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Early 20th century photo postcards

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  • Early 20th century photo postcards

    Well, not really a conservation question, but those of you who do conservation will probably have the answer.

    I've been visiting antique stores to find old photos that I can restore and put in my portfolio. Most of the photos I've found are in the form of postcards....

    My question: was it common in the early part of the 20th century to make photos into postcards??

    These are definitely candid snapshots (although they are the grim formal looking poses of that era)

    Can anyone shed any light on this subject - as someone new to the business, I need all the information I can find so I sound at least a bit knowledgeable.


  • #2
    Are they cabinet cards?
    Learn by teaching
    Take responsibility for learning


    • #3
      Actually no they aren't cabinet cards, but that answers another question I was going to ask. I have several cabinet cards as well and I was wondering how old they might be - you answered that for me. Some of the ones I have are really old costums, so 1870's is about the right time period.

      These other ones have the space for message and address printed on the back (like modern postcards)

      I will poke around at that site and see what I can find,

      Thanks Doug,


      • #4
        The Cabinet card,the nominal dimensions of which are 4 1/4" X 6 1/2 inch, originated around 1863 probably in London at the Firm of Windsor and Bridge. These were approx. 4 times larger than the " Carte de Visite", which served as a sort of pictorial "calling card". The Cabinet card got its name from its suitability for display in parlors, displayed on, of all things, cabinets.( Imagine that!)The era of the Cabinet card lasted until around 1914 or so, the decline in popularity beginning in the 1880's. They are fun to collect and for the most part are relatively inexpensive. They represent the transition of photo processes, going from albumin, to collodian/gelatin printing out, and developing out processes, so are valuable process artifacts.
        The Photopostcard was popular from the early 1900's up through the 1950's or so and can be either a true photo or a photomechanical print. Individual Photographers used them as a special sales item...I have seen many in this area portraying early street scenes, advertising , portrait shots etc. ( see attachment). Hope this helps a little....Tom


        • #5
          Hi Tom, thanks for the information. The cards I have that I thought might be cabinet cards are smaller - they measure about 2.5 inches wide and 4 inches tall. I've attached a scan of three of them.

          The postcards are normal postcard size and depict family groups or individuals. By the dress, they look to be from as early as 1900 and as late as the early 20's.

          I don't know who's in them, but I find them fascinating - I hope I haven't started another passion - collecting old photos LOL

          Attached Files


          • #6
            The dimensions you give would be suggestive of Carte de Visite style which died out around 1905, were on the wain from around 1870 , and enjoyed their peak from around 1854 to late 1860's. As sizes were pretty nominal, they could go either way, however, by the style of the backing boards I would be tempted to call them Carte de Visite style. The middle one, possibly a small cabinet style.( Send for the headsman with a sharp axe...I'm sticking my neck out and expect the blade to fall at any time now!)
            The Womens clothing style hints at a date in the 1880's. Their Bodices are of a style called Basque bodice or curiass bodice from the similarity of the style to Spanish metal armor breast plates ( seen on Vatican Guards today) Note the "V" shape of the lower portion. These particular ones are pretty conservative...some examples are very sharply pointed and the waist is quite tight, giving an "hour glass" appearance...damned uncomfortable it would seem to me! The pleated overskirt of #1 Lady also is consistant with a date in the 1880 range. #3 Lady is pretty generic, style wise, but the cut of the bodice and skirt as well as the clothing style of the man suggest 1890's era. Wonderful old photos! I am green with envy!! Tom
            Last edited by thomasgeorge; 05-06-2002, 08:31 PM.


            • #7
              Thanks again for the information. I have 19 of the smaller cards - they seem to be all from England. I also have one of the larger size (attached front and back) and another one with just the photo glued to a stiff card.

              Some of the small cards have gold printing (photographer's name etc.) and gold edge on the cards.

              All these ladies and gentlemen certainly do look uncomfortable! I'm glad that our manner of dress is more forgiving, but I think they must have been more disciplined than I am.

              I'm getting excited now - I got these from a junky antique store and she was going to throw them out!

