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Dating Old Photos
Dated Imprints
Public Domain

NOTICE: A greatly expanded and PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED version of this material is being prepared as an ebook - watch this space for availability announcements.

Identifying the Object - Card Mounted Photographs

It said that the famous photographer Disderi invented the carte-de-visite (CDV) in France in 1854, but the basic concept is so obvious, surely someone else thought to mount paper prints on stiff cardboard backing. It is the standardization of size, however, that makes Disderi's contribution so notable. It was the beginning of mass-production in the photographic realm, made possible by the 1851 invention of a practical glass plate negative. Glass plate negatives could be used to produce any number of copy prints, and were quickly employed in the mass production of images. Styles changed through the years, and various types of card mounted photographs prevailed -- but they are easy to distinguish, it all depends on the size.


As mentioned above, the carte-de-visite format was introduced in France by Disderi in 1854 -- but it took a while to catch on. Here in the USA, photographers were just getting used to adding ambrotypes to their offerings. Few made paper photographs, and of those more were scenic view photographers than portrait takers. It took time to adjust, and special materials were needed, and new processes had to be learned. We only see CDV photographs from 1858 or 1859 in the USA, and those are rare. By 1862 they become commonplace, and by 1865 they completely eclipse all cased images. Oh, tintypes are still made in huge numbers, but they are mounted on CDV sized cards, usually with oval holes, so the tintype can be held on back by pasting a slip of paper over them, sometimes imprinted with the photographer's name and address.

There was also another type of tintype-CDV hybrid that I've seen numerous example of, but only have one reliably dated. It uses the idea of the preservers from cased images, and encircles a gem-sized tintype (usually about one inch by 1.5 inches) with a brass frame. That frame has two tabs that extend backward, and pass through slits of the correct size in the CDV sized cardboard, and when folded back hold the tintype in place. I knew some of these date from the early 1860s from the thickness of the card mount used, and eventually found one dated 1862, but do not know if they were used in the late 1850s, or for how long they were produced.

Recognizing the CDV is simple, look for a photograph on very thin paper, usually an albumen print, but later occasionally seen in gelatin-silver or rarely even platinum. The main feature, as mentioned above, is the card size, which is typically 2.5 x 4 inches (63 x 100 mm) or slightly less, though you need to notice if it has been cut-down by the owner to make it easier to fit in a photo-album sleeve. The print is only slightly smaller than the card it is mounted on.

Personally, I think a TRUE CDV should also meet my Card Mount Criteria. All of the original card-mounted photographs like CDVs and Cabinet Cards were different from regular matted photographs. Almost all early paper photos that were intended for sale or display had to be pasted onto a cardboard backing, because the paper used for the print was very thin, and would otherwise curl. But CDVs and Cabinet cards had a different look to them -- they have prints that almost fill the whole card surface, with very little margins. Often the bottom margin (or sometimes the side, if the image is in landscape orientation), has a wider margin to allow a caption or photographers imprint, but the other margins are very thin.

Hence I developed my Card Mount Criteria to distinguish between true card mounts, and simple matted images. Here it is (drum-roll please!): To be a true card mount, the print should be 90% or more of the total card width or height.

This criteria does not apply to stereo-cards, though they often meet it anyhow. Stereoview images are easily distinguishable by having two nearly-identical images mounted side by side.

Typical CDV images that do not meet the criteria of having a print 90% or more of the width or height, are tintypes, which I would characterize as tintypes on CDV sized mounts; and some oval prints -- usually placed inside a printed frame, which I would characterize as matted prints on CDV sized mounts. I realize I may be swimming upstream on this minor distinction, but it becomes relevant with cabinet cards and post-1900 matted prints on cabinet card sized mounts.

The last true CDV in our dated images collection is from 1899. No doubt a few were produced in the first few years of the 1900s, but they are sufficiently uncommon that we have encountered no dated examples.

Cabinet Card

Cabinet cards are like CDVs but bigger. Easy huh? They typically measure 4.25 x 6.5 inches (108 x 164 mm). I have seen examples of the exact same image printed at both sizes, like today's photographers offer various size prints as a package deal. In general though, when it came to portraits (at least in the USA) most people bought CDV sized images in the 1860s and 1870s, then moved up to cabinet card size in the 1880s and 1890s. They still made CDVs in the 1880s and 1890s, but not in any great numbers.

The cabinet card is said to have been introduced in 1866, but it was used almost exclusively for landscape images in the 1860s -- CDVs were just too small for a nice view of the Rocky Mountains or Yosemite. I have seen a few portraits done in cabinet card size in the 1870s, especially the latter-half of the 1870s, but they were not anywhere near as popular as CDVs. By the 1880s they rapidly eclipsed CDVs and became the most popular format for portraits.

After 1900 there were still many card mounted images of the size of cabinet cards, but the vast majority of them do not meet my criteria of having an image 90% or more of the width or height of the card. Most of these post-1900 images are matted photographs in my terminology. The last true cabinet card in our dated image collection was dated 1909 -- but there are only a handful of cabinet cards among hundreds of images from the first decade of the 1900s.

