Cycleback’s Guide to Identifying and

 Understanding Early Photographs

© Cycleback, 2000-, all rights reserved

(2) Paper Photograph Styles



Photographic style: the combination of the photographic print and the manner in which it is displayed. 


This section covers the major early styles relating to the paper photograph.  The avid collector historian will come across unusual examples not listed here.




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Albums, in various forms, were even more popular over one hundred years ago than they are today.  The above picture shows a 19th century album designed for holding both cabinet cards (right page) and cartes de visite (left page).  The pages have pouches in which the photographs are held, and oval holes to allow for viewing.  The photographs can be inserted and removed with ease.  A similarly designed album held tintypes.  The covers are often leather with ornate designs. 


   By the turn of the century family studio photos and snapshots were often pasted or fastened to the pages.






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Duration: 1863-1920.  Popular use: 1870-1893


The cabinet card is a positive photographic print measuring about 4" X 4-1/2"  pasted to a cardboard mount measuring about 4-1/2" X 6-1/2"


   The cabinet card is essentially a larger version of the carte de visite.  It received its name as it was popular to display the mounted photographs in a cabinet.  For most of the 19th century, cabinet cards had albumen prints.  These prints were later replaced by the gelatin-silver prints.  Most examples past 1895 are gelatin-silver prints.  Cabinet cards often have the photography studio’s name and design on the front and/or back.


Dating the Cabinet Card

Along with the subject in the photograph, the cabinet style is helpful in giving an approximate date.  The following is the general style trends.  Exceptions to these trends will be found.


      Cabinet cards with albumen prints, usually, though not always, date before about 1895.  Gelatin-silver printing out prints were used from about 1895-1905.  After 1905, the gelatin-silver developing out print was usually used.


      The earliest cabinet card mounts were lightweight and light in color.  Often there was a thin red line around the edge.  After 1880, various colors were used, and the area below the image usually contained the photographer's imprint.  Cards with gold beveled edges date to about 1885 to just after 1890.  Maroon-faced cards were produced during the 1880s, and cards from the 1890s often had scalloped or notched edges which were imprinted with elaborate pattern on the back. 





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This term applies to any of several commercially formatted photographs pasted to cardboard mounts.  The most popular forms were the cabinet card and the carte de visite, listed individually in this chapter.  The following lists the most commonly found sizes/names made from the 19th century until about 1906.  These sizes and names were commercial standards.  Some of the more obscure examples, including ones not listed here, were made up simply as a marketing ploys (‘New for 1890—the boudoir card!’).


* Cigarette card (such as Old Judge, Gypsy Queen) - 2-3/4 x2-3/4 in.; 7 x7cm (Some variations in size)

* Stereovoiew card (aka stereograph, stereoscopic photo) - 3-1/2 x 7in. to 5 x 7in.; 8.5/12.8 x 17.8 cm; 1850's-1920's. These are the ones with two

nearly identical pictures side by side.They had a 3-D effect when viewed through a special viewer

* Carte de visite - 4 x 2-1/2in.; 10.2 x 6.3 cm; 1859-1900's

* Kodak card - 4-1/4 x 5-1/4in.; 10.8 x 13.3 cm; 1880's (photograph is circular).These were the first Kodak 'snapshots'

* Boudoir - 5-1/2 x 8-1/2in.; 14 x 21.06 cm; 1890's-

* Swiss card - 6-1/2 x 2.85in.; 16.5 x 7.3 cm

* Cabinet card - 6-1/2 x 4-1/2in.; 16.5 x 11.4 cm; 1866-1900

* Imperial (aka imperial cabinet card)- 7 x 10in.; 17.8 x 25.4 cm; 1890's-

* Promenade card - 7-1/2 x 4in.; 19 x 10.2 cm

* Paris card - 9-3/4 x 6-3/4in.; 24.8 x 17.1 cm

* Panel card - 13 x 7-1/2in.; 33 x 19 cm


After 1906, mounted photographs were still made and in a variety of sizes, but there was no longer the standardization of sizes or names.



