Posted by on October 30, 2013 in Tips and Hints


Old photos are a real family treasure. But if you’re not sure who the person is in the photo you’ve found, it can help to find out what type of photo you have. The kind of photographic process used can give you a clue as to the time frame during which the picture was taken.

Daguerrotypes (1839–1860)

Daguerrotypes are made of silver-plated copper with a polished surface. They are very fragile, so are usually covered with glass and are in small cases padded with satin or velvet.

Tintypes or Ferrotypes (1856–early 1900s)

Tintypes were popular during the US Civil War. They’re made of a thin sheet of iron coated with black varnish. They were very durable so that soldiers could carry photos, and send them back home without fear of ruining them.

Cabinet Cards (1866–1920s)

Most photos taken in the late 1800s are ‘cabinet cards’. These photos were printed on thin paper that was then mounted onto thick card. These normally have the name of the photographer or studio on the front of the card.

Portrait Postcards (1900–1920s)

Portraits printed with postcard backs became popular at the turn of the century. Styles of postcard changed a lot, but after 1907 they’re largely similar to a modern-day postcard layout.

The Black and White Snapshot (1900–1960s)

In 1900, Kodak launched the Brownie camera. Affordable and easy to use, cameras were not just for professionals anymore.

Colour Transparencies or Slides (1940s–1970s)

The ability to develop colour film became widely available in the 1940s and 1950s. Slides became popular, and colour photos have been the norm ever since.


  1. David Bourne

    Great! Except you haven’t included the ambrotype which most of the small padded cases are. Invented by Frederick Scott Archer, they used glass plates and you can distinguish them from Daguerrotypes because they are clearer and don’t have the mirror appearance. They were a lot cheaper and were around from 1852 to 1890.
    Also the Carte de Visite which were the fore runner of the Cabinet card. They were smaller only 10 x 6.25cm as compared to the cabinet’s 16.5 x 11cm. Special albums were made to slip the two sizes of cards into.
    Having the photographer’s name can be a real gem as you can often trace when they were in business at that address, even sometimes to a particular year.

  2. Isobel

    It was very interesting your comments on photographic prints I have two tin plated photos of my mothers family one large round one and a smaller one
    Because of there age they are starting to all crack each year getting worse
    Have any advice how to restore these fine pics to their original beauty??

  3. Vivienne Crudeli

    I have two pictures (whom I suspect may be my g/grandparents or older)which are portraits painted on a thick china type glass. They are no longer in frames and very fragile (one having broken in several places). Who did this type of work, how old do you think they are and how do I maintain/restore them.

  4. jacqui simmons

    I have a very old photo on cardboard in sepia colour. It is a ‘war-time’ photo and has my father along with other soldiers on it and a general in the centre.. I would like to know who the general is.

  5. Peter chapman

    I have noticed that early color photos Circa late 1900 deteriate while covered in those plastic covers the photograph company used. Modern photo imaging techniques don’t really restore them to their original colours

  6. Kevin Dyson

    Well I have learned something here today, and I also have one of these “cabinet cards”.It is of my great grandfather Frederick Pocknall who came to NZ in 1874. The photo is in sepia and mounted on card, by the studio, which is London Portrait Rooms,Princes Street,Dunedin and taken in 1881.
    It is still in fairly good condition,considering its age.

  7. Nigel Lampert

    I have large photographs of my grandmother and great grandmother. One of them is printed on silk. It was always rolled up in in a metal tube for at least 40 years of my life until we framed it some years ago. Can you shed some light on this? I have never heard of this before or since. The photograph appears to be of Victorian vintage given nature of the dress.

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