Photochrom / Phostint, Detroit Photographic / Detroit Publishing Company

This was a presentation to the San Francisco Bay Area Post Card Club on June 29th, 2013. You can click on the following slide to move through the slideshow.  On the later slides clicking will enlarge the image.

The postcards are all from my collection with the exception of the two 14,000 Series artist postcards and five of the Schmucker postcards.  The images of the DPC, the process, proof page, and little Phostint Journeys are all from the Henry Ford Museum website.

Although I’ve only been collecting postcards since November of 2012, I’ve been studying William Henry Jackson and the Detroit Photographic/Detroit Publishing company since 1977.  At that time I was a graduate intern at the Colorado Historical Society, and was assigned the task of selecting photographs to be used in three exhibits.

I was intrigued, amazed, and fascinated by the William Henry Jackson Glass Negative Collection, and how the collection went far beyond the negatives of the Rocky Mountain Region that the Historical Society promotes–with many images of California.  Although the staff talked about receiving the negatives from the Henry Ford Museum; and that the Library of Congress received the negatives of the US east of the Mississippi and all international negatives, nothing was ever mentioned about postcards.

When it came time to write my thesis I chose to catalog the images of my hometown of San Diego.  When I went to Denver to work with the collection they had recently received the attribution lists from the CO State Archive and I was the first researcher to use the attributions.  To this date the Colorado Historical Society attributes all photographs in the collection to William Henry Jackson merely because they are part of the collection.

The negatives are all numbered, these numbers correspond to the numbers in the attribution books, but they do not correspond to the numbers on the postcards. I believe that the numbers for the postcards are in logs at the Henry Ford Museum.

What I noticed as I worked with the collection and wrote my thesis was that the images looked like they were advertisements and promoted the illusion of the West.  I knew that Jackson worked for many of the railroads and was hired by hotels during the Golden Age of large resorts that were built near the railroads at the turn of the 20th century, but I didn’t realize how Detroit Publishing got sponsorship by the railroads and hotels to get photos.

I began collecting postcards as a way to further my research into how photographs and postcards contributed to the development of the American West.

The Detroit Photographic Company created between 17,000 and 30,000 different postcards.  The discrepancy is because they used the same negative for different numbers, for DPC and contract images.  Two thirds were of America East of the Mississippi, and one third were of the West.  During the Golden Age of Postcards Detroit Publishing Co. produced over 7,000,000 postcards per year.  The first postcards were made in 1898.  The company went into bankruptcy in 1923, then closed in 1932.

The purpose or purposes of this corporation are as follows; To erect a factory, and manufacture and sell Photographs and Art Goods in colors by the Photochrom process, owned by the Photoglob Company of Zurich, Switzerland; the operations of this company to be confined to the United States and Canada.
Incorporation Papers,
December 17, 1895

Edwin H. (E.H.) Husher, a California photographer, heard about a new Swiss color printing process that offered the ability to have realistic looking color images of photos. The word “Photochrom” means color photos and the Swiss company’s name Photoglob means photos of the world.

Husher found a financial backer in William Livingstone Jr., whose father was a prominent Detroit banker and shipping magnate, and negotiated the terms for the North American franchise in 1895.  Initially the owners of Photoglob were also partners. It took two years to setup the business in Detroit–to install equipment and train staff. Photoglob sent factory trained technicians to Detroit to run the process.

In 1895 when Husher was initially setting up the company, he met with his friend, the prolific photographer of the American West, William Henry Jackson to see if he would be interested in joining the company.  Jackson didn’t formally begin work with Detroit Photographic Company until 1897.  He was offered $30,000 for his photographs–$25,000 in company stock and $5,000 in cash.  Initially he was a Director and Photographer, but after Husher left in 1902, Jackson became the plant manager.

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Detroit Photographic Staff William Henry Jackson front, center; William Livingstone Jr. Front left, Robert B. Livingstone second row left. From The Henry Ford

W.H. Jackson was an asset because of his long career as a photographer.  He brought with him over 5,000 negatives.  He was well known for being the photographer Ferdinand Hayden’s USGS expeditions to document and map the West.  Hayden, Jackson, and the artists who were part of the expedition helped to create Yellowstone as the first National Park in 1872.  They also helped to establish the Antiquities Act of 1906. Jackson was the first person to photograph Mesa Verde.

