935-1970s. AP Laserphotos 1970s-90s.
- Bain News Service, 1898-1930s. Founded by early baseball photographer George Grantham Bain, this was a pioneer news services.
- Central Press Association of Cleveland was in service for many years and started in the first part of the 20th Century. Back stamps often include an accompanying date.
- Culver Pictures Inc, of New York City, was formed in the early 1900s and exists today. This means the Culver stamp can appear on both an early and a modern photo. Culver acquired a significant portion of the Bain News Service archives adding their stamp to older Bain images.
- Harris and Ewing: 1905-45 was a Washington D.C. photo service; subjects are predominantly sports and politicians.
- International News: 1909-1957. Many of this major news service’s images bear the stamp, International News. Back markings can be easily dated:
- International News Service – 1909-15
- International Film Service – 1915-20
- International – 1915-1922
- International Newsreel – 1922-28
- International News Photo – 1928-57
- Keystone View Company, New York. Existed in the early 1900s.
- N.E.A.: 1923-52. Synonymous with ACME Newspictures. An ACME photo will often also have an N.E.A. stamp.
- Pacific and Atlantic Photos: 1921-31
- Underwood & Underwood, aka Underwood: 1910s-30s
- United Newpictures : 1923-25
- United Press (UP). United Press issued news photos from the late 19th century through the 1958 when it merged with International News Service becoming United Press International (UPI).
- United Press Association (UPA). A synonym for United Press, this stamp was only used only during the 1950s.
- Universal Press International (UPI), 1958 – Today. UPI made originals and modern photos of modern subjects. However, UPI also made ‘printed later’ photos of 1910s-30s subjects, noted as modern by the UPI stamp on back. These reprints can have high quality images, as UPI had a huge archive of new and old negatives. These UPI reprints of folks like Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson in their playing days have fooled many collectors, who don’t realize UPI is a modern company.
- World Wide Photos, 1919 to Present.
Aside from the news-source stamps adorning former press photographs, collectors might also observe the presence of markings from the photographers who captured and printed the images. As these photos are deaccessioned from print media archives, they are often purchased in bulk re-sellers who scan and inventory each piece for reselling to the collector market. As part of the process, re-sellers apply their own stamps, tags or both to the image backs making for quite an array of information for collectors to discern.
Photos that cover military subjects or were captured in or near sensitive combat areas could contain information that, if an image was to fall into the wrong hands, could have proven to be detrimental to operations or personnel. Depending upon the unit size, function or location, a layer of security control was established to provide oversight and approval of photographs prior to releasing to the media. This element separates vintage baseball photographs (from the armed forces) from those documenting the professional game with applied markings from unit or branch public relations or public affairs offices or even war department censor approval markings.
In many cases, vintage photographs will bear the markings of the photographer. The most well-known of the early photographers and perhaps the creators of the most collectible images were working in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Charles Conlan, George Grantham Bain and George Burke captured the most iconic photographs of baseball’s early stars. Photos bearing their markings are the most sought after and garner significantly higher values on the collector market. George Brace, the aforementioned Burke’s younger business partner, continued to reprint images from Burke’s archive (Burke passed in 1951, leaving his archive with his young apprentice) up until his death in the late 1980s. Most original prints from these four photographers were back-marked – Conlon’s photos with considerable inconsistency.
One aspect of collecting retired press photographs to be aware of is that many of the prints will have alterations applied directly to the image-surface by an editorial staff illustrator. In an era that predates digital photo editing (with applications such as Adobe PhotoShop), corrections were made by hand to ensure that the half-toning (part of the preparation in the newspaper printing process) will translate the focus and details of the photograph will stand out on the newsprint. Enhancing details or spotlighting an individual is done by applying varying colors of paint (with artist’s brushes) providing definition to edges or creating masking around a person. Collectors should be aware that these nuances might not be distinguishable on-screen in seller’s snapshots of the vintage photograph.
Although collecting retired and deaccessioned vintage press and news photographs has experienced a rise in popularity among hobbyists bring more attention and demand (which has impacted valuations), this area is still one of the more affordable avenues for building a baseball image archive. Depending upon the vintage photograph’s subject (the caliber of player, the setting, pose, etc.), collector-demand can drive the value into the hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars. Vintage photographs of baseball players (including those who were then or became legends) in their military service uniforms or their military baseball flannels are typically more affordable, however their availability is considerably limited.
- Tips for Identifying Authentic Vintage News Photos
- The Genie is Out of the Bottle on the Next Big Thing: Vintage Baseball Photos
- Collecting Sportscards and Photographs: A Perfect Match