Cabinet cards, popular in the late 1800s, are easy to recognize because they are mounted on cardstock, often with an imprint of the photographer and location just below the photo. There are similiar card-type photographs, such as the smaller carte-de-visits which was introduced in the 1850s, but if your old photo is about 4x6 in size then chances are it is a cabinet card.
A style of photograph first introduced in 1863 by Windsor & Bridge in London, the cabinet card is a photographic print mounted on card stock. The Cabinet card got its name from its suitability for display in parlors -- especially in cabinets -- and was a popular medium for family portraits.
A traditional cabinet card consists of a 4" X 5 1/2" photo mounted on 4 1/4" x 6 1/2" card stock. This allows for an extra 1/2" to 1" of space at the bottom of the cabinet card where the name of the photographer or studio was typcially printed. The cabinet card is similar to the smaller carte-de-visite which was introduced in the 1850s.
- First Appeared: 1863 in London; 1866 in America
- Peak Popularity: 1870-1895
- Last Use: Cabinet cards are rarely found dating after 1906, although cabinet cards continued to be produced into the early 1920s.
Dating a Cabinet Card:
Details of a cabinet card, from the type of card stock to whether it had right-angled or rounded corners, can often help to determine the date of the photograph to within five years.
It is important to note, however, that these dating methods aren't always accurate. The photographer may have been using up old card stock, or the cabinet card may have been a re-printed copy made many years after the original photo was taken.
- 1866-1880 Square, lightweight mount
- 1880-1890 Square, heavy weight card stock
- 1890s Scalloped edges
- 1866-1880 Thin, light weight card stock in white, off white or light cream. White and light colors were used in later years, but generally on heavier card stock.
- 1880-1890 Different colors for face and back of mounts
- 1882-1888 Matte-finish front, with a creamy-yellow, glossy back.
- 1866-1880 Red or gold rules, single and double lines
- 1884-1885 Wide gold borders
- 1885-1892 Gold beveled edges
- 1889-1896 Rounded corner rule of single line
- 1890s on... Embossed borders and/or lettering
- 1866-1879 Photographer name and address often printed small and neatly just below the image, and/or studio name printed small on back.
- 1880s on... Large, ornate text for photographer name and address, especially in cursive style. Studio name often takes up the entire back of the card.
- Late 1880s-90s Gold text on black card stock
- 1890s on... Embossed studio name or other embossed designs
Other Types of Card Mounted Photographs:
Cartes-de-visite 2 1/2 X 4 1850s - 1900s
Boudoir 5 1/2 X 8 1/2 1880s
Imperial Mount 7 X 10 1890s
Cigarette Card 2 3/4 X 2 3/4 1885-95, 1909-17
Stereograph 3 1/2 X 7 to 5 X 7