Find of the Week: The blue world inside “Photographic Views of New Orleans”

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NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--Every Friday we team up with the Historic New Orleans Collection to bring something unique from our city's past.  The world of advertising is fast, digital and abundant.  In 1887 it was cerulean blue!

Photographic Views of New Orleans was an advertising directory, showing principle businesses in New Orleans during 1887.  It made use of the brilliance of cyanotype pictures.  The cyanotype process was invented and perfected by Sir John Herschal, a Brittish scientist.  Cyanotype photos could be developed in plain water.

John H. Lawrence, the Director of Museum Programs at the Historic New Orleans Collection says, "the process of the cyanotype was very popular among artistic photographers for a lot of the 19th century and we probably know it today as the blueprint process architects use."

At this time the cyanotype process was used by local businesses to attract customers using photographs.  Using photos in advertising was new and a different method than used 14 years before the Photographic Views of New Orleans booklet, in the Jewels Crescent City Illustrated Directory.

"It also illustrated businesses and the people who ran them, but it did it in the form of wood engravings that were also based on photographs but did not have that first person veracity that a photograph has," says Lawrence.

Advertising was big business and all of the local businesses wanted to make sure they were listed in the book.  Shoemakers, carriage services, silk threading, jewelers, and newspapers were in there.

Lawrence found an interesting discovery in his research of the book saying, "the curious thing about it is that although the telephone had been invented about a decade before publication of the book, I was only able to find one business that actually listed a telephone number and it was for tobacco products."

Director Lawrence says that although "the cover is probably about the plainest you can ever imagine for a book but when you open it, it's like you're entering into another world and this world that is a brilliant blue."

Make sure you tune in every week to see what we find from the Historic New Orleans Collection.


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