Altemus and Company
first published photographic albums in 1862. During the next thirty
years it published numerous elegant albums in many different styles.
Although many albums from this time period can be easily identified as
Altemus productions since they have the Altemus and Company imprint, a
number of their albums had no imprint. These albums tend to blend in
with the albums of the numerous other photographic album publishers.
In 1862 two Altemus ads appeared in the American Publisher's Circular
and Literary Gazette. The earlier ad in March and April revealed a
number of different album styles. The variety was quite extensive.
Beginning in May, 1862 a new ad appeared. At this time 34 basic albums
were described in addition to 5 "pocket size" albums. Of great interest
is that the albums could be obtained in velvet as well as the various
leather designs. Here are three examples of the earliest photographic
In 1863 Henry and
Samuel Altemus became the assignees of a patent of John Mets. This
patent gave Altemus the right to use the special hinged back design for
their photographic albums. Of note is that albums using this special
design have the Altemus & Company imprint on the title page
along with a line that says patented July 21, 1863. It appears that
albums which do not use the patented hinge back design have no imprint.
See examples below.
those early albums as being published by Altemus is extremely
difficult. Some of these latter albums have been seen with the blue
informational card which is shown here and identifies Altemus as the
publication company. I have seen three different cards as of this time.
Two which mention the hinge-back design and one which does not. It is
my belief that all of the photographic albums that Altemus &
Company published originally came with one of these cards. This cannot
be substantiated however.
Here is an album that appears to be an early publication (probably in
the 1863 time frame). The album pictured here is 7.5" x 9.5". It has
pages for cabinet cards as well as tin-type size photos. There are
The title page does not indicate the patent date. This may mean that
this album is an early publication that is post 1863 but before all the
title pages were changed to reflect the patent date. The front cover
format is closely related to the pre-1863 cover designs. Also both
Philadelphia and New York are noted below the Altemus & Co.
By 1864 Altemus was
touting its special photographic album design. "It having the advantage
of laying open perfectly flat..." Altemus had the patent for the
"hinged back" design. As described by Altemus--" each leaf is attached
to a small rod covered with morocco forming a separate hinge of its
own, admitting the book to be opened to its full extent without danger
of the slightest injury". Prior to 1863 and the new design the Altemus
albums of course did not have the patented special hinges. These non
specially hinged albums were quickly phased out.
By 1867 the Altemus photographic album was a big seller. Advertisements
noted Altemus' blank books as well as their Photograph Album
Manufactory at the Race Street Address. In fact other commentators were
describing Altemus as "one of the largest bookbinderies and Photograph
manufactories in the United States". By 1868 the original list had been
greatly expanded. Although still listing the earlier albums, now
numerous styles of the hinged back albums were advertised. Also noted
in ads were Tin Type Albums and Cabinet Albums.
Here are several pictures of photographic album covers. Remember that
albums came in various sizes ranging from an album that could hold just
one picture on a page to albums that held two pictures horizontally on
a page to large albums with four pictures on a page. Any cover could be
seen with any spine. Also any size album could be seen with any cover
A number of very elegant albums were published. Below is a large one (9
x 11) with 25
pages. Note the gold metallic decorative pieces on the front cover.
By the late 1880's
there were several hundred different covers available on the photo
As the production of Bibles and later books became the mainstay of the
Altemus business, photographic albums gradually became an afterthought.
In the 1880's many formats of albums were still noted. New styles with
a single centrally placed clasp were now combined with covers that were
no longer just decorative. Some of the covers had writing that said-
"Our Friends", "Portraits Our Friends", "Portraits", etc. Many new
styles were seen.
By 1889 there were no photographic Albums seen in the Altemus
catalogues. By 1892 even the mention of Altemus Photographic Albums had
been removed from the front of the catalogues. At last these elegant
albums were no longer in production. The end of an era for Altemus. The
more cheap, simple albums produced by Altemus in the 20th century are
noted in the next section.
The latest group of
photographic albums were published in the late teens and twenties.
These albums were quite a departure from the much more elegant earlier
ones. Now the albums' cloth covers had either sewed backs or the
so-called extension backs tied together with a shoelace like cord. The
pages (leaves) are light cardboard on which pictures can be taped- not
like the previous albums in which photos were inserted into the thick
There are different styles based on the size of the cover and the
number of leaves.
The numbering below is from the Altemus catalogue. It is presumed but
not known whether the missing numbers below (100, 400, 500) represented
other albums at one time.
||5.5 x 7" inches
||25 Sewed- Back
||50 Sewed- Back
||7 x 10 inches
||50 Sewed- Back
||9 x 14 inches
||10 x 13 inches
The Photo Art
A new photographic album has been discovered. Although the copyright
belongs to Henry Altemus 1888
it was actually published by the Lovell Manufacturing Company in Erie
Pennsylvania. It is unlike any Altemus album that I have seen. The
copyright must stem from the use of Altemus' patented binding.
The history of the Lovell Manufacturing Company can be found at http://www.lovellplace.com/history.html
in which the authors have written a great summary of the company.
The Album which is called Photo Art Gallery has 16 pages all 8 x 10.
Each page can hold one cabinet card on the front and on the back.
Surrounding the card on each side are the pictures of famous people in
various areas of society. Each page is different and has 10 pictures.
(See below) There is an index in the back which alphabetically lists
all of the portraits. It does appear that each page has its own
specialized area, That is, a presidents' page, an authors' page, a
soldiers' page, etc.
The cover is made up of a red velvet material with embossed lettering
on the front which says Photo Gallery.
This is indeed a very rare and special album.