The Albertype

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The Albertype Company was an American postcard publisher, located in Brooklyn, New York. The company produced black and white as well as hand-colored postcards. The catalogue was limited, so that no explicit numbering system was in use.

The Albertype Co. 1887-1952 205 (260) Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY

Originally known as Wittemann Brothers, the Albertype Company was founded by brothers Adolph (1845-1938) and Herman L. Wittemann, and owned by Herman. The company operated from 1890 to 1952, and was located in Brooklyn, New York. During its nearly sixty year run, the Albertype Company produced over twenty-five thousand prints, which were distributed across the United States in the form of postcards and viewbooks. The company had agents, including Adolph Wittemann, take photographs of different cities and regions, which were then reproduced as collotypes. In addition to using its own archive of original negatives, the Albertype Company also reproduced photographic images taken by other companies or individuals.

The Albertype Company was created to take advantage of commercial applications for collotype, a type of printing based on photographic negatives. In the late nineteenth century, photographic and photomechanical reproduction became increasingly popular for commercial use. The collotype, one of the most commercially successful photomechanical processes, was introduced in 1855 by the French photographer and chemical engineer Alphonse-Louis Poitevin. Poitevin discovered that a bichromated gelatin-covered plate could be used to produce prints after being exposed to light through a negative. The collotype process consisted of numerous steps. First, a plate was rendered light-sensitive by coating it with warm potassium or ammonium bichromated gelatin and heating it at a steady temperature in an oven until dry. After nearly two and a half hours, a negative was placed between the plate and a light source, exposing the gelatin layer to ultraviolet light, and hardening the exposed areas. Hardening of the gelatin resulted in less absorption in the areas that received the most light (that appear darkest in the print). The plate was soaked in cold water, dried, and before printing it was wet again with a glycerine and water solution. Greasy ink was rolled out onto the plate, and did not adhere to the areas that soaked up the most water. The plate was rolled through a press with paper, transferring the ink. The plate could be reused for a limited quantity of reproductions.

Alphonse-Louis Pontevin's process was adapted by C.M. Tessie du Motay and C.R. Marechal, who covered copper plates with bichromated gelatin. The gelatin often separated from the copper during the printing process, so the quantity of images that could be produced from a single plate was limited to approximately one hundred. Joseph Albert, a photographer from Munich, substituted glass for the copper plate, constructed a mechanical press, and also added another layer consisting of silicate mixed with gelatin, albumen or stale beer, which was applied between the gelatin and plate to facilitate adhesion. Albert presented his improved collotype process at the 1868 Photographic Exhibition in Hamburg. Immediately after the introduction of his innovations, companies were able to produce about two thousand prints from each plate using etching presses and hand rollers. Towards the end of the nineteenth and in the early twentieth century, improvements in mechanical presses and a switch to the rotary collotype, a high-speed process using an aluminum plate, meant that up to five thousand collotype prints could be produced daily. Color was added to the collotype process by Albert in 1876.

Collotypes were important to the industry of photographic reproductions because they were fairly cheap to produce, and their range of tones permitted exact reproductions of photographs through a photomechanical process. They are also noted for their ability to accurately reproduce drawings, prints, and watercolors, and are still in limited use to this day. Collotypes were known by numerous names, including "phototype," and "albertype," the name given by Joseph Albert.

They first started printing books and then pioneer cards by 1893 going on to become a major publisher of national view-cards. Their postcards were not numbered and their name appears within the stamp box on their early cards. When the divided back postcard was authorized, the Albertype Company created a line down the back of their cards with the words Post Cards of Quality and later with The Finest American Made View Post Cards. Many publishers large and small printed cards though the Albertype Co. They were purchased by Art Vue Post Card Company in 1952.

Many of their cards were printed in black & white but they also produced a tremendous number of hand colored cards. The style and quality of the way the watercolor paint was applied changed over the years but their RGB pallet remained consistent. One variation of these cards were printed as novelties in a 6 by 8 inch format.

They also printed postcards in duotones and tinted monochromes of various colors. An early type was their Sepia Delft series printed in dark high contrast tones. This was followed years later by their Blue Tone cards that were similar to their lower contrast black & white Albertypes except for their color. While most of Albertype's postcards were based on photographs they also produced an unusual set of sepia art reproductions of line drawings.

Sources: Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York City



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