Earliest Visual Documentation of the United States Show a Colorful History

Mulberry Street in New York

Mulberry Street in New York, photochrom.

What you will see are amazing postcards which are the first color photographs taken of the New World, the earliest visual documentation of the majesty and charm of Americana – from the bustling city scenes to the forever epic Grand Canyon. The images date back to the late 18 hundreds to early 19 hundreds, all turn of the century scenes.

Sunset from the Battery, New York, photochrom

Sunset from the Battery, New York, photochrom

The photographs have been recently released to commemorate and celebrate the joy of travelling through the US in a book very aptly called An American Odyssey. These rediscovered Photochrom as well as Photostint postcard images are from the private collection of graphic designer, photographer, and collector Marc Walter and were made by the Detroit Photographic Company, shot from 1888 to 1924.

Grand Canyon, view from O’Neill’s Point, Arizona, photochrom.

Grand Canyon, view from O’Neill’s Point, Arizona, photochrom.

The images are of cities, landscapes and daily life across the United States during that bygone era. Using a photolithographic process that came ahead of autochrome by almost 2 decades, they gave people the very earliest color photographs of the country. Color was quite a novelty as the country’s hues were first made visible for all to see. Images like the rich and vivid browns of the Grand Canyon or the glitter of Atlantic City became eye candy, not just exclusively for visitors, but for people everywhere.

Mariposa Grove, "Three Graces," Yosemite National Park, California.

Mariposa Grove, “Three Graces,” Yosemite National Park, California.

Marc Walter specializes in gathering vintage travel photographs and has one of the world’s biggest collections. City folk, immigrants, gold panners and perhaps the last Wild West cowboys can be seen in some of the images from this vast library. Other photographs include a typical city scene on the busy main road of Mulberry Street in New York, whereas another sharply contrasts the quiet rural life of a Seminole Indian family in Florida, sailing using their dugout canoes. It is a 612-page hardbound book published by Taschen and is the closest you will ever get to journeying through later 19th and early 20th-century America.

See some of the images here.

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Patricia Ramos the author

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.

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