Nearly all 1800s paper photographic prints are mounted to cardboard backing, and are commonly called card photographs. A percentage of early 1900s photographs are also mounted as card photographs. The early paper photographic prints were thin and delicate and had to be affixed to a backing. However, the backing also made for an attractive presentation. Early photographs can sometimes be found affixed to other items, including scorecards, book and album pages.
Some sizes of mounted photographs have names, such as the cabinet card and carte de visite. Some aren’t named, and are represented by their size— such as ‘1880s 13×7 inch mounted photograph.’ As size effects desirability and value, a seller should always list the height and width of the mount.
Varities of Card Photographs
Within the different types and sizes of card photographs there are differences in style of the mounts. This difference includes the colors, text and printed graphics. As with cars and clothes, the style of the mounts changed over the years. Just as a 1960 Ford car driving down the road looks different from a 1980 Ford, an 1860 carte de visite looks different from an 1890 carte.
Each card photograph was made in limited numbers. If you find an 1892 cabinet card of the Harvard baseball team or 1910 imperial cabinet card of a high school student there will be no more than a handful of other original copies and it is often unique.
While this website focuses on sports memorabilia, card photographs can be found for nearly subject, including presidents and non-sports celebrities, nature, family portraits and animals. Many non-sport collectors collect non-sport card photographs.
The following is a look at the different kinds of card photographs, including how to judge their age by the type and style of cardboard backing.
Carte de Viste (also known as CDV)
Carte de visite (aka CDV) Definition: a paper photographic print pasted to a larger card, the card measuring about 2-1/2” by 4.” Most cartes de visite used albumen prints, though other prints, including the gelatin-silver print, were used later on. Carte de visite is the singular. Cartes de visite is the plural. Also popularly referred to as CDV and carte.
Carte de Visite Duration: 1850s to early 1900s. Popular 1860s-70s
Cartes de visite, often nicknamed cartes and CDVs, is French for visiting card, as this was a popular early use of these small picture cards. A woman might hand out or mail a carte with her picture on it to friends and relatives. In the United States cartes became popular at the beginning of the Civil War. They were used for many purposes, including as identification cards for soldiers, trade cards for businesses and as family photos. Cartes of popular subjects could be bought at local stores. Queen Victoria, Abraham Lincoln and Broadway theater actors were popular subjects. Collecting cartes and putting them into specially made albums was a popular hobby, and many of these albums exist today.
Cartes come in many photographic and mount styles. Some are plain, while others are ornate. Most have the photograph studio’s stamp or embossment on front and/or back, making it easy to identify cartes by famous photographers
Dating the Carte de Visite
Along with the subject in the image (style of clothes, identifiable person, etc), cartes can be dated by the style of the mount, as this changed over time. The following describes the general trends. Exceptions to these trends will be found.
Albumen prints were regularly used until the early to mid 1890s. Most 1900s cartes will have gelatin-silver prints with more black and white images. Examples with carbon prints and cyanotypes (bright blue images) are rare but can be found.
1850s-60s cartes usually had the albumen print pasted to a thin mount that is white, off white or light cream. The mount corners are square. A square cornered CDV is reliably dated the 1850s or 1860s. While often there is the studio name printed on back, there usually is no printed text on the front. 1860s cartes often had one or two thin red or blue lines around albumen print. Unusually small vignetted images (oval images) date to this period.
Starting in the early 1870s the mounts had rounded corners and came in more colors. By the mid 1870s gold gilded, beveled edges were used. By the 1880s dark colors were common and the mount often had scalloped edges.
The mount thickness changed over time, with the earlier ones being thinner than the later ones. The 1860s mounts are typically thinner than the 1870s mounts which are typically thinner than the 1880s and later mounts. Having inexpensive examples from different years on hand will help judge thickness.
The photography studio’s logo on the back of the mount changed in size over time. In the 1860s the logo was relatively small and with conservative font. As the years went by the design became larger and more ornate, sometimes taking up the entire back. Note that 1860s and early 1870s CDVs that were used as trade cards (give away cards advertising a product or service) can have larger advertisements on back.
Large ornate studio names on the bottom front of the mount are typical of late 1800s cartes.
The early studio backgrounds in the images were typically plain. By the late 1800s backgrounds were often busy and garish.
Tax stamps on the back of CDVs help give a date. From August 1st 1864 to August 1st 1866 the US government required that tax stamps be put on photographs. A later amendment allowed for 1 cent stamps to be used. CDVs with a 1 cent stamp date between March 1864 and August 1866. Blue stamps are from the summer of 1866. The stamps often have a cancellation date. Tax stamps can be faked, so the collector shouldn’t rely alone on stamps. However, if everything else looks consistent with the era, a tax stamp is a great bonus and will usually raise the value as it pinpoints the age.
In the 1890s, the image can be sepia, black and white (from the start of the use of gelatin-silver prints) and can sometimes have a light green tinge. The green tinge in particular is distinct to the 1890s, due to the process used. In the 1890s, photography was changing from albumen to gelatin silver and there were different processes being used—thus the different possible colors.
Cabinet Card Definition
A photographic print pasted to a larger card, the card measuring about 4-1/2” X 6-1/2”.
