Adam’s Retouching Machine: Photoshop of the 1940’s

If you thought that photoshopping an image is a thing of the modern world, think again.  The idea of making changes to images actually dates all the way back to the 1940’s.  It’s called the Adam’s Retouching Machine, and was created to aid negative retouchers in doing manual editing more quickly.


The machine, which holds negatives measuring up to 8×10 inches, works by vibrating the negative whilethe retoucher works on it with a dye brush or retouching pencil.  The tiny movements help smooth out the strokes, allowing for clean and undetectable modifications to the negative. This type of work required a steady hand, a sharp eye, and great deal of time and patience.


The Adam’s Retouching Machine was created 68 years ago by LeRoy Adams of Denver, Colorado.  Weighing about 16kgs, it was patented in 1946 to give photographers the opportunity to perfect their pictures.  The retouching was done prior to developing the photograph by placing the negative on top of a green cloth in the center of the device, a fluorescent tube inside the machine lit the negative, and then gentle vibrations of the machine and a built-in magnifying glass helped to smooth out blemishes.


An American photographer and vintage camera store owner, John Sargent Barnard of San Francisco, California recently purchased the retouching machine for $5 and restored it. Barnard tried to use the machine but admitted that he was unable to master the technique required to produce a perfect photo.   If this technology was sold today, it would cost $2,300.  Barnard sold the device to a collector from New York for an undisclosed price.

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