By Phil Hecken, with Timmy Brulia, Rick Pearson & Larry Bodnovich
Several weeks ago, Paul posted the following picture, taken at the 1948 NHL All Star Game. It’s a wonderful photo, leading Paul to quip, “Oh baby, how sweet is this 1948 NHL All-Star uni? The player is Doug Bentley.” The next day, reader Marc Swanson colorized that very photo, and he did a great job.
There was only one problem: he had the colors wrong. The actual sweater that was worn by the 1948 NHL All Stars was red, with blue and white stripes on the sleeves. But, at first glance, one would (as did I) assume that the sweater was actually blue, due to how we view the differences in color values of black and white photographs we see in newspapers and other media today. But why is that? And, how are we to know, when looking at old photographs, what the colors are?
This is a problem that has been plaguing sports historians and uni watchers for decades. Later that day, another Uni Watch reader, Doug Brei addressed the matter, via email. Here’s what Doug had to say:
(L)et me try to enlighten the readers about old-time photojournalism on black & white film and how this may have affected the particular photo in question.
In the old days, photojournalists/photographers often used a photo filter to distinguish colors as they transfer to the gray pallete on black and white film. For example, if a photographer took a picture of an apple tree, the red apple and the green leaves might look almost identical when transferred to black & white film, making them look almost indistinguishable from one another. Thus the photographer might use a red filter which would lighten the apple and darken the leaves, making the apple stand out in the photo.
In this photo of the hockey sweater in question, the photographer used a blue filter, which darkened the red torso of the sweater and lightened the blue stripes. (In this particular instance it creates what appears to be an optical illusion, as we often tend to think of blue as a darker color than red.) However, in the grand scheme of his photography assignment that day, the blue filter was likely chosen to best distinguish the colors of his subjects increasing the tone of his photos.
Incidentally, had he used a red filter on his camera, the VERY SAME PHOTO would have appeared as if the torso was lighter and the stripes were darker.
Choosing the black and white feature on Photoshop or MS Paint wouldn’t make a fair comparison because the effect was caused by a filter on the camera that originally took the picture and created the original negative. Thus, the argument or confusion made by one or more of your forum “posters” failed to recognize the fact that on that day 62 years ago, the photographer used the technology of the day to help better define the color subjects as they transferred onto black-and-white film.
Make any sense?
In 2010, I’m not sure how a blue filter would effect digital photography, but if I can somehow find a blue filter I’ll try to do a little experimentation one of these days.
Armed with that information, I asked Uni Watch historian Timmy Bruilia, the grand sage of UW Rick Pearson, and UW’s resident “black and white colorizer” Larry Bodnovich, to assist me in exploring this important historical complexity in much greater detail — that is, when we look at a black and white photograph from the past, how can we be sure what the colors are?
Tim, who has spent years researching this subject, will provide an historical perspective. Ricko, who has been facing this quandry for decades of uni watching, will supply anecdotal evidence of the problems in ascertaining proper colors when viewing a black and white photograph. Larry, who has been colorizing black and white photographs for years (and assisted me on just such a project), will be asked to colorize some photographs for which the team colors are not known to him, to show why it’s so difficult to view a black and white picture and know the true colors.
So sit back and enjoy this amazing and wonderful look at the art of black and white in color.
Part I-An Historical Perspective
by Tim Brulia
As a sports uniform historian/geek, I have always been fascinated by the history of and the evolution of sports uniforms; football, hockey and baseball in particular.
Apart from the logos, lettering, trim, piping, numeral fonts, that are all vital to the cause, the most important key to make this research accurate is the team colors. While we may know the way the uni looked based on photographic evidence, as we go back deeper in time, we may not know how a team’s colors played a role in the look.
In particular, as we go before the 1950’s, the use of color photography in sports is quite rare. So, we have no choice but to use black & white photography. Many years ago, I remember thumbing thru a hockey magazine which had many photos from the early days of the NHL. I was jolted to see pics of players with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and the defunct New York Americans where the Rangers looked like they were wearing red jerseys, the Habs in blue sweaters and the Amerks in God knows what! It then hit me some time later as I ordered and received a set of the Hockey Hall of Fame artist postcards (similar to the Baseball Hall of Fame Perez-Steele art cards) that the pics were playing tricks with me. In those 1910’s-1920’s pics of Bad Joe Hall, Howie Morenz, Aurel Joliat, Bun Cook, Ching Johnson and others, the red was very dark, almost black, while the blue tinted a very pale shade of gray! Some years ago when I did research for Andy Greenstein’s nhluniforms.com site, this issue was particularly evident when digging thru additional historical pics of these teams.