Duration: 1860s-1920s. Most popular 1880s-1890s.
The cabinet card is a larger version of the carte de visite, which it replaced in popularity. It received its name because it was popular to display the mounted photograph in a cabinet. Cabinets depict a wide variety of subjects, including normal families, Presidents and celebrities, animals, buildings, nature and school classes.
Dating the Cabinet Card
Along with the subject in the image, the mount style is helpful in giving an approximate date. The following are the general style trends. Exceptions to these trends will be found.
Cabinet cards with albumen prints usually date 1890s and before. Most 1900s cabinets are gelatin-silver. Later 1890s cabinets can be either albumen or gelatin. Cabinets with cyanotypes, carbon prints and photomechanical prints can be found from both centuries.
The earliest cabinet card mounts were thin, light in weight and light cream, sepia, white or off white. While these light colors were used for many years after, in the 1880s and later various colors were used. If a cabinet has a black, red, green or dark grey mount, for examples, the cabinet more than probably dates to the 1880s or after.
During the 1860s and 70s the photographer’s name and address was often printed neatly and small below the image. If the photographer’s name is large and stylish, especially if the photographer’s name is in an ornate cursive style, the cabinet probably dates from the 1880s or after.
In the 1860s and 70s, the photographer often had his or his studio’s name printed conservatively and rather small on back. If the name and design on back is ornate and takes up the entire back, the cabinet dates 1880s or later.
Cards with gold beveled edges date to the mid 1880s to just after 1890. Jet black mounts with gold text mostly date to the late 1880s-90s. Cabinets from the 1890s often have scalloped edges. Cabinet cards with a very embossed studio name and other embossed designs on the front of the mount date to the 1890s or later.
In the 1890s, the image can be sepia, black and white (from the start of the use of gelatin-silver prints) and can sometimes have a light green tinge. The green tinge in particular is distinct to the 1890s, due to the process used.
In the early 1900s mounts often came in different shapes and designs, including square. 1890s and later cabinets often have intricate designs or embossed patterns on the mounts, often with an embossed faux frame around the gelatin-silver print.
The earlier the cabinet the rarer. Cabinets from the 1860s are rarer than from 1870s and so on. When in doubt, a cabinet is more likely to be from the 1880s than the 1860s.
Stereoview Definition: Two mounted photographs shot by a special camera to give a 3-Dimensional effect when viewed through a special viewer.
Stereoview, stereograph and stereoscopic photograph are names for a form of entertainment long before television and radio. A family would own a box full of stereoviews, each stereoview depicting an entertaining subject. Subjects included far away places and interesting people.
Stereoviews with ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes are rare. Albumen stereoviews were produced from the 1860s to the 1890s. The earliest albumen mounts were lightweight, flat and with square corners. They were usually 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 and orange in the 1870s. From the late 1870s on, mounts were warped. Most stereoviews from the 1900s are gelatin silver, and often have heavily warped, dark charcoal grey mounts.
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Other Mounted Photographs
While most mounted photographs were cabinet cards, stereoviews and cartes de visite, examples can be found in many other sizes.
Mounted photographs with multi color mounts and/or embossed designs, particularly an embossed faux frame and photographer’s name, date from after 1890 and usually after 1900. 1860s-1870s mounts were usually white, cream, sepia or very light grey. While these color mounts were used in later years, other colors usually date after 1880. For example, a black, green or dark grey mount more than likely dates to the 1880s or later. Very large mounted photographs sometimes do not have the photographer’s name and address on the front, and the photographic print is sometimes the same size as the mount.
Standard Commercial Sizes : ‘Card Photographs’
The following lists other standard sizes/names of mounted photographs made from the 1800s to early 1900s. This list comes from the U.S. Library of Congress. Amongst photograph historians, these photos are called card photographs (e.g. cabinet card, imperial cabinet card). These sizes and names were commercial standards, not unlike the AA battery or size 9 shoe. 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!’).
Do not worry, it is not necessary to memorize or worry about all the different sizes and names listed below. If you are selling a mounted photograph and don’t know whether it’s a cabinet card, boudoir card or other, call it a ‘card photograph’ or ‘mounted photograph’ and give the dimensions of the mount. Most potential buyers haven’t heard of a boudoir or Swiss card anyway.
* Kodak card — 4-1/4 x 5-1/4in.; 10.8 x 13.3 cm; 1880’s (photographic print 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
* 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
Large oval photographs held in frames with bubble (concave) glass were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The largest 19th century photographs are called mammoth photographs and are typically rectangular. There is no specific size requirement, but those around 17×17 inches and larger can be called mammoths. Nineteenth century mammoth photographs are rare and worth significantly more than similar photos in small sizes.
Large, framed and often highly attractive ‘crayon portraits’ were made in the 1800s and early 1900s, typically as family portraits. These were artistic photographs that resemble a cross between photographs and charcoal or crayon sketches. They can be monochrome or with charcoal coloring. The photographer started with a light photograph and embellished it with chalk and crayons. This image was either the final product or rephotographed. Most common are albumen crayon portraits from the late 1800s with attractive and bright colors.