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Duration: 1855-1905: Popular Use: 1860-1875


The carte de visite (plural: cartes de visite) is a paper print measuring about 2-1/2" by 3-1/2" pasted to a cardboard mount measuring about 2-1/2" by 4."  Most cartes used albumen prints, though other processes were used.  By the 1890s, most cartes had gelatin silver prints.          


   Cartes de visite (often nicknamed cartes or CDVs) were introduced into popular production by the Frenchman Andre-Adolphe-Eugene Disdere.  Disdere had devised a rotating camera which could produce eight individual pictures on one negative.  After printing on albumen paper, the images were cut apart and glued to print-sized mounts.


   Carte de Visite is French for 'visiting print,' as this was a popular use of these small picture prints.  A man might pass out his cartes to the friends, relatives and business associates he visited.  In the United States, cartes became popular at the beginning of the Civil War.  They were used for many purposes, including as identification prints for soldiers and as family pictures.  Cartes of popular subjects, such as romantic locations or famous persons, were made commercially and could be bought at local stores.  Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln were popular subjects.  Collecting Cartes and putting them into specially made albums was a popular hobby, and many of these albums exist today.


   The carte de visite also refers to a sleeve used to hold tintypes (see Solid-type Photography).  This tintype carte closely resembles the cartes discussed here.


Dating the Carte de Visite

Along with the subject, a dating tool is the style of the carte, as this changed over time.  The following describes the general trends.  Exceptions to these trends will be found.


Albumen prints were regularly used until about 1895.  Pre-Civil War cartes usually had the albumen print pasted to a thin, plain white or cream colored mount with square corners.  For most of the 1860s, the style was similar except that there was usually one or two gold or red lines imprinted around the border.  After 1863 some cards were imprinted with a representation of an oval picture frame into which the picture was pasted.


Starting in 1870 a thicker mount was used, and, after 1871, corners were rounded.  In 1873 many different colored mounts were introduced.  By 1875 beveled edges trimmed with guilt were sometimes used.  By 1880, the card stock was think and sturdy, and rich dark colors were common.  The back of these cards contained the photographer's logo, incorporated into an elaborate printed design.  In 1890, cards were again made thicker and often had scalloped or fancy edges.  Starting in the 1890s the gelatin-silver prints replaced the albumen print.




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A composite print is a photographic image made up of more than one image.  There are different ways of doing this.  One way involves printing two or more negatives, one after the other, on a sheet of paper.  Another way is to cut out numerous small pictures, paste them on a print or background, then photograph the resulting montage. 


   This style of image could be applied to many processes and styles, ranging from the postcard to the cabinet card.






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Duration: 1870-1920.  Popular use: 1895-1915


The imperial cabinet card is a photographic print measuring about 7 inches by 10 inches pasted to a larger mount.  It is a larger version of the cabinet card. Imperial cabinets with albumen prints are rare, as it was difficult to make large albumen prints.  With the gelatin-silver developing out processes is was easier make enlargements.  Most imperial cabinet cards were produced after the turn of the century.  The imperial cabinet card is different from the imperial photograph, which describes Mathew Brady’s extremely large prints.  It is also different than an imperial carte de visite, which describes the smaller carte where the photograph takes up an especially large amount of the space.





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A panorama is a very large photograph or connected group of photographs that show a long sweeping view.  Panoramas have been around since 1840, and over the years have used nearly all the photographic processes.


The earliest panoramas were made with a number of Daguerreotypes line up side to side.  Sometimes more than ten Daguerreotypes were used, with each Daguerreotype showing a different part of the overall view.  Starting in the 1860's, albumen panoramas were made in a similar fashion, with several prints being lined up side by side.  Near the end of the century, a specially designed rotating camera was used, allowing a single long photograph to be made.  The gelatin-silver processes were most often used here.