Jackson was also an artist and kept detailed journals, as well as sketch books.  These are important for colorizing the black and white negatives.  The photographers were required to make detailed notes for all photographs taken for DPC.

The Company had a total of eight photographers including Jackson, Husher, and Robert B. Livingstone. One was Henry Goddard Peabody, a photographer of ships and architecture.  Originally from Boston, he later settled in Los Angeles. His papers and photographs are at the Huntington Library.  Another is Lycurgus S. Glover, but I know little about him.

The company was originally known as Detroit Photographic–the name of the photo lab they merged with.  The negative process was originally known as Photochrom, but as  the postcard business increased, the name was changed to Detroit Publishing Company.  To differentiate themselves from the Swiss company and the other franchisee in England they changed the name of the process to Phostint.  By 1909 they stopped using the painter’s palette logo.

The photographers were sent out in specially furnished rail cars. The one Jackson used when he came to California in 1899 was the California Special.  The photographers were able to work and conduct business from the rail car.


30039 three men in railcar

They sold their photographs and postcards in stores. They had stores in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York, and other major cities.


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DPC Store from the Henry Ford Museum

They also sold through retail stores.

postcard shop
From the Library of Congress

DPC understood promotion and advertising. They took out ads in magazines and trade journals to promote the cards for use as educational tools to libraries, schools, and parents.

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These sets of 40 postcards were called Little “Phostint” Journeys. They came in boxes that looked like books, or later in specially designed boxes.

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They also offered sets of photos of specific topics and did work for many museums and organizations.

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The Process: a technician transferred the image onto stones–one for each color.  A typical postcard had eleven different colors.  The larger prints used many more colors.  For a good description of the process go to

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Although the Henry Ford website talks about 4×5 cameras, the majority of the negatives of the west were taken with 8×10 cameras, which offered exceptional quality.

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There are a number of variances.  The stones had a limited life, and if the postcard was popular it was reissued or updated with changes. Some changes were only to the format that was used at the time. Other changes were of color or even content. Some variances are minor such as tire marks in the street or the tide level.  In other cases the intensity of the color shifted from early to later runs.

Notice how the conductors in the postcard on the left, were changed to women selling pottery:

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Although we think that editing photos came with computers and software like Photoshop, editing has always been a part of photography.  DPC incorporated it in their work. The top set of pictures is of a builing with the original sign. The second photo was edited with an ad for Detroit Publishing Company.  The second set of pictures shows the toddler to the left. The second shows the toddler closer to the  other children.

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The Series

The format of the cards changed over the years.  The backs changed considerably, but I won’t address that here. For more information on the backs and the various series please refer to one of the various guides such as Nancy Stickels Stechschulte’s “The Detroit Publishing Company Postcards”.  It’s pricey–typically $125, but I was able to find one (with help from a sharp-eyed friend) for under $70 on eBay.

The subject matter is not always grouped together. There may be four or five of a location then another on it’s own twenty or thirty numbers later.  Because the photographers revisited many of the cities there may be postcards in many of the Series.

The first two series were the F Series in 1898 and the G Series in 1899. The F Series contained 92 cards and had two or three images clustered together.  The G Series had 35 cards with one image per card.  They were 3¼” x 51/2”; were created in small runs; and were considered experimental.  Card F1 was of Santa Barbara, California.

The 1000 Series was the first Series labeled Detroit Photographic Company. There are very few of the cards numbered 1-100. Which were vignettes. Further along in the sequence the images changed to rectangular, with room on the card to write a message.  Many of the lowest numbered cards are of San Francisco and Northern California.

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The dates given for the Series are not necessarily accurate, they are taken from Nancy S’s book.  There is a postcard for the U.S. Grant Hotel in the 12,000 Series, yet the hotel wasn’t built until 1912.

In 1901 the Series numbers jumped to 5,000 because DPC wanted to maintain numbering different from Photoglob and Photochrom England. Many duplicate the views in the 1,000 series.

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The 6,000 Series, that began in 1902 were what transitioned in the term Post Card. The format of this series has less variation.  According to Nancy S. “the 6,000 Series are the easiest to find.”

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The 7,000 series were published in 1903-1904 in the same design/format as the 6,000 Series.

