Detroit Photographic Company (AKA Detroit Publishing Co.)

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The Detroit Publishing Company (DPC) was one of the world’s largest publishers and best producers of photographic images. In the late 1800’s, the Detroit Photographic Co., as it was known then, acquired the exclusive rights to the Swiss created ‘Photochrom’ process. A Photochrom is a photomechanical process using multiple lithographic stones to convert an original black & white photograph into a color print. A separate stone was used for each color and a minimum of 4 stones were required for each color print, although as many as 14 stones could have been used if needed. This entire process allowed the DPC to mass produce and sell color prints, "Thistle Facsimile" prints (see specific info below), postcards and albums, to the American public.

The most famous American landscape photographer to work for the DPC and who was also a partner in the firm was William Henry Jackson (American, 1843-1942). Jackson joined the firm in 1897 and his already prolific work brought over 10,000 negatives to the company’s huge inventory and he helped them sell millions of prints for them annually. By 1903, Jackson became plant manager which afforded him very little time for travel and taking photographs.

The company was known as the Detroit Photographic Co. until 1905, when it then became the Detroit Publishing Company. Numerous well known photographers worked for them over their 30 year time period between the years 1895-1924. Their photographers traveled all over the globe, and helped Americans to see the world around them. They would also purchase negative plates from different photographers to add to their inventory. The DPC created some of the most beautiful images ever caught on film, and their scenic photos inspired travel amid the rapidly growing tourism market of the early 1900’s. The images would often incorporate people as part of the scenery set against awe-inspiring landscapes, cityscapes and various backdrops. To say the least they were majestic and mysterious to not only the common traveler but world travelers alike and often resembled paintings. The company’s images were so popular, they created a multitude of products and souvenirs to aggressively sell them. The DPC also expanded their collection to include reproductions of famous works of art which served not only as home décor, but was also in demand as educational tools for schools and universities.

During the height of its success, the DPC maintained markets in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Zurich. They continued to expand their lines by selling images in popular boutiques, tourist spots, and also through mail-order. During World War I, sales of photographs and postcards began to decline. With the advent of newer, inexpensive methods of printing that were being used by competing firms, it eventually took its toll on the DPC and it forced the company into receivership by 1924. After struggling for the next eight years, the DPC finally liquidated all of its assets in 1932. Jackson later sold all of the DPC company negatives and prints to The Edison Institute (known today as Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, in Dearborn, Michigan) in 1939. The Institute held the negatives until 1949, when they were then donated and divided between the Colorado Historical Society (images ‘west of the Mississippi’, about 13,000 images), and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all other views, about 20,000 vintage photographs, 25,000 glass negatives, and about 300 Photochrom Prints). The Greenfield Village museum still maintains 18,000 vintage photographic prints, 9,500 postcards, and 2,500 Photochrom prints.

"THISTLE FACSIMILES" are copies in full color. Two methods are used, the one chosen being that which gives the best translation of the original. No known single medium gives the best translation of all classes of subjects. The proper function of the reproducer, therefore, is to select the medium best adapted for copying the original. The Aäc process (exclusively controlled by us [Photochrom process]) preserves the drawing of the original with photographic exactness, and gives a verity and range of color tone not secured by any other method. It is absolutely permanent. The “Waterol” print (produced by a photographic base with oil and water color carefully rubbed in by hand) attains a delicacy and softness of tone specially desirable for some subjects.”

"THISTLE CARBONS" are genuine photographic carbons. They must not be con- fused with alleged carbons printed by the gelatine or similar processes. They are double transfer prints made directly from full sized plates, carefully equalized for color values....The double transfer prints have superiority and greater cost as compared with single transfer. Also the great difference in quality between prints derived from small plates and those printed direct without enlargement. Educators who seek truthful qualities will appreciate the proper rendering of balance and tone in these prints. Remodelling and retouching of details have been carefully avoided. The results are such as can not be secured by single transfer nor by plates enlarged from small originals, no matter how carefully retouched. Science has not yet given us any medium for copying paintings in monotone which will compare in quality with the well made carbon—besides, it is absolutely permanent.

"THISTLE PUBLICATIONS" have been approved either by the artists themselves or by the museums owning the originals.

(Thistle Publications info from:, online catalogue, Thistle Publications: Office Catalogue of Works of Art Reproduced From Eleven Leading Galleries of the United States and Many Private Collections, Detroit Publishing Company, Detroit, MI, 1912).