By Jason R. Roske
Hand Coloring Photography originated in the 19th Century. Daguerrotypes (images on glass) were the first photos to have color added to them. When the “Dag” was complete, the photographer would add color to the image to enhance interest, beauty and sales. A well done coloring makes an image seem more real and lifelike, thereby increasing desirability.
When most people think of hand colored photographs, Wallace Nutting comes to mind. Wallace Nutting was by far the most prolific producer of hand colored photos. He took over 50,000 pictures and published over 10,000 of them! His most prolific years were between 1915 and 1925 during which he employed over 200 people. Darkroom staff, colorists, salespeople and others were constantly working on his pictures.
His images varied greatly. He lived in over 10 states, visited most others and traveled the world. Always with camera at hand. His most popular and numerous images were of the New England countryside. He forever glorified the flowers, gardens, mountains and streams of the region. His interior photo’s were slightly less popular then and are rarer and sought after now because of that. Most were furnished with Colonial period antiques from his collection and featured a woman in Colonial dress as well.
Wallace Nutting also produced images of animals, children, men, buildings, architecture and more. These are generally very difficult to find today and are eagerly sought out by advanced collectors.
However, Nutting was not the only person to produce hand colored photos. There were 100’s of regional photographers capitalizing on this burgeoning industry. Other artists frequently encountered are Davidson, Sawyer and Thompson. All three had ties directly to Nutting, the work of the four artists comprise the majority of work produced then and available now.
The desirability of hand colored photographs started to decline with the advent of colored photography. It was no longer necessary to pay someone to color an image, when you could take a color picture yourself.
Desirability of an image depends upon several factors. Artist, subject, size, region and condition are foremost considerations. Nutting’s work ranges in value from around $100.00 for small, common images to several thousand for large and rare images. Prices for most other works range from as little as $10.00 to as high as $500.00. With most nice examples priced between $50.00 to $200.00 range.