Color Photos

Where there any color photos in the 1800’s?

Depends on what you mean by “photos”…if you’re talking about images made on color negatives as we know it, then the answer is no.

There was some early experimentation being done in the mid-1800s with exposing three different black-and-white plates through red, green, and blue filters, and then projecting them onto a screen through those same colored filters, which gave the illusion of a true-color image.

The autochrome emulsion process, which was the first “true” color process, in the sense that the entire color spectrum was recorded on one single plate (remember, back in those days they mostly used glass plates instead of the film we’re used to) wasn’t available to the general public until around 1910. And IIRC, the first published actual color photo (as opposed to a hand-tinted B&W photo) wasn’t for another 10 or 15 years after that, quite possibly in National Geographic.

The first color photos were made with standard silver halide chemistry on a single thick emulsion on a mirrored plate.

The mirror set up a standing wave, and the black elemental silver grains would form where the waves crossed themselves, which is a different pattern for each wavelength.

The resulting image was in true color, but could only be viewed with the sun over your shoulder.

An impressive trick, but the exposure times were so excessive that only outdoor still lifes could be taken.

The ones I’ve seen in photography magazines were of mansions and flower gardens.

It should have been more popular, but photography had come a long way since Matthew Brady, and photographers knew the real money was in portraits.

James Clerk Maxwell took what is usually acknowledged as the first color photograph (using the three-emulsion process) circa 1870, I believe. There as a reproduction of it in Scientific American about 20 years ago. There were lots of other experimenters between then and the turn of the century, and I have seen a coffee table book of many such arly color photos about ten years ago (can’t recall the name, though. Sorry.) Bottom line is that there WERE color photos in the 1800s, but it was a much more difficult and time-consuming process. (One way to do it was to develop each color independently, then print it out on very thin paper and assemble the prints into one color picture.)It wasn’t a commercial practice.
Another thing you should be aware of is the Lippmann photograph. Lippmann won the very first Nobel prize for Physics for inventing thi highly original method of color photography. It isn’t at all like the process Maxwell used (or the methos used today) – Lippmann essentially recorded a white-light interference pattern in a thick emulsion backed by mercury. It was very much like a hologram (except that the mercury ensured zero phase at the mercury boundary. Holograms don’t have zero phase pined anywhere). Lippmann obviously experimented long before he got the 1900 Nobel prize, so his method qualifies as “1800s color photography” as well. What’s more interesting is that, as I learned at a lecture a few months ago, people were experimenting with this idea BEFORE Lippmann. I saw a reproduction of a photograph taken circa 1850 that had clear and distinct color – predating Maxwell’s photo!

Non photo-related nitpick, but Lippmann won the prize in 1908. The first Nobel prizes were given in 1901 (Wilhelm Röntgen won in physics).

According to the little bit of info here, he did in fact do the prize-winning work in the 1880’s and 90’s.