Henry Altemus Company


Photographic Albums


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 albums:




Some of the pre-1863 albums has a very similar look as the "post 1863 new patent hinged back design". Here is a 25 leaf, one photo per side, 6.25" x 5.5" photographic album. Notice that neither the spine nor the title page mention the 1863 patent. All the albums post-1863 did note the patent somewhere in or on the album.



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 many Altemus albums which do not have the patented hinge back design have no publisher imprint on the title page or the spine. Note the title page picture below on the left. These are pre-1863 albums.




Thus, identifying 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 thirteen leaves.

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. imprint.




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 or spine.

















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 albums.

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 pages.

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.

Style number Leaves
200 5.5 x 7" inches 25 Sewed- Back
300 " 50 Sewed- Back
600 " 50 Loose-Leaf Extension back
700 7 x 10 inches 50 Sewed- Back
800 " 50 Loose-Leaf Extension back
900 9 x 14 inches 50 Sewed-Back
1000 10 x 13 inches 50 Loose-Leaf Extension Back





The Photo Art Gallery Album

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.



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Last Revision September 16, 2017