Also, when geeking through the New York (football) Giants in the 1930’s. I think many of the UW faithful might be familiar with the “evolution of the uniform” portraits (Jim Thorpe, Ernie Nevers, Bob Waterfield, Bob Lilly, to name a few) done for the book “The First 50 Years“. One of those is a nice portrait of Mel Hein in the 1934 Giants uni. It is actually wrong. The Giants wore RED jerseys as opposed to blue!!
Another color that — back in the day — ran way off kilter in old B/W shots is yellow (or as the sports world calls it, “gold”). When researching 1920’s Boston Bruns unis and yes, Pittsburgh Pirates hockey and football, posed (Bruins, hockey Pirates) and action (football Pirates) shots makes the jerseys look like dark blobs. The yellow was that dark in some shots. There was in the early 2000’s a tremendous hockey photo website with an incredible array of posed shots and some action pics from the early days of the NHL. These included a load of posed shots of black/gold uni teams like the Hamilton Tigers, Boston Bruins (in their brown/gold years) and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sad to say, this site is long gone (2006 or so).
Also, the few 1933 and 1934 pics I have seen of the Philadelphia Eagles in action with the blue/yellow color scheme, the “colors” are so murky that the numbers/stripes are rather indistinguishable.
Without the benefit of surviving jerseys/uniforms from this era, we can only rely on educated guesswork, IF we know the colors the teams wore during these years. I’m thinking Marc Okkonen himself, the godfather of baseball uniform research, may have done educated guesswork in the 1900-1935 era in terms of the colors baseball teams wore.
Even when the b/w shots started looking a little more “natural”, we run into the problem of seeing how close red & blue are when used together. A few weeks ago, in the UW, a contributor saw a b/w pic of the 1948 NHL All-Star Game jersey. The red and blue looked exactly alike. He attempted to colorize the classic sweater (as seen in the introduction). Alas, it was wrong. Not his fault. Without us knowing what the sweater actually looked like, anyone of us (including me) could have gotten the combination wrong. Another perfect example of this issue is the football Giants unis of the 1937-1952 era. The Giants sported helmets from 1937-1947 that very much resembled the Michigan “wing” pattern, with the base color of the leather lid being blue, with the “wings” being red. But virtually any b/w pic of the Giants in this era would show the helmet with no discernable difference at all in the “color” of the helmet, unlike the Eagles helmet of the 40’s, where the silver and green portions of their helmet are plainly visible in b/w.
As I have said many times before, I am NOT a photography expert by any means, nor am I a colorologist (word?), but having studied lots of early era sportspix, hockey and football in particular, I am quite aware of the trickiness of getting the color schemes right.
Part II-Ancedotal Evidence
by Rick Pearson
I’ll keep this part as short as I can and stuff it with lots of photos that, if you can put yourself in a late ‘50s-early ‘60s mindset and go ONLY by the photos, will you keep you scratching your heads as to what is/was what color.
First, a brief summary. Before color TV, before instant replays, all there was on TV every weekend was one college football game and one pro game (two after AFL game around, and they pretty much invented the TV doubleheader, as I recall). You also had 65-line screen b&w newspapers photos and, if you were lucky, maybe a weekly highlight show…really nothing more than newsreel type film shot from the bird’s eye view roof of the stadium press box. Good luck checking details in those.
I can tell you positively it was this Robert Riger illustration in Sports Illustrated that showed me the Giants had red numbers, socks, etc. on the road. Remember the moment well.
So let’s pretend it’s 1960 and you’re trying to figure out the unis in this new AFL. Some annuals bothered with them, but only included rosters. New logos ready yet, no team colors listed. Maybe half the play-by-play guys would bother to describe the unis. If they did, it was early, so if you tuned in late you were screwed. You were left listening for lines like, “surrounded by blue jerseys” or something. Let’s say you’re trying to figure out the Buffalo Bills unis. For one thing, you compare photos to known teams. Okay, one of the teams pictured here wears red with their silver helmets and pants, the other a shade of blue. Based ONLY on the look of these photos, what color would you say the Bills’ jerseys are? I mean, those numbers look to be the same color as the center of the Pats loops, which appears to be red. Honestly, now, if you didn’t already know.
And the Broncos? Hmm…based only on the way they look on TV or in a couple newspaper photos you saw, those jerseys could be Old Gold, Athletic Gold, Tennessee Orange or even Powder Blue. Pants/helmets could be navy, red, maroon, brown, forest… But the Oilers, unless they’re in Athletic Gold, would seem to be Powder Blue, so you can sort rule that out.
The Patriots certainly appear to be wearing maybe navy jersey with red at the center of the shoulder loops in these photos from a ’61 annual, don’t they. Wrong again. Team photo didn’t exactly clear anything up. And how about the roads…are those loops red-royal-red or the other way around? Sadly, Fleer never used that photo for a card, so no help there. Not much to go on in this night game photo vs. the Titans, either.
