I have an old photo of a woman that is in a very thick beveled glass and on the back it has print stating "Photo Chromography". It is an advertisement saying "This the most recent discovery in photographic Science which a life like reproduction can be made. Send any photograph or tin type in color. They are all made on this heavy plate glass and sold complete with a handsome wire easel for $1.50 each and your original photo will be returned. From the Novelty Photo Co."

First of all I don't find the word "Chromography" online — only "Chromatography". I would really like to know when this process was first used so I can get an idea how old this is. The picture of the woman is during the Civil War era but they could have used any era photo for advertising purposes.

  • 1
    I would have to do more digging to before adding a proper answer with dates, but in the meantime you could try adding "-chromatography" to your searches to filter out the 'helpful corrections' search engines are likely to attempt if you want to look more for yourself. [I got a number of good photography hits with it, but didn't quickly find clear dates.] Mar 26 '19 at 23:57
  • Could you provide a photo of the photo?
    – flolilo
    Mar 27 '19 at 0:01

The word is fairly generic, and seems like it could easily have been applied separately to a number of different things. For example, I found this from 1969 — "A new electronic method called Chromography re-creates paintings in such exact detail that experts find it difficult to tell the Chromograph from the original." — but I think this booklet from 1871 is probably most relevant. That certainly fits your Civil War era identification. From the booklet:


By this simple process any person unaccustomed to painting, and ignorant of art, may colour photographs, and produce, with rapidity and little trouble, effective, permanent, and beautiful pictures, so soft and delicate as to closely resemble painting on enamel; may render the treasured family portrait doubly valuable by addingt he warm tints of life to the faithful but cold and deathlike production of the photographer, and produce a pleasing as well as a truthful representation. The largest and the smallest work maybe painted with equal facility — the life-size portrait, or a miniature for a locket — the only qualification for success, even in very elaborate pictures, being taste in the arrangement of the colours.

The booklet consists of half a dozen pages of instructions, and then as many pages of advertisement for materials.

The process described is to apply a "Diaphanous Varnish" to the printed photograph so the paper becomes translucent, and then paint on the back side. It is not at all as automatic as the flowery description indicates. (For example, the instructions say "First apply the appropriate colour (pink) to the lips and cheeks very sparingly, softening the latter with a dry brush.")

I expect from the quote on your advertisement that some enterprising individual took this and decided to make a business of it. However, the process described in this booklet is destructive, and were it applied to the photo sent in, returning the original would have been impossible. Perhaps the entrepreneur first made a photographic reproduction, or perhaps they're using the same word to describe an entirely different process of coloring.

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