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I am trying to figure out approximate dates for some old photo prints. A lot of them have codes printed in one of the front corners (e.g. "Jan M491", "Jun M391", "Aug M488", etc.)

The first 3 characters obviously seem to be the month they were printed, but I am not sure about the last 4 characters. The last 2 could represent the year, but they could be totally unrelated. The above examples appear on prints that definitely were from somewhere around the 1991 and 1988 timeframes, but that could just be a coincidence and I'd like to be sure.

The codes are not unique. There are batches of photos that definitely came from the same roll and have the same code on the print.

Attached is an example of the code in the top right corner of a print. The second example with Jun M289 is 100% from Jun 1989, since that graduation took place in May 1989. This makes me strongly think the last 2 digits are the year, but it would be great if someone could confirm those codes work that way.

I've searched many sites related to dating old photos, but I haven't found any mention of that type of code.

Does anyone know how to interpret those codes?

Thanks!!

enter image description here

enter image description here

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you please post a scan. Also, mention what camera was used, if you know. This code you are seeing, overlaid on the image, could be made by the camera or by the printer. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Jan 23, 2022 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I don't remember what type of camera it was. The code is definitely from the printer, not the camera. I see it on the print, but not on the negative. I'll add an example to my post. \$\endgroup\$
    – user104570
    Jan 23, 2022 at 18:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since you haven't received any good info yet, I'll comment just to say that I've never seen imprints like this before. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Jan 24, 2022 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are these professional prints? The paper looks to be 'lustre' which was used commonly for studio prints. The Date and the Code would have been used to ID for reordering, however if you're saying all have the same 3Digits or similar that rules that out. The thin border on the side almost looks as if it was printed in a darkroom with an easel. I never saw any prints with that type of code in Indiana where I worked, and never saw any at Kodak or heard of it from the professional realm. \$\endgroup\$
    – J.Hirsch
    Jan 24, 2022 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the feedback. I'm sure they are not professional prints. I don't know where they were printed, but it probably would have been some chain like Walgreens or something. The thin border is actually from a print underneath the top one. I will post a better example. I have prints that are definitely from the same roll and they all have the same code. \$\endgroup\$
    – user104570
    Jan 24, 2022 at 14:22

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Thank you for the full image post. Did you crop or cut any 'white lines' around the edges when you scanned it?

The more I've puzzled over it the more I believe these to have been printed 'by hand'. The earlier one you had cropped showed (what appeared to be) studded walls with open wiring, and was rotated 90 degrees.

What it looks to be is a date/time stamp placed on a thin piece of cellophane and/or acetate then placed in the corner of the easel. If that were the case you'd find it on every print. It wouldn't have been unusual to have multiple easels (I had owned 3- small for small prints, a 'large' one up to 11x14, and a gigantic one that didn't go much anywhere for bigger). Most mechanisms I can think of creating the stamp- and it looks very consistent, would leave additional artifacts between layers- so I wonder if this was as simple as using a rubber stamp with the codes.

The cars in that photo definitely are of the vintage of the date stamp. That leaves the "M4" or "M3"- and Leica did produce film cameras with that designation (M4 or M3)- and it was very 'cool' during that time to be using old Leicas as they were very silent for street photography. If this was a custom 'legend stamping' to help the owner remember which was which... I could think of other ways of doing it but a lot of this is conjecture.

If all you ever see is M3 and M4... could there have been two people taking photos, and that was who had the negs?

I would feel confident in saying MONTH and YEAR, with the M3/M4 being the tossup.

On the back of the paper too there should some writing indicating who manufactured the paper.

http://gawainweaver.com/images/uploads/file/Ektacolor%20Backprint%20Chronology.pdf

This might help datestamp the time period for Kodak .

More scans would help, especially if there were blade artifacts around the edge of the print- that would (prove to me) they were hand printed- which was a lot of work at the time.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the effort helping me with this. Here are some answers: There were no white lines cropped out around the edges when I scanned it. FYI: The earlier image was not rotated. It was from a kitchen remodel and that was the framing of a soffit. I have seen examples with M1 and M2 in addition to M3 and M4 All of the photos were taken by me and I think with the same camera. It was most likely not a Leica. I don't recall the manufacturer or the model, but it was not an SLR and was fairly inexpensive. \$\endgroup\$
    – user104570
    Jan 24, 2022 at 23:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Of the prints with those style codes on the front, a lot of them have "Konica Long Life 100" on the back. There are also many with nothing on the back though. I took these photos and would have brought them to a cheap place to process. They've been consolidated over the years, so the envelopes don't match the photos, but they are all from places like Ritz Camera and CVS Picture Place. There are also envelopes that say "Quality Photo Systems". I'm guessing that was a 3rd party processing service used by some chain. \$\endgroup\$
    – user104570
    Jan 24, 2022 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually you just gave a ton of helpful information! Were those tags in the corners on all the images too? So now we know you're operating in a 'minilab' type environment- and that is super helpful. Just to double check though I'm not chasing a ghost here- Pull out one of the negatives (doesn't matter) and look in the corner on the neg itself to make sure there isn't the date/timestamp (usually they were burned in orange, not white, but...) \$\endgroup\$
    – J.Hirsch
    Jan 25, 2022 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Where should I look for the date/timestamp? The corner of the image itself on the negative? \$\endgroup\$
    – user104570
    Jan 25, 2022 at 1:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user104570 Yes. See if there is any evidence of the label in the corner of each image on the negatives. Also, what film size/format are the negatives? Are they 35mm/135 format? Or something else? What are the width and height measurements of the exposed part of each negative? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Jan 26, 2022 at 4:20

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