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Adelaide Hanscom’s Illustrated Rubaiyat: – Colourized Photographs

December 1, 2022

A few weeks ago, we published an article by Joe Howard about Adelaide Hanscom who was the first artist to illustrate Edward FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat with photographs. In what follows, Joe continues the story of Hanscom’s work on the Rubaiyat, discussing the period when she was working in co-operation with fellow photographer Blanche Cumming. The original post can be found on Our thanks to Joe for sharing this further work with us all.

In 1912 Dodge Publishing Co. of New York published a new edition (10¼ x7¾ ins) of Adelaide Hanscom’s 1905 Rubaiyat1 in which the original illustrations were hand-colourized (Potter 274). It was offered for sale with a choice of three bindings, cloth, ooze leather, and leathercraft, and referred to as “The Rubaiyat, Royal Edition”. A publication date is not given, but copyright dates, both 1905 and 1912, are printed on the rear of the title page. While the individual photographs of the earlier version have captions beneath them stating “COPYRIGHT 1905 BY DODGE PUBLISHING COMPANY”, the colourized version has just “© D.P.Co.” printed on each photograph.

A notable change in the colourized version (CV) is that the title page shares credit for the photographs: “… with illustrations from life studies by Adelaide Hanscom and Blanche Cumming.” Blanche shared a studio with Adelaide until it was destroyed by fire, a consequence of the infamous (April 1906) San Francisco earthquake. She also persuaded George Stirling, a prominent poet and playwright, to pose for Adelaide’s Rubaiyat.

 Blanche, like Adelaide, was both a photographer and artist and it has been suggested that she did the colourizing. This appears unlikely since the 1917 Dodge Catalogue states “The photographs, hand-colored by the Pancoast Studios, are reproduced in full color photogravure printing”. Although hand colourization of photographs is nearly as old as photography itself, the heyday of the technique is generally regarded to be 1900-1940. An example of the colourized edition (leather, boxed) and two colourized photographs are shown in Fig.1. Full scans of this, and some later editions, can be found online2. In this article, I have selected photographs primarily to exemplify points I make below. 

The CV proved justifiably popular and was reprinted many times. The colours chosen are attractive: in many instances, they are vibrant and/or saturated, which contrasts with the more muted, translucent colours commonly used for colourization in the early 20th century. It does seem to be overdone on occasion though. For example, in Fig.1b. the man looks to be wearing lipstick. Much more significantly, the extent to which the colourization has been carried out sometimes negates the very careful, creative, and time-consuming work done by Adelaide on the original glass negatives. In the monotone print (Fig.2a.), only the man and jug are in sharp focus and this area is slightly darker than the rest of the print. This was most likely done to emphasize that it is the man who is speaking in the quatrain illustrated (XII: “… A jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou…).  

To overcome the challenge inherent in the proximity of the heads, and the limitations of the equipment available, Adelaide placed a fine veil over the face of the woman to further blur it. Neutral tones were selected for the remainder of the image which do not distract attention from the man and jug. The CV, (Fig.2b.) in comparison, has extremely strong contrast. The woman has been brought into sharp focus, and the background has considerable structure and presence. These comments are not intended to be critical, my point being that the coloured photograph represent a very deliberate and different artistic approach from the original.

Other modifications have been made, seemingly with modesty in mind. The final image in the book, a profile of a naked woman on all-fours, has been colourized (edited?) to reduce the explicit content via the introduction of very deep shadows to areas where none existed before.

The cover of the 1905 Rubaiyat was designed by Adelaide, as were all the page decorations. She also designed a rather unusual page (Fig.3a.). It depicts colours and symbols along with statements of their significance. This page, where colour plays a crucial role, is not included in the CV. The puzzling symbol, “A bird can fly without wings” is included on two photographs in the 1905 edition but has been removed from one of the corresponding colourized photographs: compare the top left of centre of Figs.3b. and 3c. It is unclear why this was done. These images also differ in their composition, a very important consideration in photography and in art generally. Cropping before printing is routinely used to improve the composition of original photographs. Fig.3b. has an awkward empty space to the left while Fig, 3c. has been cropped to eliminate it, yielding a more balanced composition. Stylistically, there is no good reason to reverse the earlier decision.  Other images exhibit comparable composition differences (e.g., Figs.2a. & b.).

The photograph retaining the “A bird can fly without wings” symbol on colourization, has it coloured red (“colour of the physical”), not blue (“colour of the spiritual”) as in the original design. Given that Adelaide created the symbol, I think it highly unlikely she would have initiated or approved such an error/change in meaning.

Thus, there are significant differences between the monotone and the colourized versions which are not intrinsic to the process of colourization (reduction of the pictorialist content, composition/cropping, the introduction of deep editorial shadows, content deletion, change of symbolism). The monochrome photographs are Adelaide’s signature artistic photographic work, the result of two years of effort. Yet, much of what led to their acclaim has been undone in the CV.  It seems unlikely to me that Adelaide would have made or indeed, willingly accepted, such modifications. As I indicated above, colourization could have been completed without making these stylistic and content modifications.  Likewise, I doubt that Blanche would have suggested or approved the composition changes. Since the photographs are copyrighted by the publisher, I suggest that it was the publisher who took final decisions and responsibility for the nature and extent of the colourization.

The CV clearly has its own appeal and apparently proved very popular since many variants were published, included covers with different colours, textures and embellishments. The front cover (Fig.4.) of one interesting version includes a gilded partial outline of the photograph in Fig.2a. There are other variants of this specific cover.

                A smaller format (6×4¾ ins) “Popular Edition”, containing just eight colourized photographs, was also published by Dodge Publishing Co. in 1914 (copyrighted for both 1905 and 1914). It excludes all photographs in which the models’ posed nude. Over several years many different bindings were introduced (Fig.5.). There is also considerable variation as to which copyright dates were included, if any. Fig.5a. is marked with copyright only for 1916-the latest date that I am aware of. Some CV’s have both photographers credited, some credit only Adelaide and others do not credit an illustrator. I’m aware of two versions with dust jackets (e.g., Fig.5b.). The “Popular Edition” was also issued with 8 black and white images (Fig.5d) with credit given only to Adelaide: the individual photographs contain a simple copyright mark, (©).

UK Editions

                The CV was published in the UK by George G. Harrap &Co. The large-format copies I have seen were printed in the USA by Dodge Publishing Co. and do not contain either publishing or copyright dates. Potter 274 lists these as [1914].

                The “Popular Edition” was also published by Harrap. There are many variants, as in the USA.


  1. More information about Adelaide Hanscom’s 1905 edition can be found at:
  2. Scans of complete copies of some of the books referred to above, can be found by searching The HathiTrust Digital Library ( The scans of the colourized photographs are generally of lesser quality than the paper copies.
One Comment leave one →
  1. January 21, 2023 9:36 am

    wow, Sandra, we have to say it again: congrats on this great article. We really enjoy it very much indeed!

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