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The 8,000 Series, 1904-1905, saw the transition to the larger 31/2” x 51/2” cards with undivided backs.  Used only “Detroit Publishing Company” They began to use the small pallet that appears on many cards.

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The 9,000 Series of 1905-1906 are similar to the 8,000 Series and use red ink for titles and numbers.

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The 10,000 Series 1906-1907, Had divided backs and the inscription ‘“Phostint” card made only by Detroit Publishing Company’.

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The 11,000 Series, 1907-1908, many cards have earlier copyright dates

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12,000 Series, 1908-1909, “Phostint” in use on back of all cards.  Small Pallet no longer used.

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13,000 Series, 1909-1910

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14,000 Series began in 1904-1905. Life Publishing Co., Harper & Brothers, Collier & Sons and artists such as Charles Dana Gibson, John Cecil Clay, Frederic Remington, James Montgomery Flagg. 14,900-14,999 are regular Phostint cards.

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50,000 Series is a traditional lithographic process with larger prints available.  They do not have the same look as the regular Photochrom process. The image of the right is a regular Photochrom shown for comparison.

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The 60,000 Series, 1905-1906, is the Art Reproduction Group, in sepia or black & white. I have no postcards in this series.

The 70,000 Series, 1911-1913 contains some three to five part panoramas.

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The 71,000 Series, 1913-1918. Some cards have “D” for Detroit. The year of printing can be found in Roman numerals at the base of the back dividing line.

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There are some sets (Panama-Pacific Expo and Panama-California Expo).

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The 72,000 Series, 1918-1972, end with card 72,275. It’s likely that the last card was published in 1923.

One group that I find interesting is the 24 World War 1 postcards.

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After 1923 when the company went into bankruptcy, Jackson left the company and Livingstone died in 1924, DPC concentrated on Contract Series–cards for other publishers including Fred Harvey.

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These cards are numbered for the company, unnumbered or use 79,000, 80,000, 81,000, and 82,000.

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Another well known Series is of signed artists. The postcards of Samuel Schmucker probably have the greatest resale value of all the cards. Many of the cards are part of a Series.

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I recommend spending time on the following websites to learn more about Detrooit Publishing Company; to view the postcards; or to view the original negatives. The Denver Public Library/History Colorado site is difficult to use, but well worth your time if you want to see what the original images look like.

For more information:
The Henry Ford Museum:
The Library of Congress:
Photochrom prints:
DPC Background:
The NY Public Library:
Leonard Lauder Collection:
The Curt Teich Postcard Archives:
The Denver Public Library/History Colorado
WH Jackson Collection:!p15330coll21!p15330coll22/searchterm/Jackson%20William%20Henry!calif/field/creato!all/mode/all!all/conn/and!and/order/nosort/page/2

(note the Denver Public Library site is difficult to move around and freezes up often, but it is well worth looking at the negatives to get an idea of the scope of Western images and what a long sought after postcard looks like.

For attribution of the negatives and information on this topic visit my website: Photography and the Development of the American West:

References, all are out of print, but available on eBay or Amazon:
Jackson, William Henry, “Time Exposure”
Lowe and Papell, “Detroit Publishing Company Collector’s Guide”
Davis, Jack & Ryan, Dottie, “Samuel L. Schmucker, the Discovery of his Lost Art”
Stechschulte, Nancy Stickels, “The Detroit Publishing Company Postcards”


4 thoughts on “Photochrom / Phostint, Detroit Photographic / Detroit Publishing Company

  1. What a great and informative web site! I have several of the postcards shown here, but I didn’t know (until now) all this information about them! Bjorn in San Diego

  2. Thanks for this site. It has been very helpful. I have been trying to find information on a set of phostints of the Grand Canyon. They appear to be the same images found on Fred Harvey postcards but are 6×9 prints. The serial #s run from D8231-36. I have not seen any of these size in any search.

    • You got me on that one. You might want to check with the Henry Ford Museum. The 6 x 9 size could be an Aam print, but those typically have gold lettering and are 50,000 series. The D was used for contracted cards when Detroit Publishing Co. used the image in their own catalog.
      According to Nancy Stickels Stechschulte’s book The Detroit Pupblishing Company Postcards, 8231-36 are images of Florida.
      Could you send me a scan of the print?

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