Other Cards

There were a few different card types introduced in the 1870s and 1880s, but it was the 1890s when photographers went crazy with new names for card photographs. Many of them do not meet my criteria for a true card mount type, but are standardized sizes for matted images.

Here we are going to list the names we have seen in size order by smaller dimension (width for portrait oriented images, height for landscape oriented images). Not all sources agree as to the sizes for particular names, and sometimes different names are applied to the same sizes. I have added a -# after duplicate names to distinguish variants. I have not made a particular study of these, so consider this listing very provisional:

Names of Common Card Mounts and Standardized Photographic Mats

  • Short side x Long side - Name (date range) {notes}
  • Note: all sizes are in millimeters, date range is for USA
  • 30 x 50 - Mignonette (pre 1870 - 1890s)
  • 33 x 59 - Mignon (1874-1880s)
  • 37 x 60 - Gem ()
  • 38 x 60 - Minette (late 1870s - ca 1890s)
  • 40 x 60 - Miniature ()
  • 40 x 78 - Mignon-3 (1890s)
  • 40 x 80 - Kolibri (1890s)
  • 41 x 79 - Petite ()
  • 41 x 81 - Minette No. 43 ()
  • 42 x 76 - Minette-2 (1890s)
  • 45 x 45 - Muschel Mignon-2 (1890s)
  • 45 x 60 - Mignon-2 (1890s)
  • 45 x 67 - Mignon-4 (1890s)
  • 49 x 79 - Minette No. 43 1/2 ()
  • 50 x 90 - Princess (1890s)
  • 51 x 80 - Frida (1890s)
  • 51 x 106 - Milieu ()
  • 55 x 55 - Muschel Mignon (1890s)
  • 55 x 115 - Visite Sezession (1890s)
  • 57 x 70 - Penny ()
  • 60 x 83 - Empire ()
  • 60 x 84 - Columbia ()
  • 60 x 90 - Adéle-2 (1890s)
  • 63 x 63 - Quadra () {often with diagonally mounted image}
  • 63 x 63 - Muschel (1890s)
  • 63 x 100 - Carte-de-Visite (1858-1905)
  • 70 x 70 - Cigarette card (1886 - ca 1895) {1910-1950 variable rectangular sizes were used}
  • 70 x 100 - Adéle (1890s)
  • 73 x 165 - Swiss ()
  • 75 x 75 - Muschel-2 (1890s)
  • 75 x 150 - Stephanie (1890s)
  • 76 x 76 - Carré (1890s)
  • 82 x 125 - Elisabeth (1871-1890s)
  • 82 x 126 - Victoria (1870-1890s)
  • 82 x 127 - Victoria-2 (1880s)
  • 83 x 122 - Victoria-3 (1880s)
  • 84 x 174 - Malvern (1880s)
  • 89 x 178 - Standard Stereocard (ca 1859-1940s)
  • 90 x 120 - Amature (1890s)
  • 97 x 205 - Oblong Promenade (1875-1890s)
  • 98 x 205 - Makart (ca 1880-1890s)
  • 100-127 x 178 - Large Stereocard (1873-1890s) {variable, sometimes called a cabinet, artistic, imperial or deluxe stereoview}
  • 100 x 130 - Large Amature (1890s)
  • 100 x 209 - Oblong Promenade (1880s)
  • 102 x 190 - Promenade ()
  • 105 x 210 - Oblong Promenade-3 (1890s)
  • 108 x 133 - Kodak Card (1888-1895) {with round photo}
  • 108 x 164 - Cabinet Card (1866-1910)
  • 108 x 208 - Oblong Promenade-2 (1890s)
  • 110 x 205 - Large Makart (1890s)
  • 110 x 205 - Large Promenade (1890s)
  • 115 x 115 - Muschel Cabinet (1890s)
  • 127 x 238 - Standard Panel (1900s)
  • 130 x 268 - Royal (1890s)
  • 132 x 132 - Muschel Boudoir (1890s)
  • 133 x 187 - Baltic (1900s)
  • 140 x 216 - Boudoir (1875-ca 1890s)
  • 171 x 248 - Paris Panel ()
  • 175 x 255 - Salon-2 (1890s)
  • 176 x 250 - Salon-3 (1890s)
  • 178 x 245 - Imperial Cabinet (1875 - ca 1890s)
  • 188 x 330 - Pausel (1890s)
  • 189 x 240 - Franz (1890s)
  • 189 x 240 - Salon (1875 - 1880s)
  • 190 x 102 - Promenade ()
  • 190 x 330 - Panel (1880-1890s)
  • 190 x 330 - Imperial (1890s)
  • 210 x 280 - Valerie (1890s)

Some other names observed, but of unknown size are: Aureole, Bijoux, Bon-Ton (exclusive to Union Photograph Co, Philadelphia?), Heroic, Mantillo Petites, Mintha, Nadar, Plaque, Solomon, Souvenir, Talbott Mounts, and van Bosch.

This information on named photograph mounts compiled with the aid of materials by Gary Saretzky, Marcel Safier, Flesch Bálint, and many other sources, both printed and online.

NOTICE: A greatly expanded and PROFUSELY ILLUSTRATED version of this material is being prepared as an ebook - watch this space for availability announcements.

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