Paula Bailey

October 25, 2010

Vintage Photo Wallets

I’ve been spending a lot of time over the summer sorting through the archive of the stained glass artist Lawrence Lee (1909 – present).  As you would imagine, there are a lot of photographs.  Luckily (for me) many of them were still kept in the original photo wallets from the various printers he used – and there are two quite different ones from the same printer.

They’re a bit tatty but I thought they were worth sharing.  I’ve also been having some fun (and some frustration) trying to find the fonts over at What the Font.

Gevaert Photo Wallet

This one has “Sandhurst 1956” written on it.  Simple three-colour printing with strong sans serif capitals and lower case (possibly Gill Sans – the printing has made it bleed a little), along with a serif font for italics. An odd hierarchy (if that is what it is meant to be) also using an underline.  To me it seems as though the listing on the back is competing with itself and no decisions have been made.  A handwriting font and a family group, complete with child attempting a Bruce Forsyth pose, add a ‘human touch’ to the front of the packet.

SELO Films

I like the strong black and red of this one and the border really has impact.  Within it we have mostly centred layout on the back, but the front design goes a bit haywire.  It sort of works, but I want to move that pile of films over to the left a little and so something with that red list.  I was disappointed not to be able to find the fonts used for this packet.

Ensign LukosI was also unable to pinpoint any of the typefaces used in this design. I like the one colour approach here and the use of gradient.  Even the form on the back doesn’t look terribly out of place.  If anyone has any thoughts about the fonts used for “Print Wallet” and “Have You Seen the”, please let me know.

The woman shown on the inside flap of the wallet is reminiscent of the Kodak Girl – depicted wearing a blue and white striped dress, through several fashion changes across decades, appealing to young women as the personification of photography for everyone.  In this instance it seems a compact camera is being marketed.

Davis 1

What the Font threw up a couple of typefaces for this wallet from Davis (Photographic) Ltd.  The serif font for the body text is quite likely to be ITC Clearface Regular, and the more ornate, ‘handwriting’ style font bears a remarkable resemblance to Forelle MN.  However, with the latter I did notice that the uppercase E was different in the example I found – though all other letters matched.  I am not sure whether this would indicate a change in the original font, if there were several variations, or if Forelle is a copy of this earlier typeface.

The apostrophe doesn’t come as close to the ‘t’ when I type “It’s Simple” either.  We have to bear in mind that this will probably have been printed using set type and that will differ from any digital version or way of reproducing lettering.  I think this will be a useful font for conveying a particular vintage feel (particularly within advertising) and I’m going to keep it on my favourites list.


Dispensing chemists were once the mainstay of photo processing for the domestic amateur.  Whilst Kodak offered a postal service, Boots (and other chemists) provided a shopfront and friendly service.  This wallet harks back to an era when black and white photography was still the norm, but when colour photography for everyone was becoming more popular and affordable.  This will have meant higher costs for printing these wallets and yet the overall design here is not that far away from the two or three coloured examples above, the only full colour section being the  main photograph on the front.  The Boots logo (unusually in red) doesn’t seem to fit the oval left out of the blue background.

It is difficult to date these wallets but this one has a 1950/60s style – the inner design is somewhat reminiscent of the shape of the old television screens.  Familiar fonts were forthcoming this time – Gill Sans for the main body text (including the italic, with its distinctive ‘p’); Rockwell Condensed for the main front heading; and the more quirky font used for “To keep your pictures” gives an excellent match to a font called Adams Regular.  Another for the list.

Finally my favourite of the lot.  Below is another from Davis (Photographic) Ltd and Lawrence Lee has written “1953 France” on the packet.  I do wish more people had (and would) put dates on things, especially photographs.  This wallet has it all – classy cream and sepia colours overpowered by as many fonts and devices as they could think up in an afternoon.  And yet it remains quite well balanced in composition.

The “Your Snaps” font was sadly untraceable but to me it appears very ‘seaside’ in its appeal and I’m sure I’ve seen it (and its variations) many times before.  It ought to be in bold oranges and blues – the whole wallet is screaming out for the excesses of tacky bomblasts and advertising slogans but it’s just too genteel to let itself go completely.

The ‘business card’ below the funky lettering seems rather plain and unfinished because of the busyness of the rest of the page.  On the back is a very unusual font where the letter ‘r’ is made with a stem and a detached stroke.  Again if you think you know what typeface this is, please let me know.  I’m also interested in the decorative font used on the inside of the wallet.  I think the main body text is Gill Sans again, with the first capitals borrowed from this other perhaps.

Davis 2

I have noticed, while peering intently at the letters, that older printing methods, inks and paper stock will affect the apparent shape of their form and I think that in some cases this might have confused the ‘font recognition’ capabilities of the (still wonderful) What the Font site.

Clicking any of the images will take you to Flickr where you can view them at a larger size.  I’d love to hear what you think of these and if you have any insights into the fonts used. Please feel free to share any links to any other examples of photo wallets.

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