We are very pleased to offer a wide variety of photochroms from the turn of the 19th century that were printed by the Detroit Photographic Company. These are fine examples of the art of photographic printing reflecting the diversity of natural history and human endeavor that is also revealed in photogravures from Ferdinand Ongania’s Views of Venice (1891); Verneuil’s Encyclopedia de la Plante (ca 1900); Blossfeldt’s Urformen der Kunst (1928-29); and Baril’s tritone photographic prints in Botanica (2000).
Photochroms are produced by a color photo-lithographic process in which a black and white photographic negative is applied to multiple lithograph stones and colors are added, one stone at a time. The Detroit Photographic Company brought the people of the United States the very first color photographs and later extended their business into printed, colored post cards which were very popular at the time and which, to this day, are highly sought after by collectors of ephemera.
The Detroit Photographic Company, known as the Detroit Publishing Company beginning in 1905 until it liquidated its assets in 1932, brought the photochrom process from Switzerland in 1897. Late in 1897, William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), noted American photographer joined the company as a partner, adding thousands of negatives of USA landmarks produced by Jackson to the company’s inventory. Jackson had been a photographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1870s, which took him all over the west and cemented his reputation as one of the foremost landscape photographers of his time. During the 1880s Jackson continued to travel extensively, photographing hotels, city views, railroad lines, important buildings, and more. Jackson was taken with the photochrom process because it captured color so naturalistically, and he would devote himself to it in his last years of active photography. (Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst, MA)
In 1939 Jackson gave the Detroit Publishing Company negatives and prints to the Edison Institute (now known as the Henry Ford Museum) in Dearborn, Michigan. In 1949, the Edison Institute gave all of the negatives and many duplicate photographs to the Colorado Historical Society. The Colorado Historical Society transferred most of the negatives and prints for sites east of the Mississippi as well as others to the United States Library of Congress later that year.
The photochroms we are offering are taken by a large format camera and therefore show extraordinary detail. They are the largest of the photochrom prints published, with the exception of the panoramic views the Detroit Photographic Company produced, and each is approximately 7 x 9 inches. By contrast, their postcards are 3 x 5 inches. Most have the number of the print and subject matter embossed just above the lower edge. While many have a copyright date, these dates do not necessarily correspond to the date the photograph was taken, often years earlier. There is nothing written on the verso and the condition overall is excellent with very few minor creases in a small number of the prints.