And, of course, you’re all messed up because you’re already realized something’s hinky because you’ve seen photos like these. And you KNOW in both cases the hats are royal, as are stirrups…with red striping…but they sure as hell don’t look that way.
Or these: The original Los Angeles Chargers had a dark edge on their numbers and around the shoulder bolts? No, they did not.
So if some of us don’t seem all that fixated on helmet types and facemask color, forgive us. We had enough details on our plates to check already. LOL
Part III-Black & White in Color
by Larry Bodnovich
[Phil here. For this portion of the post, Ricko provided Larry with three black and white photographs — Photo 1, Photo 2, and Photo 3; we didn’t tell him any of the colors, but based on his expertise in colorization of black and white photography, asked him for his “best guess” as to what the teams actually wore. Here’s Larry with the results:]
Some of these were a little hard to do because of the quality of the original. But I thought it was fun to guess at the colors. For this one I thought blue was the number color and sock and stripes. The jersey color though I was not sure of. To me it did not look white. It could have been a light orange or yellow and I went with gray. Most of the time I think I can tell when a color was white. Such as the socks. I have no idea who the guy or team is. But I have seen old Auburn pictures and it kind of reminds me of that style.
This one I went with my gut and thought ok red and blue. But what parts were red and what may have been blue. Again the guy with the blue? helmet and uniform, I was not sure about the pants. I almost went red vertical stripes on the socks but gut said try blue. This one was most fun to guess at.
This last one I did see what looked like Bill Dudleys name. The only team I know of Bill Dudley was the Steelers. And the uniform did not look like Steelers. It kind of reminded me of the Bears blue and orange. The numbers and stripes seemed too dark to be yellow or gold. The tricky thing is the other unis looked to me like the Eagles But I was wondering if it was a college game. I do not remember where Dudley went to college and the other team I would have no idea of. If college the other team could have been Dartmouth or Cornell?? Dartmouth was green and Cornell red.
So even though I knew Dudley’s name I did just guess at the picture.
I have colorized mostly old Ohio State pictures so I know that the color was red for them. If I try and figure out the other team I usually have good idea of how it may be. Obviously dark colors or colors like red blue green and maybe dark purple are hard to guess. White black silver and gold seem easier to guess. Light orange or yellow are hard to tell.
I can usually tell white from gray.
Wow. Big thanks to Ricko, Timmy & Larry for those amazing contributions. Stay tuned throughout the day, because we’ll be revealing the actual colors of the teams in the photos Larry colorized, to see how close he came to their true colors, and Lance “Squiddie” Smith will be periodically posting some Life photos for which you guys can try to guess the teams and the colors, so keep checking back. Should prove a fun and educational exercise all wrapped into one!
Last call for
alcohol votes: For any of you who haven’t yet voted in the “Design-An-NFL-Jersey Contest,” the polls close down today. Don’t know what I’m talking about? You can check it out here. So far, more than 5,000 people have voted, and we’ll soon know the results. So, give it a look-see and cast your lot. Big shout out to Alain Nana-Sinkham of Classic Old School Gear for providing the grand prize to the winner and James Huening for constructing the poll.
Happy Early Birthday Paul…the man who makes this wonderful blog all possible is having another birthday this Sunday, March 21st — so to all you readers who don’t normally check in over the weekend, be sure to wish him an early Happy Special Day. Cheers, buddy. See ya at the Beefsteak (and I hope you kick some curling ass in Duluth).
And speaking of the birthday boy… Paul here. Big day yesterday, highlighted by a trip over the state line to Superior, Wisconsin, where I had a doozy of a lunch at the very excellent Anchor Bar (every bit as awesome as that photo suggests). It’s amazing how a mere five-mile jaunt to the east can vastly improve your life when those five miles put you in Wisconsin.
After lunch it was time for a bit more curling practice, and a few hours after that I finally learned who my teammates will be for the bonspiel. My celebrity skip is multi-time national champion Craig Brown, which is another way of saying I totally lucked out. Our third is Becca Jensen (a league curler from the Twin Cities) and our second is Matt Cartier (a local league curler). Since I’m a beginner, I’ll be throwing lead.
For those interested in seeing our team compete, we have a game today at 3pm (which we have a decent chance of winning) and another at 5:30pm (not sure how good our opponents will be for that one). There will also be a round of matches at 8pm, but my team isn’t scheduled for that slate.
Also of note: I’m seriously intrigued by this photo, which is hanging on one of the walls at the club. Appears to be a hockey team whose jerseys feature a curling rock! Could Ebbets Field Flannels please put this design into production, pronto? Thanks.
