This is the final instalment in my series showing you how to date your old family photographs using physical clues to determine which photographic technique was most likely used.
Traversing the first 100 years of commercial photography, we’ve looked at daguerreotypes, 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 1900 to the 1950s.
Although picture postcards first appeared in the 1890s, it wasn’t until very early in the 20th century that the format was used for commercial portraiture.
But not all postcards were taken by professionals. Amateur photographers could buy sensitised cards on which to print their own postcards, and in 1903, Kodak introduced a popular folding camera designed to take postcard-sized prints.
Use these clues to identify a postcard
A standard size of 5.5 x 3.5 inches was established in 1899. However, this wasn’t mandatory and there are variations.
Postcards that have been posted may have a legible postmark. However, this date may not be the same as the date the photograph was taken.
After 1902, postcard backs were divided by a line down the middle—one side for the address and the other for the message.
So that wraps up the series. If you’re interested in finding out more about 19th century studio photographers and their work, the following reading list may be useful.
Victorian portraits: selected reading
- Briggs, Asa and Archie Miles, A Victorian Portrait: Victorian Life and Values As Seen Through the Work of Studio Photographers (Harpercollins, 1989)
- Hannavy, John, Case Histories: The Packaging and Presentation of the Photographic Portrait in Victorian Britain 1840–1875 (Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd, 2005)
- Henisch, Heinz K., The Photographic Experience 1839–1914: Images and Attitudes (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994)
- Heyett, Elizabeth, The Glass-House Years: Victorian Portrait Photography 1839–1870 (Montclair and London: Allanheld and Schram/George Piror, 1979)
- Hillier, Bevis, Victorian Studio Photographs: From the Collections of Studio Bassano and Elliott and Fry, London (David R Godine, 1976)
- Lansdell, Avril, Fashion à la Carte 1860-1900 (London: Shire Publications, 1985)
- Linkman, Audrey, The Victorians: Photographic Portraits (London and New York: Tauris Parke, 1993)
- Matthews, O., Album of Carte-de-Visite and Cabinet Photographs, 1854–1914 (London: Reedminster, 1974)
- McCauley, Elizabeth Anne, A. A. E. Disderi and the Carte de Visite Portrait Photograph (New Haven: Yale, 1985)
- McCauley, Elizabeth Anne, Industrial Madness: Commercial Photography in Paris 1848–1871 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994)
- Pols, Robert, Family Photographs 1860–1945 (PRO Publications, 2002)
- Tagg, John, Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (London: Macmillan, 1988)
- Wichard, Richard, Victorian Cartes de Visite (Shire Publications Ltd, 1999)
- The history of photography in pictures
More in the series
- How to spot a daguerreotype (1840s–1850s)
- How to spot a collodion positive/ambrotype (early 1850s–1880s)
- How to spot a ferrotype/tintype (1855–1940s)
- How to spot a carte de visite (late 1850s–c.1910)
- How to spot a cabinet card (1866–c.1914)
- How to date Victorian photographs
- How to date photographs by fashion
- Researching your photographer ancestors