Dating photos using branding and codes
May 18, 2009 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Is there a way to date photos by using the photo paper branding or the printed serial numbers on the back?

I am working on a photo album and trying to sort the pictures by year. They are all photos that were taken between 1985 and 2005, mostly on disposable cameras, and developed at drug/photo stores. I've already looked for timestamps and clues in the pictures, but there are a few that I can't figure out. I'm wondering if it's possible to use the branding on the back of the photo paper or the printed serial number/code to narrow things down. I understand that there are pitfalls to this method (e.g., it could have been old photo paper, the pictures could have been developed long after they were taken), but I'm still hopeful that this could yield some clues, like X branding was only used between 1991 and 1994, for example. I've tried Googling for more info on the years different branding was used, and had no luck.

The photo paper is mainly Fuji and Kodak. I tried to scan/photograph the back so I could post it here, but the gray tones in the branding are so light that they won't show up through either method.

Some examples of the branding:
(Logo) FUJICOLOR paper
Kodak Official Sponsor of the Olympic Games
Kodak DuraLife PAPER
(Logo) FUJUFILM Fujicolor Crystal Archive Paper

Some examples of the printed codes:
730 0123 N N N-2 2
955 0124 N N N N 2
98 12 N N N 3 2 (this one is definitely not from '98)

Thanks in advance!
posted by emilyd22222 to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure this is possible.

I don't know how far you could narrow the field using the paper, when I worked in a photo lab we could store the paper for up to 18 months. We used Fujicolor Crystal Archive the entire time I worked there, from 2002 to 2007, if that helps at all.

The numbers on the back are worthless, they tell you the store number that printed them, what number that print was in that day's tally and what color/density corrections had been made.
posted by MaritaCov at 7:19 AM on May 18, 2009

You might have a little success using the types of paper, but it wouldn't narrow it down to a range smaller than a few years, I'd expect. And you'd have to contact the manufacturers to find out when they produced certain back-printing styles; I've never seen any information online specifying when certain kinds were made.

As MaritaCov said, the dot-matrix numbers on the back are put there by the printing equipment at time of processing. It's generally something like:
[Machine Number] - [Print number] - [Color corrections] [Film channel]

Some newer machines (Fuji Frontiers in particular) do print datestamps on the back of photos, but most older analog machines didn't and don't. The information is really only there to assist the printer operator: if the print comes out with a funny color cast to it, or too dark/light, they can see what settings were used and have a place to start from.

If you have the negatives, you might have a little more luck getting an idea of the date from them; different manufacturers changed their film codes periodically and you can sometimes find that information online. However I suspect the easiest way to date the image -- and possibly the only way -- is going to be to look for telltale details in the images themselves that might give you a clue.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 AM on May 18, 2009

Best answer: Try poking around on Google Groups with the search in quotes, limited to "Google Groups" (usenet, I think), and ordered by date. Fujicolor Crystal Archive Paper seems to have been a new name put in place around 1998/1999. It first occurs on a post from April 3rd, 1998, and there is a post on Dec. 28th, 1998 talking about something being renamed and that is a new name for it, etc.

That process also tells us Kodak DuraLife PAPER was phased in during July, 1999. Don't forget the Wayback machine has archives of long deleted press releases.

FUJICOLOR PAPER goes back to 1991, which is getting to be the limits of Usenet and is pre-web. Kodak paper probably is pre-web too, and I suspect Kodak has been supporting the Olympics forever. There is a claim they helped with the first modern Olympics in 1896.
posted by jwells at 8:34 AM on May 18, 2009

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