Speaking of Antiquing – February 2016
You can picture yourself sitting on that sandy lakeshore while the elegant white swans swim freely on the deep blue water, the majestic snowy mountains loom in the background. The swans have an insatiable appetite for bread chunks that are tossed into the murky water. They swim toward a little blond boy in a red jacket.
A very narrow, partially rutted, dirt road winds through the tall redwood forest. The huge trunks are dappled with sunshine and the light green moss on the bark of the trees stands out against the dark green of the conifers standing all around. There is just a hint of a sun-washed blue sky above.
The lone Asian sail boat floats on a very light blue lake in the foreground of Mount Fuji. A single fisherman guides the boat as he stands against a colorless sky. The tall sail appears higher than the mighty mountain, and reflects itself deep in the ripples of the water.
The famed California Coastline at Cypress Point. The weather-worn cypress tree stands alone on an outcropping of rock where the wind and the waves bend it in storms, yet it creates a meditative calm in the peace of blue water.
I have been collecting hand-colored photographs most of my life and I find them captivating. You don’t know where that particular spot of beauty is, but one day you hope to find it. I have one of Reflection Lake with Mount Rainier in the back ground that is all black and white, save for a few green shrubs in the foreground. It has always amazed me that the artist left so much uncolored, yet it is a work of art.
The age of hand-colored photography occurred between the early 1900’s and the 1940’s. A prominent photographer spent 35 years selling his hand-colored photography from his studio, his name was Wallace Nutting. He was a New England minister and often used the homes and farms of his parish for his subjects. His exterior and interior scenes of New England home life launched him to become the bestselling hand-colored photographer of all time. His depictions of a woman standing at the hearth, cooking the family meal over the fire, with the kettle on a brass swing arm, vibrant, hand-braided rugs on the wooden floor, inviting high back chairs and dark wood tables evoke a timeless comfortableness. You can feel the bright cheeriness of the room. The exterior scenes make you want to put on your boots and walk around the farm. He signed most of his work and they are highly prized today.
Between 1915 and 1925 hand-colored photographs were popular in the US, Canada, Bermuda and the Bahamas as affordable, stylish wedding gifts, holiday gifts, and vacation souvenirs. In many vacations spots, including our own Crater Lake, photographs were hand-colored on site and sold in gift shops.
By the 1950s, the availability of color film all but curtailed the production of the hand-colored photographs. The popularity of antiques and collectibles from the 1960’s to now have increased interest in this art.
If you must reframe, retain as much of the original wood backing, frame, and hardware as possible and use acid free archival quality paperboard, retaining any signatures or notes about the photograph that might be present.