Reflections on Photochroms

The collections of the Prints & Photographs Division of the Library of Congress include thousands of photochroms. These early color prints were photomechanically reproduced so they weren’t photographs in the traditional sense. I spent some time looking through the photochroms, most of which date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, while working on a Flickr album of images of mirrors and reflections.

Neither a color photograph nor a hand colored image, a photochrom was made by combining the photographic process with the lithographic process. A black-and-white negative was transferred to a lithographic stone or plate. Each color of the photochrom required a separate stone. If the photochrom included four colors, four stones were needed to make the finished product.

I found many fantastic reflections that I didn’t use in the album. Enjoy a few of them below:

Sunset, Palmer Bridge, New York. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Co., 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a31795

Salisbury Cathedral From River. Photochrom by The Photochrom Co., Ltd., ca. 1890-1906. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.52427

Tower from the lake, Water Works Park, Detroit. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Co., ca. 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a31688

General view, sunset, Carnarvon Castle (i.e. Caernarfon), Wales. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Co.,  ca. 1890 and 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.07394

Nürnberg. Heil. Geistspital. Photochrom by Photoglob Company, ca. 1890-1906. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.52598

Isola Bella by moonlight, Lake Maggiore, Italy. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Co., between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.06534

Photochroms were sold at tourist sites and through mail order catalogs. As you have seen, the Library’s collection includes both foreign and domestic views.

The “Captain Visger” in Lost Channel, Thousand Islands. Photochrom by Detroit Publishing Co., 1901. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/det.4a31837

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5 Comments

  1. Sharon M.
    January 12, 2022 at 5:29 pm

    WOW!

  2. Dr. Ted
    January 13, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    Are these also known as Chromolithographs or is that something different altogether?

    • Jan Grenci
      January 18, 2022 at 8:40 am

      They are different. A chromolithograph is a type of color lithograph. However, it does not originate from a photographic negatives like a photochrom does.

  3. msd
    January 16, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    What beautiful photos. It took immense skill to produce these. Thanks for posting them.

  4. EHS
    January 18, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    This was a really helpful explanation of how photochrom images are made. Thank you. The Library has an extraordinary collection of these-I’m sure it was very hard to choose!

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