The History of the SBM in pictures thanks to old glass plate photos

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These plates provide the earliest pictures of the SBM and Monaco - © Monte-Carlo SBM archives

Over 20,000 photographs, which the general public is unable to see for the time being, are carefully stored by the Heritage Department of the Société des Bains de Mer. Monaco Tribune can share some of them with you. 

Envelopes to protect them, white gloves to handle them: the Société des Bains de Mer’s glass photo plates require a lot of care. These are the earliest photographs of the SBM buildings, taken by the Italian photographer Jacques (or Giacomo) Enrietti, among others.

Born in 1875, he initially joined the SBM as a bricklayer, before working for the architect’s office. Jacques Enrietti, who was a keen photographer, finally made a name for himself through his art and was appointed photographer for the advertising department in 1905.

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This picture by an anonymous photographer, was taken in 1868 – © Monte-Carlo SBM archives

From glass plates to negatives

“He also worked as a freelancer: many of his photos were published in the Riviera Illustrée and other magazines of the time. That was the start of what we would now call communication. And François and Marie Blanc had this desire to communicate from the outset. The press was an essential factor in the company’s growth,” says Charlotte Lubert, SBM’s heritage manager.

The Société des Bains de Mer built its reputation through images and the glass plate process. Originally, glass plates had to be wet and prepared on the spot by the photographer, but they gradually gave way to dry plates, thanks in particular to the famous Lumière brothers who invented the “blue label”: a dry plate with an exposure time of 1/60 of a second, which was marketed from the 1890s to the 1950s. Negatives then took over.

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Monaco, in 1926 – © Monte-Carlo SBM archives

Charlotte Lubert was familiar with the Society’s photographic laboratory at the start of her career – even though it was no longer in use – and the negatives and trays were still there.

Today, some 21,700 glass plates (dating from the beginning of the 20th century) and 105,230 negatives (from 1940 to 1986) are carefully stored by the Heritage Department in special ph-neutral boxes.

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Previously, the plates were kept in these old boxes – © Monte-Carlo SBM archives  

Events and scenes from everyday life

“At the time, up until the 1940s, the photos featured the SBM but also Monaco, since we would cover events in the Principality. Later on, it became a bit more “celebrity-centric” and it was the purely SBM events that were photographed. (…) However, the photographs on glass plates were much sharper. Even on the smallest ones, the image definition is really impressive, compared to what can be done today,” says Charlotte Lubert.

The Casino terraces, passers-by strolling around, elegance contests, flower battles, rallies, the Grand Prix, the earliest images of the Casino, the Hotel de Paris being built… The plates captured both historical moments and scenes from everyday life.

“Jacques Enrietti liked to photograph life, the social aspect. (…) He has left quite a photographic legacy,” the heritage manager admits. Between 1900 and 1960, over 60,000 photographs were taken on glass plates and negatives.

Carefully filed away and protected, these photographs are unfortunately not available for viewing by the general public at present.

“They are difficult to display because they are sensitive to light,” explains Charlotte Lubert. “They were all digitised, however, which took more than ten years.”

So we will have to wait a little longer before tourists and residents can, perhaps one day, discover the rich history of the SBM in pictures.