Monday, September 7, 2009

A Lexicon of Pre-World War I European Photographic Studios

Within the Museum of Family History’s “vault” lies a couple of hundred studio photographs, mostly taken in towns and cities in pre-World War I Europe; only a portion of these are on display. Many of these photos (mounted on cardboard) contain what could be important genealogical information, especially if one is trying to date a family photograph taken in a studio nearly one hundred years ago.

What information can be found on such a photo? The name of the photographic studio is most often imprinted under the photograph; usually a lithographic design covers most of the photo backing. Many of these designs contain attractive graphics, and include medals (with the names of the "fathers of photography" displayed on each medal) the studio supposedly won at some exposition, or perhaps medals that were awarded by a European monarch. Perhaps there will be an indication that the photographer is the "official" photographer of a particular monarch.

After World War I, however, the mood in Europe changed—especially in Eastern Europe—in such a way that those attractive lithographic designs disappeared for the most part. After 1914, these attractive designs were generally replaced with a simple, non-descript stamp imprint with the name of the studio and the studio's address.

The Museum of Family History’s collection of fronts and backs of such studio photographs is nothing when compared to the collection of over 3500 photos that can be found at This Polish and German language website documents the activities of photographers and their studios mostly during the years 1850-1914.

On this site, you can search for a particular photographer and studio by the surname of the photographer. If successful, you will be given a list of what photos exist on the site for a particular photographer. Then you can see if one of the surnames listed is the one you’re looking for.

There were many hundreds of photographic studios that existed during the pre-World War I years in Europe, and this website certainly doesn’t have every one represented. However, they do have a lot. Whereas the Museum of Family History only holds images of studio photographs of Jewish individuals and family groups, this site makes no such distinction.

To read more about this site and learn what information can be gleaned from this listing of photographers and their studios, click here.

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