Photochroms of Netherlands from 1890s

Netherlands literally means “lower countries”, influenced by its low land and flat geography, with only about 50% of its land exceeding one metre above sea level. Most of the areas below sea level are artificial. Since the late 16th century, large areas (polders) have been reclaimed from the sea and lakes, amounting to nearly 17% of the country’s current land mass.

Photochrom is a process for producing colorized images from black-and-white photographic negatives via the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates. The process is a photographic variant of chromolithography (color lithography). The process was invented in the 1880s by Hans Jakob Schmid (1856–1924), an employee of the Swiss company Orell Gessner Füssli—a printing firm whose history began in the 16th century. Füssli founded the stock company Photochrom Zürich (later Photoglob Zürich AG) as the business vehicle for the commercial exploitation of the process and both Füssli and Photoglob continue to exist today. From the mid-1890s the process was licensed by other companies, including the Detroit Photographic Company in the US (making it the basis of their “phostint” process), and the Photochrom Company of London. The photochrom process was most popular in the 1890s, when true color photography was first developed but was still commercially impractical.

In 1898 the US Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act which let private publishers produce postcards. These could be mailed for one cent each, while the letter rate was two cents. Publishers created thousands of photochrom prints, usually of cities or landscapes, and sold them as postcards. In this format, photochrom reproductions became popular. The Detroit Photographic Company reportedly produced as many as seven million photochrom prints in some years, and ten to thirty thousand different views were offered. After World War One, which ended the craze for collecting Photochrom postcards, the chief use of the process was for posters and art reproductions. The last Photochrom printer operated up to 1970.

A canal in Amsterdam. / Image: Library of Congress
A canal in the Hague. / Image: Library of Congress
The beach at Scheveningen. / Image: Library of Congress
Amsterdam Gate, Haarlem. / Image: Library of Congress
The Knights’ Hall in the Hague. / Image: Library of Congress
Coolvest, Rotterdam. / Image: Library of Congress
Children on Marken Island. / Image: Library of Congress
Windmills. / Image: Library of Congress
The great market, Nijmegen. / Image: Library of Congress
Oude Gracht Bakkerbrug, Utrecht. / Image: Library of Congress
Arcade, Rotterdam. / Image: Library of Congress
Catharine Bridge and windmill, Haarlem. / Image: Library of Congress