• Andy Robson

How to Date Old Photographs - Part 2

In Part 1 of my Blog on dating old photographs we focused on Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes and Tintypes which were all examples of developed photographs; where the image is captured directly onto the photographic medium. The Albumen technique introduced in 1847 was radically different in that the image was captured onto a negative plate - usually glass - and then printed onto photographic paper. The obvious advantage being that multiple copies could be printed from the same negative.

Albumen Prints first gained popularity with the ‘Carte de Visite’ (literally, visiting cards) during the 1860’s and 1870’s, and then ‘Cabinet’ prints after 1870. It should be noted that these used exactly the same technology, the only difference being physical size.

Carte de Visite (CdV)

These were thin paper photographs mounted on a thicker paper card measuring 2.5” wide by 4” tall (64mm x 100mm) to provide rigidity; the photographic paper was far thinner than in modern equivalents. As such they were similar in size to a calling card and so were intended for general distribution around an individual’s family and friends; the subjects were usually individuals.

There was little spare room on the front of the card for inscriptions, but the rear was often covered with elaborate logo’s advertising the work of the Photographer or Studio. It is these logos and details of the card edging which are most useful for dating such prints. There are pay-to-view sites which will provide dates based on their catalogue of old photo’s; these photographs usually have a maker’s number written on them which allows them to be arranged in chronological sequence. But I would advise simply googling the photographer first as there are many free sites which provide good dating guides.

Cabinet Cards

These were larger than CdV’s – 4.5” wide by 6.5” high (110mm x 170mm) – and so more suitable for group or family photographs; in landscape rather than portrait orientation. They were large enough to be seen around a typically-sized room and so were intended for display on Cabinets. Hence the name.

Later Cabinet cards were used for portraiture shots and during the 1880’s they gradually superceded the CdV as the most common type of photograph. The Albumen printing process tended to produce distinctive sepia toned photographs, but improved processes introduced during the 1890’s provided true black-and-white shots.

Like the CdV, Cabinet cards can be dated from the logo printed on their rear face. In addition, from about 1900 the size of the card was increased to allow more elaborate logo’s to be added to the face-side; initially there was only room for the photographer’s name or studio.


Printing a postcard with the Customer’s photograph on the front had begun around 1900 soon superceded Tintypes, Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards in general use; though the latter continued to be produced until the 1920’s. Early versions had only a small space on the front for writing a message, but soon postcards were produced with the now familiar layout of the rear divided between an address box and a message box.

Unfortunately there is no easy way of dating them, unless they have been sent through the mail and have a postmark stamp. A rough estimate can be gained from the shape of the box on which the stamp was placed as this did change over time.

Photo-postcards remained in common use until the 1940’s and were especially popular during the First World War.