              Attached Files


              • #8
                Grab as many as you can get your hands on! Look for any which depict buildings,machines, old vehicles ( Horse drawn or self propelled), landscapes...all these types are considered uncommon and therefore highly collectable. Be sure to obtain proper storage enclosures for them and, if possible, store them in an area where the temp. stays around 40-50 degrees and the relative humidity doesnot go over 50 for extended periods of time, although being in a proper enclosure will help a whole lot! They should be taken out and examined/displayed at least once per year for a few days....good luck, although it sounds like you have plenty of that already!! Tom


                • #9
                  Margaret if you buy a copy of Kodak's Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints, it will answer many many questions you may have.

                  Best of all - the book comes with a "flowchart for identification guide" so you can see samples of everything you are ever going to come across in an antique store.

                  In addition to showng print styles, there are magnifications to I think about 30x - so just carry a loupe with you while you browse and enjoy!

                  Jim Conway


                  • #10
                    The earliest American-made cabinet cards have been dated only to the post- Civil War period, beginning in 1866. Design and colors of these cards followed those of the cards of that time. Cabinet cards are rarely found after 1906.
                    Card Colors:
                    1866 - 1880.White card stock of a light weight.
                    1880 - 1890 Different colors for face and back of mounts.
                    1882 - 1888 Face of buff, matte-finished, with a back of creamy-yellow, glossy.

                    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.
                    1890 - 1892 Metallic green or gold impressed border.
                    1896 Impressed outer border, without color.

                    1866 - 1880 Square, lightweight mount.
                    1880 - 1890 Square, heavy board with scalloped sides.

                    Photographs mounted on card stock:
                    The most popular mount sizes were:
                    Carte-de-visite 4 1/4" x 2 1/2"
                    Cabinet card 6 1/2" x 4 1/2"
                    Victoria 5" x 3 1/4"
                    Promenade 7" x 4"
                    Boudoir 8 1/2" x 5 1/4"
                    Imperial 9 7/8" x 6 7/8"
                    Panel 8 1/4" x 4"
                    Stereograph 3" x 7"

                    Hope this helps Neal


                    • #11
                      Thanks for the info Neal. I haven't come across any more cards, but the ones I have are in a safe place. Actually, I've been bored lately, maybe it's time to go exploring and see if I can find any more of them.

                      Take care, Margaret


                      • #12
                        I have run across several "photo post cards" dating from the early 1900's thru around 1920 which are actually excellent examples of photomechanical reproduction. The cards themselves are sturdy...much more so than the standard photo of that period...additionally on the back is clearly printed "Postcard" and a place for the stamp is delineated. These can be identified, sometimes, by examination of the picture at around 30x magnification and looking for the telltale "dots" or screen pattern...however there were processes such as Woodbury and Carbon print which donot have the screen pattern and can be tough to differentiate. However, if the picture is unusually clear and sharp with well defined tones, it is probably, though not definately, a photomechanical print. That doesnot really detract from its value from an historical point however, as it is the image itself which has value, not necessairly the method used to produce it.....Original photos do have value as process artifacts but in the long run the image itself is what has the most value...just because there are no original copies of Plato laying around doesnot detract from the value of the reproduced writings....Tom


                        • #13
                          Is it proper to take a magnifying glass into the antique store to examine them??

                          I never know how to behave in such situations and wouldn't like to flub it.

                          I don't know if I mentioned it here before, but i used to have in my possession a shoebox full of postcards that were sent by an individual as he made his way around the world in 1905/06. What happened to them? Let me just say I was 21, I had needs. I can't watch Antiques Road Show without flinching.

                          Take care, Margaret


                          • #14
                            I do and other collectors I know are not one bit shy about closely examining a photo with a loope or pocket microscope....after all, it's your money which will purchase the photo and you have a right to check out a potential purchase. Any shop which wont allow you to closely examine an item should be avoided...Tom


                            • #15
                              This is my first entry in your forum.
                              I have a question, does anyone know what I can use to clean colour transparencies?
                              The photos are over fifty years old; the subjects are mostly of the coalmines that once were here in South Wales. Although the valleys are green once more, photos are all that is left and are valuable.
                              This part of the forum seems to be the appropriate place to ask this question.


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