Colouring: Tinting

The most common method of colouring in these postcards is tinting, the selective application of colour to the image. Like the painted backdrop, tinting has been used in photography since the earliest, daguerreotype years. Tinting was very commonly used in the fantasy postcards of the 1900s and 1910s. However, by the early 1920s, the tinted colours were more varied, brighter, and bolder, while the tinting itself grew increasingly extensive and intricate.

AN 619  (464x700) SoL 2504 (452x700)

(left: tinted postcard ca. 1910; right, tinted postcard dated 1924)

The degree of tinting seen in these postcards ranges from relatively subtle:

pc paris 1910 (432x700)

to strikingly colourful:

a noyer 2517 (440x700)


The tinting was done by hand, usually with the aid of stencils. Different stencils would be cut for each colour of each image (possibly with the aid of the kind of stencil-cutting machines used for hand-tinting film in this period), with dyes applied over the stencils by hand. These stencils were often very intricately cut:

carmen 184 hi def

pc paris 2639-2 - Copy

and indeed, the use of stencils can be difficult to realize until one finds mis-alignments:

pc paris 1044 hi def (353x259)

Stencils were also used to apply patterns to solid stretches of fabric:

sol 4026 (307x700)

and for dot patterns tracing the lines of patterns and/or pearl necklaces:

bleuet 827 (700x489)

On the rare occasions of finding both tinted and non-tinted versions of the same photograph or photoshoot, it can be fascinating to see which stenciled patterns actually existed:

Pc Paris 2781 (464x700) PC Paris 2781-2 (372x700)

and which didn’t:

pc paris 3178-3 pc paris 3178

Airbrushing was also used alongside tinting, mostly for the application of blush to cheeks:

PC paris 3558

and coloured “blushes” to backgrounds:

leo 775

Occasionally a bit of freehand was used as well:

pc paris 1044 hi def - Copy - Copy (447x700) - Copy

very occasionally, for wonderful small details like the red embers at the end of these cigarettes:

pc paris 1044 hi def - Copy (533x400)

In tinted photoshoots, main colours–usually clothing and background blush–usually varied between two different options with the different images:

leo 358-2 (445x700) leo 358-3 (438x700)

Sometimes even identical images recieved slightly different colour treatments–in this instance, only the background blush has changed (minor variation in shades elsewhere is due to different scanners):

rex 2609 (190x300) Rex 2609-2 (188x300)

Tinted photographs in this time period were common at both the professional and amateur level, as, in fact, were tinted films. The makers of these postcards weren’t doing anything strikingly different, but they certainly had their own twist.

Next: Toning

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