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Introducing Our New Collection: Vintage Chicago Photographs
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Introducing Our New Collection: Vintage Chicago Photographs

A vintage photo of Chicago's Jackson Park with the Palace of Fine Arts Building from the World's Fair

About our Vintage Chicago Photo Collection

We’re always looking to expand our catalog of vintage photographs and posters, and we love getting to create new collections for you! We’ve recently been able to add a number of vintage images from Chicago to our catalog, and have put them together into an easily browsable collection. We’ll continue to add new images to this collection as we find and digitally restore them, so if you don’t see something you love, make sure to check back in the future!  

How we Choose our Chicago Images 

Over the last few centuries, there have been thousands upon thousands of photographs taken in any given location. Bustling cities like Chicago are particular hotspots for photographers, so there’s a huge volume of images available. Of course, not every image is going to make it into our collection! When searching for new images to add to our collection, there are a number of factors that we consider. 

  • Content of the Photograph. The first thing we consider is whether or not the photograph is interesting, unique, or simply visually pleasing. We are looking for well-composed photographs of interesting subjects. We are especially on the lookout for images of historically significant moments or locations.  
  • Overall Image Quality. Is the image in focus? Is it well exposed? These are the first two questions we consider when looking at potential new images. We want to make sure our reproduction prints are of the highest quality possible, which means we need high-quality images to work from. If an image is simply out of focus, no amount of digital sharpening can truly fix that. And if the image is significantly under- or over-exposed, this will also affect the quality of our end product. 
  • File Size and Resolution. We want to be able to offer our prints in a wide range of sizes, which means we need large files to be able to offer those showstopping, large sizes. We can’t control how archivists scan/digitize old photos, and many have unfortunately been digitized at very small sizes. If the file size and resolution are so small that we wouldn’t be able to offer sizes up to at least 20”-24” on the long dimension, we’re likely to pass on it. 
  • Condition of the Image. Our skilled technicians have digitally restored every image in our collection. We correct discoloration and fading, remove dust, and repair damage, but there is a limit to what is possible with digital restoration, especially when the goal is to be as true to history as possible. If an image has significant damage, such as entire areas missing, it may not be possible to accurately restore these. Filling in an area like a sky is simple enough, but if the image is missing a large area that includes fine details, people, buildings, etc, we likely wouldn’t be able to create a historically accurate restoration. 
A vintage city scene photograph taken on State Street in Chicago

Digitally Restored Print Reproductions 

After we’ve digitally restored our images, we are able to offer print reproductions. Our prints are made using only the highest quality materials at our studio in Alexandria, Virginia. Each print is inspected for quality, and if any flaws are found, it doesn’t go out the door. We want to make sure that the print you receive is absolutely perfect. 

About our Materials

Our paper prints are made using Hahnemuhle Museum Etching paper, and our canvas prints are printed on Breathing Color’s Lyve Canvas with their Timeless Varnish. All of these materials are museum-quality and archival, rated to last 100+ years without any fading or discoloration. We’ve chosen these materials because their quality reflects our printmaking values. We strongly believe in quality over quantity and seek to offer the best quality prints. If you’d like to read more about the materials we use, you can do so here

World’s Columbian Exposition Photographs

The World’s Columbian Exposition, commonly referred to as the Chicago World’s Fair, is a significant part of Chicago’s history as a city. Several cities, such as New York City and Washington, DC, were also competing for the right to host the influential event, but ultimately Chicago prevailed. The Exposition ran from May 5th to October 31st, 1893. The centerpiece of the fair, which was located in Jackson Park, was a grand basin that was meant to represent the voyage of Columbus to the New World. 

A vintage image depicting the Palace of Fine Arts from the Chicago World's Fair

Palace of Fine Arts Building

Our collection includes several photographs that date back to the Chicago World’s Fair, featuring the only remaining building from the Fair, the Palace of Fine Arts. While the other buildings were not built to last, the Palace of Fine Arts was constructed with brick in order to protect the five million dollars worth of artwork that was housed and displayed inside. Restored and reimagined, the building now serves as the Griffen Museum of Science and Industry. 

World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago

This vintage image dates back to 1892, a year before the fairgrounds were opened to the public. The viewer looks across the great basin at the Palace of Fine Arts, viewing it from an angle. Several boats can be seen on the water, which would carry visitors to and from this side of the building. 

Jackson Park, Chicago World’s Fair

The exact date this photograph was taken isn’t known, but we do know it was taken sometime between 1890 and 1901. This image also features the Palace of Fine Arts, this time viewed from further across the expanse of the great basin. Our own personal guess is that this photo was taken either well before or after the Exposition was open to the public, as no visitors can be seen outside the building, though we don’t know that with any certainty. 

Vintage Scenes of Chicago Life

Many vintage photos instantly transport us back in time, bringing on a wave of nostalgia for times long past. We find that vintage photographs of city scenes have the interesting effect of being both nostalgic and familiar at the same time. While it is easy to see that the photographs were taken long ago, there is a strong familiarity with the hustle and bustle of city life that we still experience today. Certainly, our cities have grown taller, busier, and more technologically advanced, but the feeling of city life is still strongly relatable when looking at these vintage photographs. 

A vintage photograph depicting a snowy day on Chicago's Michigan Avenue

A Snowy Day on Michigan Avenue 

Taken in the winter of 1942, this vintage photograph shows a snowy day on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Snow can be seen falling from the sky and accumulating on the roads. Those who live in cities today know that snow can have a huge impact on how the city functions. It can make driving or even traveling on foot much more difficult, and the low temperatures have residents bundling up to stay warm when they have to venture out. 

Hustle and Bustle on State Street

Dating back to the first decade of the 1900s, this vintage Chicago scene shows a busy day on State Street, as viewed from Lake Street. The bustle of activity will be familiar to any city-dweller today, while the specific types of activity offer a wave of nostalgia, allowing us to peer back in time. Horse-drawn carts and carriages can be seen where we would see modern cars today, and the style of clothes on the pedestrians instantly takes us back in time. 

Chicago’s Old Buildings

Chicago was first settled in 1780, so while it certainly isn’t the oldest city in the United States, it does still have its own several-century-long history. This includes numerous old and historic buildings. 

A black and white vintage image depicting Chicagos' Union Station Interior

Union Station 

Our vintage photograph, “Waiting Room in Chicago’s Union Station”, depicts a tranquil scene inside the train station. Light can be seen streaming in from the windows, while much of the room remains in shadow. Avid travelers know the unique feeling that waiting rooms have, serving as temporary spaces for people to come and go through each and every day. This image dates back to 1943 and offers a feeling of nostalgia for all those who have traveled through the station. 

Public Library

Captured in 1900, this vintage image features Chicago’s Public Library, a grand stone building. Passersby can be seen outside the building, though many appear as blurs, evidence of the long exposure times of photographs of the time. We hope all the book lovers and Chicagoans out there love this image as much as we do! 

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