   Panoramas, especially of historically or artistically significant views, often are expensive.  They are often the object of reproduction.






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Duration: 1886-1893


The tobacco card, or tobacco insert, is a small photographic card inserted into packs of cigarettes or other tobacco product.  The card consists of an albumen card, measuring about 1-1/2" by 2-1/2", pasted to a cardboard mount of equal size.


   American tobacco companies promoted their product by inserting small cards into the tobacco packs (actually slide boxes).  The cards depicted many subjects, from actors to presidents to flowers to sports stars.  They also issued similar size cards with colorful lithographed (non-photographic) designs.  All are identified by company or tobacco brand advertising.  These companies also issued cabinet cards as promotions, which are also identified by advertising.


   In the early 20th century, similar size cards were issued by tobacco and candy companies, though all of these cards used lithography instead of photographs.



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Duration: 1901 –


A real photo postcard is a postcard with an actual photographic image printed on the back.  Most prints are gelatin-silver prints, though the cyanotype and other processes were occasionally used.  Real photo postcards originated in 1901 and are still made today.


The design of American postcards was regulated by U.S. law.  Below is a general description of the vintage design of both real photo and non photo postcards.


   Post Card Era (1901-1907) The use of the word "POST PRINT" was granted by the government to private printers on December 24, 1901. Earlier prints were called 'Private Mailing Prints.'  Only the address was allowed to be written on the back of the print.  A space was put on the front for messages. It was during this time that the first real photo postcards were made.


   Divided Back Era (1907-1914)   Postcards with a divided back were permitted March 1, 1907. The address to be written on the right side and the left side was for writing messages. The images were 'full bleed,' meaning that they went all the way to the edge of the print.  Many millions of prints were published in this era.


White Border Era (1915-1930). Many postcards had white borders in this era.  In general, the quality was inferior.




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(aka stereoview, stereoscopic photograph)



The stereograph was a form of entertainment long before television, radio or motion pictures.  It is comprised of two mounted photographs that were taken by a special camera.  Each photograph was taken at from lightly different angle, which gives a 3-dimensional effect when viewed in a specially made viewer, called a stereoscope.


The stereograph was invented in the early 1850's and existed until about 1930.  It used many photographic processes.  The earliest examples used Daguerreotypes.  Starting about 1860 albumen prints were used, replaced by gelatin-silver prints by the turn of the century.  Some of the last examples used photolithography.


   Stereographs were printed commercially, and are plentiful in today’s market.  A Victorian family would own a box full of stereographs, each stereograph depicting various entertaining subjects.  Subjects included famous and exotic places and interesting subjects.


Dating Stereographs

Daguerreotype, Ambrotype, tintype and Calotype images usually date before 1860.  Most stereoviews that have the image imprinted directly on the mount, date after 1875.  Most tissue stereographs, mounted in cardboard frames date from 1865-1875, though some date earlier.  A tissue stereoview has an albumen print, where the back of the print has been painted.  This gives the image color when viewed when light is shined through.  A tissue was attached to the back to help diffuse the light, and the print and tissue were sandwiched between a cardboard frame.


Albumen stereoviews were produced from the 1860s to around 1900.  They are dated by the change in mount.  The earliest mounts were lightweight, flat and with square corners.  They were usually white, pale gray, cream or white.  Starting in the later 1860s a heavier mount with rounded corners was used.  The color was pale yellow, changing to bright yellow or orange in the 1870s.  From the late 1870s on, mounts were warped to help facilitate the 3-D effect.


Starting in the 1890s many stereoviews had lithographed images.  In the 1890s the photographs were usually gelatin-silver photographs.  The mounts were usually heavy and colored dark grey or black.  The mounts were still warped.



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A vignette is a portrait whose central image dissolves into the surrounding background.  The shape is usually oval.  This design was used for both paper and solid-type images.




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© Cycleback, 2000-, all rights reserved