Backprinting on 20th Century Photographic Paper

The Paul Messier Historic Photographic Papers Collection Backprinting Project

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The photographic paper backprinting project began in June, 2007, and stemmed from an interest in documenting manufacturer applied markings while also providing a broad method for dating photographic prints with such markings. Marking presented on this site are from fiber-based gelatin silver papers.

Paul Messier began collecting photographic papers in the late 1990s. The collection now comprises approximately 5,500 papers most of which are fully catalogued. The papers date from the late 19th century to the present. Papers enter the collection from manufacturer sample books and original packages of unexposed paper like the ones shown at right. Most papers are North American and European in origin.

Once the papers are received, they are catalogued by manufacturer, brand, date, surface finish and other attributes. For unexposed papers, a sample is removed from the manufacturer package and is fixed in the darkroom. These samples are placed into binders organized chronologically by manufacturer and brand.

For this project, the binders of fixed paper samples as well as manufacturer sample books were surveyed for backprinting. Of the over 3,000 samples assessed for this project, only 278 examples of backprinting were discovered (excluding special "postcard" papers, especially popular in the 1930's and 1940's). Once compiled, the papers were scanned, acquiring a detail, pattern and color version of each instance of backprinting (see scanning details for technical information on these scans). The resulting scans were then organized by manufacturer and date of production. To provide additional context, the scans on this site are accompanied by key cataloguing information as well images of the paper packaging or sample book cover.

Dating the European papers in the collection is a particular challenge, since most European manufacturers did not date stamp packages or sample books. Therefore the manufacture dates for the Agfa papers and the Kodak-London papers on this site have been estimated based research into the companies’ production histories, through analyzing emulsion codes, and by comparing logos and packaging with dated samples. The estimated dates presented on this site should be accurate within 5 years.

This project was made possible by Katrina Bartlett, Annika Bentley, Andrew Finlayson, Jennifer McGlinchey, Diane Tafilowski, and Lauren Varga who did most of the cataloguing work.

- Christina Finlayson & Paul Messier, Boston, 2007

packages of photographic paper
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