|An example of a cabinet card with|
photographer's details - this
photographer was at this address
from 1879 to 1887
- The Photographer. Many photos may be printed on paper and mounted to stiff cardstock and stamped with the photographer's name and address in the margin or on the back. Using directory records, you can track when that photographer was working at that particular address, narrowing down the time period in which the photo must have been taken. More details on this can be found here: Mystery Photos.
- The Fashion. Get to know the clothing and hairstyle fashions of different eras. This article from SheKnows has many useful links to websites that detail fashion from the 19th and 20th centuries. I make the most use out of the University of Vermont guide which also has info on dating photos based on all different topics, not just fashion. Don't be fooled into thinking people in rural areas didn't receive the latest fashions from magazines and catalogs, or that older people didn't stay up to date with modern fashions. See the common myths on this website. Pinterest can also be a useful source to finding images of popular fashions from different decades.
- The Format. The materials used to create the original image (watch out for copies made from the original in much later eras) can be very useful in dating them:
- Daguerreotypes. The first publicly available photographs were daguerreotypes from 1839 until about 1860. Peaked in popularity in the 1840s and early to mid 1850s. A positive image was produced on a sheet of silver plated copper polished to a mirror finish and mounted in a protective hard case. More info.
- Calotypes. Available from 1841, the process produced a translucent negative on paper, allowing positive prints to be created from the negative. This created a softer image, often desirable for portraits. Despite these advantages over the daguerreotype, the calotype did not replace it and both processes remained popular until about the late 1850s/early 1860s. More info.
- Albumen print. A paper photograph with a positive image created from a negative (typically a negative from a collodion process which created a negative image on glass). Invented in 1850 but not popular until 1855 when it became the dominant form photographic positives. Peaked in popularity from the 1860s to 1890s when used for carte de vista and cabinet cards (see below). More info.
- Ambrotypes/collodion positive. First available from 1854 and popular for a brief period of time in the late 1850s/early 1860s before superseded by tintypes. You likely won't see any after 1865. They created a positive image on glass. Required mounting in protective hard case. More info.
A tintype, probably from the late 1880s
- Tintypes. A positive image produced on a thin sheet of metal, no mounting required but sometimes mounted in a paper mat. Available from 1856 and most popular during the 1860s and 1870s, but still remained in use up to the early 20th century, though by that point it was considered a novelty. More info.
- Carte de Vista. A small albumen print (54.0 mm/2.125 in by 89 mm/3.5 in) typically mounted on thicker card measuring 64 mm/2.5 in by 100 mm/4 in). Patented in 1854 but not popular until 1859 and remained so throughout the 1860s and 1870s until the larger cabinet cards eventually replaced them. They were popular as calling cards to be traded among friends and visitors. More info.
- Cabinet Cards. A larger paper photograph (originally albumen but later processes used other types of paper) mounted on thick cardstock measuring 108 by 165 mm (4¼ by 6½ inches). Introduced in 1866 and most popular during the 1870s and 1880s, beginning to decline in the 1890s, though they did not completely disappear until the 1930s but were rare by that point. A cabinet card with a true black and white photo (not sepia) was likely produced in the 1890s or later. Those photos with the photographer's name and address stamped on the margin or back (such as discussed above) were usually Cabinet Cards. More info.
- Film/Paper. The first translucent negative sheet film was produced in 1885, with rolls of film as we know it today available from 1888. In 1900, the first Kodak Brownie was released and sold for only $1 (about $28 today), with the film for it costing only 15c, making photography affordable for the masses and giving birth to the "snapshot". Positive images were produced on simple, unmounted paper.
There is an excellent and more advanced guide to print types available at PhotoTree.com.
I see a lot of misunderstandings about photography in history and perhaps dispelling them will also help people understand the time period in which a photo might have been taken.
|Small child, circa 1867|
Of course, it's reasonable to assume that not all photographers had the most advanced equipment the moment it became available. But it's also reasonable to assume it wasn't too long after 1878 before most photographers were using equipment that allowed them to photograph with exposures of at least only a few seconds, or even a fraction of a second.
Sources not already mentioned: