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Illustrated History Index

The Origins: Early Photographys (1839-1879)
The Origins: Early Prints (1850-1885)
Early Trade Cards and the First Baseball Cards (1868-1879)
The Tobacco Revolution (1886-1899)
Non Commercial Cabinets & Photos of the 1880's-90's
Baseball Albums

Early Photographs

1850 Encased Daguerreotype of brother and sister

Introduction: Baseball cards as we know them can be traced not only to the rising popularity of baseball in the mid-1800s, but to the early development of photography and commercial printing processes. The earliest memorabilia does not resemble baseball cards but by the 1870's the public sentiment and commercial forces were ready for the first baseball cards. This chapter shows the solid-type photographs and early mounted paper photographs.

I will start with a brief explanation of modern photography. In modern photography the photographic image is first captured as a negative image on film within the camera. The negative image is then used in the photographic laboratory to make multiple prints on chemically treated paper. Thus for each photograph there is a single negative and multiple prints. The single negative is a negative image of the photograph in which dark-is-light and right-is-left. The printing process restores to normal the positive image on the photographic paper.


Solid-type Photography (1839-1890s): Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tintypes

The first practical photographs were not paper like today's, but on a sheet of metal or glass. In 1839 a French artist named Louis Daguerre perfected the Daguerreotype, a photograph made on a silver covered copper sheet. A primitive photograph on paper, called a Callotype, was introduced a year later but the Daguerreotype proved more popular. The exquisite detail along with the silver-mirror quality gave these Daguerreotype an almost magical appearance. Some considered it impolite to stare too long at those people in the photograph.

The Daguerreotype images are stoic. It took several minutes to expose the negative, meaning that the subjects had to sit or stand completely motionless for the duration or ruin the photograph. No doubt quite a challenge for the brother and sister in the above photograph. You will find many subjects conveniently propped by a chair, table or special stand. It was not until just before 1900 that film exposure time was reduced so that snap shots or action shots could be taken.

Unlike today's photography where one can make many photographic prints from a single negative, the Daguerreotype was the negative. There were no duplicates. If you own a daguerreotype it is a '1-of-1.' These photographs were delicate and held in special cases. These cases vary in design and are often stylish and colorful.

As a negative shows lights as darks and darks as lights, a black backing was put behind the image to correct the contrast. The negative's mirror image could not be corrected, so all images including writing are in reverse.

The public was enamored with these images. The prices however was prohibitive, and subjects and owners were usually middle-class to rich. Luckily for baseball collectors, the New York Knickerbockers and other pioneer team were made up of middle-class businessmen (doctors, store-owners, etc), and some Daguerreotypes of these pioneers can be found. An attractive and clear Daguerreotype of an early team or significant player would be a centerpiece of even an advanced collection. For most of us, the soon-described tintypes are the most attainable of solid-types.

Not only were Daguerreotype expensive, they were dangerous to make. Toxic chemicals including mercury were used ('Mad as a Daguerretoypist,' was a saying). Cheaper and safer solid-types were introduced. The Ambrotype was made on a piece of glass, while the Tintype (aka ferrotype) was made on a piece of iron. As with the Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tintypes have a black backing to correct the contrast, and the images are in mirror reverse. While the Ambrotype was short-lived, the tintype was an especially cheap way to make photography and lasted until the early 20th Century. Many people collected Tintypes and housed them in special albums. You could call them the first family albums. As baseball was becoming a popular sport, there are many tintypes of men and boys posing in their baseball uniforms. There are family pictures with a toddler holding a ball or bat. These amateur tintypes, especially ones that have clear attractive images, are sought after. A tintype of a star like Cap Anson or King Kelly would prove to be quite a find.

Examples of Solid-types

1850s Ambrotype of Active Baseball Club of New York City.


1870s Tintypes of unknown players. Even though these are unknown subjects, they sold in a national auction for nearly $400 each. The poses, image clarity and condition are determining factors in the price. Equipment and elaborate uniforms are desirable.

1870s Tintype of two Anonymous Players (detail on right). Notice that the letters on the jerseys are in reverse.

1860s-70s Tintype and case with baseball equipment advertising

closeup of above: He's smoking a clay pipe.

1870's Tintype

1880s Tintype: left, and on right in case.

1870s Tintype: This is an especially large example, on a full plate, allowing us to view beyond the pose. Large examples are quite desirable. The smallest examples are the proverbial 'dime a dozen.'

1890 Tintype: The uniform, including 'pillbox' cap, shoes and hefty glove help date this. Tintypes were used into the 20th century


Paper Photographs: Albumen Prints, Cabinets and Cartes de Viste

* Albumen Print A photograph made from a glass negative on a piece of paper coated with egg whites.

* Carte de Viste: an albumen print measuring about 2-1/2" X 3-1/2" on a cardboard backing (mount) measuring about 2-1/4" X 4"

* Cabinet Card: an albumen print measuring about 4" X 5" on a cardboard mount measuring about 4-1/2" X 6."

Albumen photography was a great advancement in photography. Photographers had long hoped to create multiple photographs of high quality. The Daguerreotypes were of top quality but each was unique. Multiple Callotype paper photographs could be made but the quality was poor. While the Callotypes used a negative to make the photographs, the negative was on a piece of regular writing paper. This meant that the grain or irregularities in the paper appeared in the photograph. Photographers wished to use a smooth glass plate as the negative but didn't know how to make the developing chemicals stick to the surface. Albumen, a sticky substance in egg whites, was found to work. With albumen on the glass plate negative and on the paper, multiple photographs of high quality could be made. The images are no longer reverse like the solid=types. Most of the 19th Century photographs were Albumen Prints. This includes the well-known photographic baseball cards such as Old Judge and Kalamazoo Bats.

The Albumen Photographs were on a very thin paper and were usually glued to a piece of cardboard called a mount. A large one of these 'cards' was a Cabinet Card, so called because it was often displayed in a cabinet. A miniature version is called a Carte de Viste. These Cabinets and Cartes pictured hundreds of subjects from Presidents to actresses to family members to nature scenes to city-scapes. Cartes were often used as calling cards. For example, a man may leave his Carte de Viste (with his photograph) with a business associate or friend. In fact Carte de Viste is French for 'visiting card.' Local stores often sold Cabinets or Cartes of famous people. Collecting these and pasting them into albums was a popular hobby.

As with tintypes, there were many baseball subjects including local teams and youth players. There can be found Cabinets and Cartes of well-known teams and famous players. Single-player subjects are more available them team cards.

Whether one considers mounted photographs to be baseball cards is up to opinion. Most consider only cards used for commercial use to be true baseball cards, and would categorize these as photographs or memorabilia. But if these are not true baseball cards, they are merely a step away. Many tobacco cards of the 1880s resemble these photographic cards.

1860 Carte de Viste of Cooperstown, New York.

circa 1870 carte de visite. It is not Ross Barnes as labelled,

1869 Carte de Viste of the Cincinnati Red Stockings: This significant Carte shows the great team including the Hall-of-Famer brothers Harry and George Wright. Composite designs of numerous single-player photographs like this were popular. Numerous composite designs were used.

1877 Carte de Viste of the Boston Bostons (showing front and back). The championship team was headed by the great shortstop George Wright. In fact, the back has been signed in pencil, 'Compliments, Geo. Wright.'


1870s Cabinet Card of an unknown team.

1871-72 Mort Rogers Scorecard: this rare four page booklet with scorecard and advertising has a photograph within the cover's oval hole. Most scorecards do not have photographs, though all are highly collectable. Lithographed scorecards are shown in the Early Prints chapter.


Even with the introduction of massed produced commercial baseball cards starting in the 1870s, non-commercial Cabinet Cards photographs were still popular into the early 1900s. Non commercial Cabinets and photography can be found depicting Hall-of-Fame players to youth and women's teams. See Non-Commercial Cabinets Photographs of the 1880s and 90s.


Main Index

The Origins: Early Photographys (1839-1879)
The Origins: Early Prints (1850-1885)
Early Trade Cards and the First Baseball Cards (1868-1879)
The Tobacco Revolution (1886-1899)
Non Commercial Cabinets & Photos of the 1880's-90's
Baseball Albums



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