|Charles Joice (Personal Family Collection)|
Today, people take dozens of pictures a day, but back in the 1880s, a person was fortunate to have just one photograph of a loved one. I can’t help but feel that the value of a photograph has been diluted with the plethora of digital images, both ones we’ve taken and the deluge of them on the Internet.
In The Débutante’s Secret, a stranger watching Aunt Henny has a cabinet card he is often looking at. But what is a cabinet card? The term and general meaning of cabinet card has been in my little brain filed under “things I can use in my stories set in the late 1800s and on,” but I can’t remember specifically when I learned this information.
Photographs were first printed on paper from a negative in 1847. That’s a lot farther back than I realized.
|Allen Calkin (Personal Family Collection)|
When photography was beginning to gain popularity, cartes-de-visite (visting cards) were created in France in the 1850s, a smaller (2.5 x 4 inches) precursor to cabinet cards. Cabinet cards consisted of a thin-paper photograph (roughly 4 x 5.5 inches) mounted on a light-to-heavy-weight cardstock (roughly 3.5 x 6.5 inches). Where the cartes-de-visite were small and designed to give as calling cards or to give to a friend, cabinet cards by design were meant to sit upon a cabinet and could be viewed from across the room.
|Agnes McGregor (Personal Family Collection)|
Due to the photography process and difference in paper, earlier photographs and cabinet cards were the brownish sepia tone because of the albumen process used. Albumen is found in egg whites. This process was replaced by collodion, gelatin, and gelatin bromide processes, which generally created black and white photographs.
Cabinet cards were first introduced in 1863 in landscape format before they introduced portrait style. Though they were around in the 1870s, they rose to the height of their popularity in the 1880s and began to decline in the 1890s.
|Harold Blakey (Personal Family Collection)|
Over the decades, various weights and colors of cardstock were used to mount these photographic memories on. Light-weight card and light colors were more common in the early years (1866-1880), then heavier card and darker colors from 1880s on. Borders and lettering also changed from decade to decade. Some had one or two lines in red or gold and some were edged in one color or another. Often some sort of embossing framed the picture.
Vanity, too, was a consideration. From nearly the beginning, photographers employed artists to touch up negatives to hide facial imperfections before making prints. I suppose this was wise to keep customers happy if they were going to lay down a chunk of money. Besides, the photographer’s name was generally printed or embossed on the card so others could find them to have their portrait taken.
|E. D. & Mary E. Shugart 1908 (Personal Family Collection)|
For a time (early on), cabinet cards supplanted the photographic album that had become popular with the smaller cartes-de-visite. The cardstock used for cabinet cards was generally thicker than for the cartes-de-visite.
With the invention of the Brownie camera in 1900 and personal photography becoming popular, cabinet cards fell out of favor. The last ones were likely made in the 1930s, but they had been mostly gone since around 1920.
***All images of cabinet cards in this post are from my private family collection and may not be used elsewhere without written permission. I feel blessed to have these treasures.
|Russel & Floyd Calkin 1903 (Personal Family Collection)|
I love to see tons of pictures of my grand-babies, but I also value these single images of bygone relatives. I love the feel of a physical picture in my hands and print off photos just so I can hold them.
Do you prefer digital or physical copies of pictures?
***NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER***THE DÉBUTANTE'S SECRET (Quilting Circle 4)
Will Geneviève open her heart to a love she never imagined?
Washington State 1894
Geneviève Marseille has one purpose in coming to Kamola—stopping her brother from digging up the past. Deputy Montana has lived a simple life. But when a fancy French lady steps off the train and into his arms, his modest existence might not be enough anymore. A nemesis from Aunt Henny's past arrives in town threatening her with jail. Will she flee as she’d done all those years ago, or stand her ground in the town she’s made her home? When secrets come out, will the lives of Geneviève, Montana, and Aunt Henny ever be the same?