Henry Rinn captures early Baltimore’s trials and triumphs on vintage postcards

By Charles Bush

If you had lived in Baltimore at the turn of the 20th century, chances are that you would have encountered Henry Rinn Jr. energetically roving the streets with his ever-present tripod and camera. Rinn regularly criss-crossed the city, capturing glimpses of life in Baltimore during the early 1900s. Then, retiring to his bedroom that functioned as a makeshift darkroom, Rinn would develop his images and transform them into much sought-after picture postcards.

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Johns Hopkins Hospital vintage postcard  Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital on card No. 9 in a series of 160 early photo postcards by Henry Rinn Jr. Value: $3-$8.

Rinn began producing his first series of black-and-white picture postcards in 1898. One of these early Private Mailing Cards features a picture of the Johns Hopkins Hospital; it is No. 9 in a series of 160 cards. In the lower right corner of the picture are the words, “Henry Rinn, Jr. Publisher.”

Sometime around 1900, Rinn moved his photographic operations to 423 Courtland St. in Baltimore. Unfortunately, Rinn’s studio and all his photographic equipment and master files were lost in the Great Baltimore Fire of February 1904, the conflagration that reduced the majority of the city’s downtown business district to rubble in a little over 24 hours.

Undaunted by his misfortune, Rinn grabbed a camera that he had at his home and began documenting the aftermath of the fire. Rinn sent these photographs to the E. C. Kropp Co. in Milwaukee, Wis., where they were made into a series of 13 black-and-white picture postcards. Rinn was soon back in business, publishing a series of five unnumbered black-and-white postcards.

Vintage postcard celebrating rebuilding of Baltimore  The completion of the rebuilding of Baltimore in late 1907 was celebrated with the Oct. 13-19 “Home Coming Week,” which was publicized with many souvenir postcards, including a series of seven picture and illustrated postcards produced by Henry Rinn Jr. Shown here is the sixth card of this series, showing an illustration of Lord Baltimore holding a map of Maryland against a world globe. Value: $7-$12.

By late 1907, the refurbishment of downtown Baltimore had been completed, thanks to a Herculean effort of the community. In typical Baltimore fashion, the city fathers decided to celebrate with a party, so Oct. 13-19 was designated as Home Coming Week. The event was publicized with many souvenir postcards, including a series of seven picture and illustrated postcards produced by Henry Rinn Jr.

Around this same time, Rinn began to send his photographic prints to Germany, where, using advanced technology, the prints were processed into full-color postcards. Between 1904 and 1915, Rinn published more than 250 color picture postcards of Baltimore landmarks.

Unique within Rinn’s color postcard series is a subset of 12 cards that were published under the name Baltimore Art Publishing Co. It remains a mystery as to why just these 12 cards were published by the Baltimore Art Publishing Co.

Henry Rinn natural-bordered postcard  Rinn’s second series of fancy natural-bordered postcards shows scenes within an oyster shell. Shown here: The sixth card of the series featuring the paddleboat “Emma A. Ford.” Value: $20-$30.

Among collectors, the most popular of the postcards published by Henry Rinn Jr. remain his fancy-border cards. These cards were published in two series. The first series consisted of 13 cards featuring various views of Baltimore surrounded by natural borders. One of the cards in the first fancy-border series shows an interior view of the Baltimore Fish Market, enclosed within a border of lobsters. Additional cards in the first series include a view of Baltimore Harbor surrounded by a border of shrimp, the entrance to Druid Hill Park inside a pine cone and Mount Vernon Place within an ivy leaf.

The second series of the fancy-border cards contained six cards. Each card shows a different nautical subject pictured within an oyster shell. For example, the sixth card in the series features the paddleboat Emma A. Ford.

Henry Rinn Jr. vintage postcard This unnumbered card is one of many Rinn postcards to which glitter was added, a popular practice at the time (1904). Value: $3-$8.

Most of the postcards published by Henry Rinn Jr. are still available and can be obtained for reasonable prices. Cards from the black-and-white series and the color series run from $3 to $10 each. The Baltimore Fire cards go for somewhat more, as do the Home Coming Week cards. The most expensive and the most difficult to acquire of the Rinn cards are the fancy-border cards, which sell for anywhere from $10 to $50, depending on condition.

For postcard collectors with an interest in Baltimore, obtaining the postcards published by Henry Rinn Jr. is a must and is worth the time and the effort it will take to track them down.

A special thanks to Lee Dixon for his invaluable help in preparing this article.

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Rinn documented the Great Baltimore Fire of February 1904 in a series of picture postcards. Shown here is No. 971 from the series; at the left-hand border of the card is an inscription in tiny red letters: E. C. Kropp Co., Milwaukee, Made Esp. for Henry Rinn Jr. Pub. No. 971. Value: $7-$12.


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