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

Identifying Cardboard Matted Photographs

From the beginning of paper prints in 1839 when Talbot made public his process for taking photographs on thin sheets of specially treated paper, then contact-printing those negatives to produce Calotype prints, it was desirable to mount the resulting prints on stiff cardboard, to keep them from curling. The cardboard mat also provided a wide edge, that could be used for captioning or identification notes, and to handle the print without touching the surface of the print itself, which would be harmed by the natural oils and other contaminants on the hands.

More than 130 years later, when I was taking photography classes in college, we learned the same process for mounting prints, and fine photographs are still mounted in the same basic way today. The paper photograph is glued to a thick cardboard mount.

In 1854 Disderi came up with the idea of making small mounted photographs, where the card mount was only slightly larger than the paper print. The idea eventually caught on, and eventually other standardized sizes were used. Today we call these 'cards' or 'card mounted' photographs to distinguish them from the more variable, and enduring, 'matted' photograph.

On a matted photograph, there is a relatively wide boarder, usually on all four sides around the print. If the cardboard happens to be cut to the size of one of the named card mounts, like CDV or Cabinet Card size, they are often called by those names, but technically they are different, and should be referred to as matted photographs. This allows us to make generalizations about card photographs that simply do not apply to matted images.

The card mount period extended from the 1860s to just a few years after 1900 in the USA (later in some other countries), except in the case of stereo cards, which continued in popularity for several decades into the 20th century. Matted photographs were popular before, during, and after, the card mount era.

Size of the mount is an important clue to the age of a card mounted photograph, but it provides little information relevant to dating matted images. Other characteristics need to be considered. The color and thickness of the mount are significant clues. Is there a white border at the edge of the print? Does the mount consist of a single piece of cardboard, or is the print sandwiched between two or more layers? Is there information printed on the cardboard, or in negative on the print? Does the card have any embossing? Is the embossed impression visible from both sides or just one?

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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