A Look Back at the Forgotten Art of Hand-Tinted Photography

The hand-tinted photos of Lewis Reed and his daughter, Mary Jane, are examples of the photographic process that most of the people reading this will have never experienced: hand-tinting.

The golden age of hand-colored photography occurred between 1900 and 1940. Before the days of true color photography, these views were immensely popular. While hand coloring doesn’t help you identify or date an image, it does enhance a photograph’s appearance and add to its history.

Before the advent of color photography, photographers painstakingly applied color to black and white photos in order to show a truer visual depiction of a photo image. All of the photographs featured here were taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1900s and were hand-tinted by his daughter, Mary Jane, likely in the late 1930s to 1940. She colored the photos with special photographic watercolor and a paintbrush. Rather than coloring the entire image—a time-consuming task—she carefully selected details that would make the image lively and attractive. The fact that these photos, all of which are over 100 years old, are still in relatively good condition is a strong testament to the lasting power of hand-tinted photographs.

Do you recognize the road pictured below? Few modern residents of Montgomery County would guess, but this is a shot down Veirs Mill Road in the early 1900s. Mary Jane Reed added some depth to the image with subtle earth tones, in the colorized version.

1911 Veirs Mill Road

Veirs Mill Road looking east before it was paved. Original photograph by Lewis Reed, 1911.

Veirs Mill Road 1911

Colorized version of the photograph above by Lewis Reed. The photo was hand-tinted by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner, making it look like a color photo.

Below, Lewis Reed’s c. 1909 photograph of his little cousin, Amanda Reed, sitting amongst the hydrangeas — the original before, and the colorized version after.

Amanda Reed before hand-tinting

Amanda Reed before hand-tinting. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

hand-tinted photograph

Amanda Reed after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner. Pastel was apparently a good choice for coloration.

To a visual artist like a dedicated photographer, the inability of the black-and-white camera to capture the richness of colorful blooms or the vibrancy of a summer scene must have been endlessly frustrating.

Lewis Reed’s daughter Mary Jane seemed particularly fond of hand-tinting photographs of flowers — it must have given her a lot of pleasure to “restore” color to her father’s beautifully composed shots. View some more of her work below.

Roses before hand-coloring

Roses before hand-coloring. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

Roses after hand-coloring

Roses after hand-coloring

Hand-colored flowers

Hand-colored flowers

Below are two different versions of tinting a similar image. In Version 2, some of the flowers at the top were removed from the vase (by Lewis Reed, before taking a second shot) for a different aesthetic effect. The color artist used bolder colors to enhance that effect.

Arrangement before hand-tinting

Original arrangement before hand-tinting. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

Arrangement after hand-tinting

Version 1: Arrangement after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner

hand-tinted photograph

Version 2: Arrangement after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner

Rock Creek hand-tinted

This is a hand-tinted version of Rock Creek taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1920s.

Other examples of hand-tinting are included in the following collection of Lewis Reed’s Black Rock Mill photographs. Black Rock Mill was built by Thomas Hillary and has stood along the banks of Great Seneca Creek as a landmark since its construction in 1815-1816. The mill was in working operation for over a hundred years until a flood in 1920 destroyed a dam on Seneca Creek and damaged the mill. Today, it a unique survivor of the many mills in Montgomery County harnessing the water-power of the creeks to grind wheat and corn into flour. It is one of only two mills standing in Montgomery County Maryland. 

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill bridge hand-tinted by Lewis Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane.

These natural scenes from the turn of the century countryside are so much more powerful when reunited with interpretations of their vibrant color. The autumn hues imagined in the scene above is particularly striking, and the bark peeling off the sycamore is an artistic masterpiece.
Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Bridge over Seneca Creek. Photo by Lewis Reed and hand-tinted by his daughter, Mary Jane

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Strolling down a lane on a beautiful summer’s day. Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

The art of hand-tinted photos was introduced along side the daguerreotype in 1839. In the 19th century it was most common for the professional photographer to tint the photograph or tintype just after printing. Later photo artists introduced new techniques using oil, watercolor and other types of paint to achieve the desired result. With the Great Depression, the sale of professional hand-tinted photographs declined, but the home artist continued to have access to hand-tinting kits. Today, we can look back and appreciate the time and creativity it took to edit these photos without Photoshop.

