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Vintage Guildford Views That Had A Touch Of Colour

Published on: 19 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 21 Feb, 2021

By David Rose

The picture postcard boom from the early 1900s onwards, that soon saw millions of cards being issued of street scenes and other views, was at a time before colour photography was commonplace.

To enhance monochrome images, publishers developed ways of adding colour, from simple and labour-intensive hand tinting to other sophisticated printing methods.

This and the other nine picture postcard views here were published by the Photochrom Company Ltd of London and Tunbridge Wells. Scanned from the original cards, David Rose Collection. Click on each image to enlarge in a new window.

The postcards featured here of Guildford views and issued in about the 1920s were published by the printers Photochrom Company Ltd of London and Tunbridge Wells.

Details about the firm on the website metropostcard.com states: “In 1896 they took over Fussli’s London office, established three years earlier, and began publishing photo-chromolithographic postcards after securing the exclusive English licence for the Swiss photochrom process.

“This technique was used to produce a great number of view-cards of both England and Europe. While they captured the same fine details as the Swiss prints their pallet was much softer and reduced.”

Photochrom Ltd also printed high-quality posters for London Underground, along with Christmas cards, tourist albums and guide books.

Its output of postcards included those printed in monochrome and color as well as those on real photographic paper. Along with topographical and panoramic views, there were also cards covering topics such as advertising, comic, silhouette, novelty and notable artist-signed cards. It’s reckoned the number of titles Photochrom produced may exceed 40,000.

These 10 postcards of Guildford views are much the same scenes as scores of other publishers also coveted – the High Street, Castle Grounds, the River Wey, as well as the Silent Pool and the countryside around St Martha’s Hill.

They may have been issued as a set, or perhaps issued at different times. Note the serial numbers are not consecutive, that may indicate the photos were not all taken on the same day when a photographer visited Guildford.

Someone may have bought them all together, choosing them from the racks of postcards on sale at a Guildford stationers, newsagent or other shop. We will never know, but none of them were ever postally used.

Therefore it’s likely they were bought to be put into an album. Collecting postcards, particularly views of streets and other places and landmarks, was a hobby many people enjoyed back then, and still do – especially as these vintage images are a fascinating window into yesterday’s world.

For the technically minded, the original Swiss Photochrom process, as given on Wikipedia, states: “A tablet of lithographic limestone called a ‘litho stone’ was coated with a light-sensitive surface composed of a thin layer of purified bitumen dissolved in benzene.

“A reversed halftone negative was then pressed against the coating and exposed to daylight (10 to 30 minutes in summer, up to several hours in winter), causing the bitumen to harden in proportion to the amount of light passing through each portion of the negative. Then a solvent such as turpentine was applied to remove the unhardened bitumen and retouch the tonal scale, strengthening or softening tones as required. Thus the image became imprinted on the stone in bitumen.

“Each tint was applied using a separate stone that bore the appropriate retouched image. The finished print was produced using at least six, but more commonly 10 to 15, tint stones.”

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