Wednesday, July 17, 2013


A popular photo finishing process for many years was sepia toning. The technique had its origins in the late 1800's and was achieved by using a pigment made from a type of cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) found in the English Channel (!) which was added to the positive photographic print. Today, sepia pigments are made using materials such as Sodium sulfide, Thiourea, and polysulfide.

Today, sepia-toned images are thought of as "vintage" or "retro" because they were very often used in portrait and other types of photography over 100 years ago. The style has enjoyed somewhat of a comeback as photographers and designers are taking two steps back into "low tech" and using software image filtering techniques to sepia tone their work.

Offered here is an example of a sepia tinted photographic portrait of Lon Chaney Sr. that has just been listed with Heritage Auctions. Despite the described stain, it is a wonderful example of Hollywood portraiture from the late silent film era. There is an additional interesting note regarding the provenance of the lot.

"A Lon Chaney Signed Sepia Photograph, Circa 1925. An original print with a matte finish, depicting a handsome headshot of the actor looking to the right, inscribed in black fountain pen ink on the lower right side "To L.E. Roberts, / Man to man / and friends / Lon Chaney;" 'L.E. Roberts' being a camera man (who was credited as 'Lou' Roberts) who started working in Hollywood during the Silent Era and continued on with the "talkies." (Please note there is substantial staining on the right side of image somewhat affecting Chaney's face plus a small bit of paper loss to the left of his shoulder.)
10" x 8"

This piece was consigned directly to Heritage Auctions by the grand-nephew of Lou Roberts, Harry Hooten. [See Lot 46004; Hooten's grandfather (and brother to Lou Roberts) was longtime soundman at 20th Century Fox, Harry Roberts.] Estimate: $800 - up."

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