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History 19th c. Vintage Cabinet Card Photographs Antiques 1870-1890's

 Joseph Brimicombe & Eunice E. Wilcox 1899 Cabinet Card Photo  
1890 Wedding Cabinet Card Photo. On reverse: "Mr. Joseph Brimicombe married Miss Eunice E. Wilcox on Oct. 11, 1899" is handwritten in beautiful old period dip pen ink. 

An Article about Cabinet Card Photos 
by Debra Clifford, Ancestorville

Introduced in 1866, "Cabinet Cards" or cabinet card photographs, are generally Victorian era portraits of family members, as seen in the beautiful Brimicombe family photo above, although they did have some limited use in landscape. They are generally about 4.5 x 7 inches in size, and are a paper photograph mounted on a thick cardboard mount. They are quite durable and hard to bend, and quite thicker than the earlier CDV format. Their heyday was from the 1870-90's, coming in on the heels of the much smaller CDV carte de visite photograph, which was ever so popular in the American Civil War era. In comparison, the CDV was about 2.5 x 4 inches in size. Where did they get their name? One could sit in the parlor and see them in the cabinet as opposed to the much smaller CDV photos which were popular in the years before. They might be seen as a larger, heavier version of the CDV. "Boudoir cards" and "Imperials" were also produced, which are larger versions of the cabinet card and usually cost the sitter more money. We see very few in our travels seeking this early material. Cabinet card photos were produced into the early 1900's, although most found are earlier. They lasted longer in Europe. At the turn of the 20th century, we see the American public becoming interested in taking their own images. The advent of amateur photography as a hobby was upon us. The recent term vernacular photography refers to these photographs not intended as art, such as snapshots.

Baby Blair Townsend, Michael Deniston & John Townsend. Hoverman Studio, Spencerville, Ohio, Allen County
1880-90's Cabinet Card Photograph:  Baby Blair Townsend, Michael Deniston & John Townsend by Hoverman Studio, Spencerville, Ohio, Allen County. 

Cabinet card photo albums were all the Victorian rage, as well as the stands and frames to display this larger medium, which offered closer portraiture views of the individual. With so much ancestral migration, imagine the wonderful feeling of receiving a cabinet card photo of a far away relative in the mail. You could slip this close up, intimate and large "likeness" into a standard Victorian parlor photo album sleeve, and for all to see. The actual term "cabinet card" is thought to refer to the fact that it was large enough to be displayed on a cabinet, or in a cabinet, and still be easily viewed from across the room.

Many early photo albums offer a few back pages for the declining old CDV photos, but as the century progressed, the emphasis became the new larger cabinet format. The 1870's shows a mix of CDV and cabinet card use by photo galleries. By the 1880's, the cabinet card in studio photography became the norm. Overall the "cabinets" serve as wonderful close up portraiture of our ancestors; their dress, hair styles, fashion and the 19th c. "look." We rarely need magnification to clearly see faces on a cabinet card photograph, as opposed to the earlier and much smaller CDV.

The early cabinet cards of the 1860's to 1870's can exhibit quite plain photographer backmarks or no mark at all. They were mounted on a one ply bristol board, as early cardboard technology was not as of yet underway. They may are often very simple in design. Sometimes there was a front mark printed under the image, with just a simple name and location of the photographer. As an increased interest in advertising developed, we can see the concept becoming more and more valued and refined in the post Civil War years of what Mark Twain called the "Gilded Age."

Here we begin to see cabinet card photos with fancy gold inks, beveled edges, rounded corners, all over fancy backmarks, and printed Victorian images of cherubs, cameras, iconic women and Columbia images, patriotic themes, early stunning typography, 1876 Philadelphia Centennial attributes, classic design, and references to photography as "art" and the photographer as an "artist." We can directly see the history of advertising at play in early photography. These products of studio photography were increasingly designed to impart the idea of class and opulence, with more emphasis on the photograph as an overall presentation package. (see fancy advertising backmark below)

Cabinet Card Photo Miss Huzzy Jessica Terwilliger, MA Elmer Chickering fancy photographer backmark
1880-90's Cabinet Card Photograph of Miss Huzzy and Jessica Terwilliger, MA with fancy Elmer Chickering photographer backmark. This Royal Studio photo has a full ornate photographer's backmark with fancy Victorian calligraphy and script, and highest award seals for prizes won in the 1890 Massachusetts 17th expo of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association.

Cabinet card photos are generally albumen prints, and are considered "black and white" photos, although most are a warm brown sepia tone in nature. They are rarely hand tinted, as CDV photos more commonly were. As the century progressed, you will see them become more black and white and gray in nature, as more choices in papers was offered the photographers. In the early 1900's, with the advent of the "RPPC" or real photo postcard, the cabinets fell out of favor. These new postcard photos could be easily and cheaply be sent thru the mail. The Victorian era was over and a more utilitarian sensibility came into favor at the turn of the century, with many new amateur photographers on the scene. Add George Eastman to the mix, and his introduction of the $1 Kodak brownie camera, and a whole new exciting world of unmounted photography was about to emerge. The concept of taking your own photos was on its way!
 
Overall, we see each cabinet card photo on our site as a wonderful look at genealogy, our ancestry, and also a historical piece of town and city history. There is the added benefit of a photographer's family run business and his or her surname attached! The 19th and early 20th c. ancestors in these photos, and early photographers who took them lay in graves across America, and the world, awaiting to be found. At times we find explicit genealogy info online from a cabinet card, and also see images on our site of photographer's family members. We hope you may find your lost family clues here.

If not, we invite you to "adopt" a family member or photographer, and do some online genealogy research on the area or name. We will happily add the info you may find to the listing. These spirits await being found by their 21st century families and historian friends. We have thousands of family identified lost family photographs here, and you'll poke around. Enjoy and good luck!

— Debra Clifford, Ancestorville.

debra clifford ancestorville Join ~debra on facebook at Ancestorville Genealogy on the topic of lost family antique items, early photographs, genealogy surnames and family history topics. Search our site for your lost family antique material by family surname, county, town, city and state.

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