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A guide to old photos

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 timeframe 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.

Click here for more about finding clues in old photographs.