What are Cabinet Photos?

Cabinet Photo

Cabinet Photo-Red Lake Minnesota

Cabinet photos are 1860-1920 photographs mounted on a card much like the CDV (Carte de visite). CDVs were replaced by the larger Cabinet cards. In the early 1860s, both types of photographs were essentially the same in process and design. Both were most often albumen prints; the primary difference being the cabinet card was larger and usually included extensive logos and information on the reverse side of the card to advertise the photographer’s services. However, later into its popularity, other types of papers began to replace the albumen process. Despite the similarity, the cabinet card format was initially used for landscape views before it was adopted for portraiture.

Some cabinet card images from 1890s have the appearance of a black and white photograph in contrast to the distinctive sepia toning notable in the albumen print process. These photographs have a neutral image tone and were most likely produced on a matte collodion, gelatin or gelatin bromide paper. A true black and white image on a cabinet card is likely to have been produced in the 1890s or after 1900. The last cabinet cards were produced in the twenties, even as late as 1924.

Cabinet photos are very collectible both for the subject and for the imprinted photo company names often found in decorative script on the back of the cardboard.  Especially prized are good examples of fashion dresses and men’s suits, family units, and common objects often found in the photos.

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