Find photos like these and much more on Montgomery History’s online exhibit, “Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed“.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin, Then & Now

Time passes, but the cherry blossoms always come back. Seeing the cherry blossoms is a time-honored D.C. tradition that dates back to 1912, when Tokyo gifted 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. in an act of friendship. While many of the original trees have been replaced, the Tidal Basin’s beauty has persisted for more than a century. Each spring, more than 1.5 million visitors descend upon Washington, D.C. each year to admire the 3,000-plus trees.

Here’s a great “then and now” comparison shot of the Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. from the 1930s and 2023.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (THEN): From Lewis Reed’s collection of photographs. Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin, circa 1930s with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner.

1930s DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1930s

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (NOW): The “now” photo is a google image of approximately the same location… some 90 years later. On average, DC’s cherry blossoms bloom around the last week of March into the first week of April. But it varies from year to year based on weather conditions, so it can also be a little before or after that period. The best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins, but the blossoms can last for up to two weeks under ideal conditions.

The 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to run from March 18 to April 16. (It was originally scheduled to begin March 20, but they moved that forward by a couple of days in light of the early bloom.)

DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin today.

Fun facts about Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms

  • The first donation of 2,000 trees, received in 1910, was burned on orders from President William Howard Taft. Insects and disease had infested the gift, but after hearing about the plight of the first batch, the Japanese mayor sent another 3,020 trees to DC two years later.
  • The first two trees were planted on the north bank of Tidal Basin in March 1912, and they still stand today. You can see them at the end of 17th Street Southwest, marked by a large plaque.
  • It’s against the law to pick the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. While there aren’t any subtle wire fences or stern security guards like in a museum, any attempts to create your own corsage may very well land you a fine.
  • The majority of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin are of the Yoshino variety. But another species, the Kwanzan, usually blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees, giving visitors a second chance to catch the blossoms.
  • The average lifespan of a cherry blossom tree is only 20 to 30 years, but nearly 100 of the original trees from 1912 still thrive at the Tidal Basin due to the maintenance of the National Park Service.
  • No, they’re not all from 1912, reinforcements are sometimes necessary. New trees have been regularly planted, including in 1965, the late 1980s, 1999 and from 2002 to 2006, according to the NPS.

1953 Reconstruction of Gulf Gasoline Station

Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers Dodge began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. The program consisted of a sizable addition to their Service Department which enlarged the Showroom area and housed the Parts Department. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected. The following photos were taken before demolition and after reconstruction of the Gulf Gasoline station.

Before Demolition

Gulf Gasoline Station

1936 Reed Brothers Dodge canopied Gulf Gas Station prior to 1953 reconstruction of Gulf Gasoline Station. View Rockville Pike side

Gulf Gasoline Station

1936 Reed Brothers Dodge canopied Gulf Gas Station prior to 1953 reconstruction of Gulf Gasoline Station. View Veirs Mill Road side.

After Reconstruction

Gulf Gas Station

After reconstruction of new Gulf Gas Station, view from Rockville Pike

Like many building types of commercial and roadside industries, gas stations often underwent alterations or changes over time. Reed Brothers Gulf Gas Station underwent five alterations over the course of 55 years that were built to follow corporate design. The famous Gulf “ice box” design dates back to late 1930’s, and there were probably more of these built than any single one of the later Gulf designs.


The Montgomery County Sentinel. November 12, 1953

From The Montgomery County Sentinel. June 04, 1953

Reed Brothers Will Move June 13 to New Building

Reed Brothers, second oldest Dodge dealer, which has been serving the county for 38 years, is moving from its present location at the point of the Veirs Mill Road, Route 240 triangle in Rockville to a modernized location nearby at 608 East Montgomery Avenue. Open House will be held June 13 from 6p.m. to enable residents to view the new structure.

The automobile firm will have greatly enlarged quarters in the new location, with increased floor space for the new car department and the repair department. A completely new parts department and a modern service department where the tradition of service that has been built up by this firm through the years will be carried on, and if possible, improved.

The service department will be completely equipped with parts for all Chrysler made cars and will have facilities for repair of all makes of cars. The paint and body shop will be one of the best equipped in the area and the glass department will be prepared to install any or all automobile glass and also to prepare custom cut glass for any other use.

The shop and sales offices will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays and will remain open until 6 p.m. Saturdays.