All in all, a very good day — except that I was so busy having fun that I forgot to bid on that Packers dickie, which ended up going for a relative song. Dang.
Meanwhile: New ESPN column today — look here.
And now back to Phil for today’s Ticker.
Uni Watch News Ticker: “Did you see this great blog entry by Joe Pelletier on the $38,000 green Toronto Maple Leafs sweater?” asks Jacob Pomrenke. “Fascinating stuff — especially the part about King Clancy entering his ‘King Clancy Night’ game on a throne and then getting soot thrown in his face.” … Good spot by Joe Carney about a tremendous article in the NY Times about the small apparel company (Crons) that makes the uniforms for the Robert Morris basketball team. “As a Pittsburgh native, I was particularly fascinated by this story,” writes Joe. “RMU is from Pittsburgh, and the founder of Crons was a walk-on (and good outside shooter if I recall) for the Pitt basketball team more than 20 years alone. Great bit of detail is someone quoted in the article bemoans the fact that when the Nikes of the world makes unis for the Robert Morris’s of the world, they are merely providing them with other, larger schools’ unis, and are merely switching the colors on this template– a state of affairs I have been bemoaning for years.” … Steven Wojtowicz brings up an excellent question, “Not sure if this has been asked or not, but, does anyone know why Ryota Igarashi gets his FiNOC (First Name On Collar)?” … Joining the parade of green for St. Patty’s Day was UVA, who got into the St. Paddy’s Day green hat act on the 17th against JMU (thanks to Kevin Zdancewicz … Pirates infielder Bobby Crosby refuses to be caught with his pants down on the field — why? he likes showing off his socks. … More follow-up for the St. Patty’s Day follies comes from Ben Hendel, who notes a couple of things to report from the Red Sox game on 3/17. First off, for what he recalls as the first time ever, Pedroia was rocking high socks. Looked a bit odd with the green uni, looked really confusing when he threw on a blue batting helmet; Secondly, the Mets were truly wearing adjustable ball caps, as you can clearly see here. Says, Ben “You can clearly see a rainbow-and-pot-of-gold on the back, as well as an additional patch on the right side. I have no idea what that one was. Also, in yesterday’s ticker (your picture of the Dodgers and their green uni/caps), the pitcher isn’t wearing either a regular season 59FIFTY or BP 39THIRTY. He’s wearing a Twins ’47 Franchise cap.” … JJ Sully noticed yet yet another MLB logo ripoff, this one from AMA Superbike. … Here’s something we all missed the other day: North Carolina, relegated to the NIT, broke out throwbacks — and still almost lost … Kenn Tomasch saw this interesting article from the Tampa Bay Rowdies blog, detailing a ‘match worn, Ringo Cantillo American Soccer League jersey.’ … Add another to the list of one batting gloved MLBers. That’s Clete Thomas of the Tigers. According to George Flory, he has been in and out the Majors for the past couple seasons. … What’s better than an unobstructed view of the “Horseshoe Casino” sign across the street? Why, a sign in the park for 2010 Toyota Recall. Seriously, they put the “liability” in “reliability.” … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: the Kalamazoo Wings not only wore green uniforms for St. Patty’s Day, they had green ice … Who’s that skinny kid with the sleeves shooting the ball? Why, it’s Pat Riley, taken from an archived article of The Palm Beach Post (scroll up and to the right). Thanks to Morris Levin for the tip … Coming on the heels of unveiling new uniforms, the Tulsa Drillers are getting ready to unveil a new stadium … Keith Goggin saw yesterday’s ticker query on Siena’s practice jerseys, which appeared to be “dazzle,” and has the answer: “They are not dazzle cloth. Actually, they are quite far from it — more like a muted polyester fabric with no sheen whatsoever. They are also reversible with screened on numbers. They are from Anaconda Sports, a company that outfits quite a few teams here in the northeast (these Anaconda uniforms fall under “The Rock” basketball line). I know this because they are the exact uniforms that my team wears where I coach — Holy Cross High School in Flushing, Queens. We wear green and gold, and the reversible feature of these jerseys is very cost effective for us as well. We’ve been wearing these for the past 6 years and they hold up great.” Thanks, Keith (who’s on the left in the white shirt). … So you weren’t quite good enough to earn your way into the Winter Olympics, but you can still wear an olympic uniform — for a price. … “We need to stick to the same paint scheme…You don’t see the Green Bay Packers changing the color of their uniforms.” To find out who uttered those words (and may not be aware of the Packers new alternate uni), check this out — more love for NASCAR on UW. … And finally, the best thing about tying for 333rd place in the UW NC2A pool after the first day? I can watch spring training games this weekend.
Everybody pulls for David, nobody roots for Goliath. — Wilt Chamberlain