Spectacular postcards capture 1890s France in vibrant color

These postcards of France in the last years of the 19th century were created using the Photochrom process, a technique by which black-and-white photos were imbued with vibrant and lifelike color.

Invented in the 1880s by a Swiss printer, the Photochrom process began with coating a tablet of lithographic limestone with a light-sensitive emulsion and exposing it to sunlight under a photo negative for several hours.

39 PHOTOS
Late 19th century postcards of France
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Late 19th century postcards of France

The Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero.

(Image via Library of Congress)

East coast at high tide, Mont St. Michel.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Notre Dame de Bon Secours and Joan of Arc's monument, Rouen.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Entrance to harbor, St. Malo.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Thiers.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Capitol Place, Toulouse.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Tréport.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Trouville beach.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Promenade and Grand Salon, Trouville.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Trouville beach.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Cable railway, Marseilles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Palace of the Grand Trianon, Versailles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Latone Basin, Versailles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Grand Trianon, chamber of Empress Josephine, Versailles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Grand Trianon, chamber of Queen Victoria, Versailles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Gallery of Mirrors, Versailles.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Cauterets, Pyrenees.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Hôpital Spring, Vichy.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Malavaux near Vichy.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Port Militaire and swing bridge, Brest.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Caen.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The valley of Chamonix from the Aiguille du Floria.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Chartres.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Dinan.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Dunkirk.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The throne room, Fontainebleau Palace.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Rue de la Republic, Lyon.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Arena, Nîmes.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Grand Street, St. Malo.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Chateau de Duingt, Annecy.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Pantheon and the Rue Soufflot, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

A gallery in the Louvre, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Notre Dame, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Arc de Triomphe, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Pavilions of the Nations, Exposition Universal, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

The Palace Lumineux, Exposition Universal, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

La Grande Roue, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

Eiffel Tower, Paris.

(Image via Library of Congress)

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The emulsion would then harden in proportion to the tones of the negative, resulting in a fixed lithographic image on the tablet.

Further litho stones would then be prepared for each tint to be used in the final color postcard — a single image could require well over a dozen different stones.

Though a time-consuming and delicate endeavor, the Photochrom process resulted in color images with a rare degree of verisimilitude, especially at a time when true color photography was still in its infancy.

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