The familiar triangle gasoline station will be razed and an ultra-modern Gulf gasoline service station constructed. The new service station will be operated independently of the Reed Brothers plant. Every effort will be made to serve the customers while the transition is taking place, company officials said.

1953 Open House

The Montgomery County Sentinel. June 11, 1953

Batter Up! 1950s Service Reminder 

Batter Up Service ReminderRemember in the 1950’s and 1960’s when gas stations were called service stations? They pumped gas and gave out road maps and promotional giveaways like pens, calendars, thermometers, etc. These items are rare finds, because most get thrown away when the doors are closed.

This item is a promotional 1950s Reed Brothers Dodge-Plymouth 3-1/4 inch cardboard BATTER UP! service reminder. The dealership still used a 4 digit phone number: Rockville 2151 and had the old blue and orange Gulf logo.Batter Up Service ReminderSome of the more difficult collectibles to obtain were awards given to the salespeople for outstanding sales performance, including neckties, cuff links, pen and pencil sets, and award plaques. Unique items were often given to salesmen to promote a new model being released that year.

Batter Up Service Reminder

Batter Up Service ReminderBatter Up Service ReminderThis item is currently being offered for sale on ebay: 1950s GULF GAS-Reed Bros. Dodge/Plymouth 3-1/4″ inch BATTER UP! Cardboard Baseball service reminder.

Description: This item is a promotional cardboard service reminder from Reed Brothers Dodge-Plymouth Sales and Service. Reed Brothers car dealership did business in Rockville, Maryland for almost a century, {1915-2012.} There is a wonderful website/blogsite, with loads of photos, that follow the business throughout the years.

Batter Up Service Reminder

Reed Family “Real Photo Postcard” (1910)

Nostalgic photo postcards, known as “real photo postcards”, were popular in the early 1900’s. Kodak even produced a special camera (the model #3A) and added a special postcard developing and printing service that made it easy for anyone to make their own photo postcard. Mailing a postcard was only a penny and the photo postcard itself cost between one and two cents. The postcard below is a “real photo postcard” mailed by Geneva (Eva) Reed, sister of Lewis Reed in 1910. It was mailed to her half-brother Rufus who lived in Point of Rocks, Maryland.

1910 real photo postcard

Postcard addressed to Rufus Reed from Eva Reed. Note the cost of the postage stamp is just one penny.

The photo of Woodlawn Hotel on the front of the postcard was taken by Phillip Reed (Lewis Reed’s brother). Lewis Reed’s photograph collection contains several hundred of these photo postcards dating from approximately 1907-1915. Many of these postcards are rare, one of a kind items and historical documents.

A bit of history about the Woodlawn Hotel: Opened as a luxury hotel in 1889 for Washingtonians seeking to escape the city’s summer heat, the Woodlawn Hotel thrived until the economy and more accessible transportation made Rockville a suburb of Washington rather than a summer vacation destination. The hotel was then purchased by Dr. Ernest L. Bullard who reopened the building, naming it Chestnut Lodge, as “a sanitarium for the care of nervous and mental diseases”. The Bullard family operated nationally famous Chestnut Lodge for 75 years. The building was conveyed to a developer in 2003 with the intention to convert it to condominiums as part of the development of the Chestnut Lodge property. The facade and the chestnut grove from which it got its name were to be preserved. The downturn in the real estate market derailed those plans.

Sadly, a fire on June 7, 2009 destroyed the landmark building that began as Woodlawn Hotel and came to symbolize the psychiatric institution of Chestnut Lodge. Today, the Chestnut Lodge campus is preserved for the community and consists of Little Lodge, Frieda’s Cottage, a Stable and an Ice House, and eight acres of forested lawn.

1910 real photo postcard

Postcard image was taken by Phillip Reed (Lewis Reed’s brother) of Woodlawn Hotel before it became Chestnut Lodge in 1910.

The postcard below reads:

Your letter received. Mama wants the board and stand too, for our board is not any good. Grafton is still in Washington but I don’t know how long he will be there he has about finished painting for this winter. I sent your letter to him today. Did you receive the pictures, and were they small enough for the lockets? I will close love to and from all. Come down when you can. Lovingly, Eva Reed

Uncle Lewis Thompson’s address is 511 G St N.W.

1910 real photo postcard

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