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How To Spot A Cabinet Card (1866 – C.1914)

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In the penultimate post of our series showing you how to date your old photographs by using physical clues to determine the process used to create it, I’m going to show you how to spot a cabinet card.

Man and dog, c. 1900, F. Davey © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Man and dog, c. 1900, F. Davey © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

About cabinet cards

Cabinet cards are photographs mounted on stiff pieces of cardboard. They were introduced in the 1860s and gradually superseded the smaller carte de visite format.

The front of the card is usually printed or embossed with the photographer’s details, and the back of the cabinet card is often printed with elaborate designs.

The popularity of the cabinet card waned around the turn of the century, particularly after the introduction of the photographic postcard, but they were still being produced right until the First World War.

Fireman with a motorcycle, c. 1900, Edward Sweetland © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Fireman with a motorcycle, c. 1900, Edward Sweetland © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Use these clues to identify a cabinet card

Size
The cabinet card was basically a larger version of the carte de visite. Paper prints measuring about 5.5 x 4 inches were pasted to standard sized cardboard mounts measuring 6.5 x 4.25 inches.

Mount
Cabinet card mounts are usually thicker than those of cartes de visite.

Edges
By the 1880s, cabinet card mounts sometimes had bevelled edges, and were often finished in gold or silver.

Colour
The colour of the cardboard mount can also help date the photograph. Cream mounts were always popular, but bolder, dark colours like black, dark brown, green or burgundy began to appear in the 1880s and 1890s.

Three children, c. 1914, J.E. Reeves © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Three children, c. 1914, J.E. Reeves © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

The Prince of Wales, 1877, Charles Bergamasco © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

The Prince of Wales, 1877, Charles Bergamasco © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Young girl looking at a photograph album, c. 1890, Long & Faulkner © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Young girl looking at a photograph album, c. 1890, Long & Faulkner © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A lacrosse team, c. 1900, Messrs Stearn © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A lacrosse team, c. 1900, Messrs Stearn © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Woman holding a photograph album, c. 1880, William Notman © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Woman holding a photograph album, c. 1880, William Notman © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Family group, c. 1907, Permain & Son © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Family group, c. 1907, Permain & Son © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Two women, one dressed as a man, c. 1905, John Emberson © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Two women, one dressed as a man, c. 1905, John Emberson © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Sunday School group, Bradford, 1898, Ino E. Cole © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Sunday School group, Bradford, 1898, Ino E. Cole © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Three brothers, 1884, B.J. Edwards © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Three brothers, 1884, B.J. Edwards © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Charles Darwin, c. 1880, Elliot & Fry © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Charles Darwin, c. 1880, Elliot & Fry © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Portrait of a couple, c. 1900, Joseph Patrick Scannell © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Portrait of a couple, c. 1900, Joseph Patrick Scannell © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Elsie, Marjorie and Frieda Devitt, c. 1890, Gunn & Stuart © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Elsie, Marjorie and Frieda Devitt, c. 1890, Gunn & Stuart © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Portrait of a woman, c. 1895, Wakefield © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Portrait of a woman, c. 1895, Wakefield © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Two brothers, 1896, Gunn & Stuart © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Two brothers, 1896, Gunn & Stuart © National Media Museum / SSPL. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Written by Colin Harding

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  1. How to spot a postcard (1900 – 1950s) | National Media Museum blog

    […] collodion positives (aka ambrotypes), ferrotypes (aka tintypes), cartes de visite and cabinet cards, and now we turn to postcards – the most popular format for commercial photographers from […]

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