One of the things that make vintage photographs so popular is their uniqueness. Every vintage photograph always has a story to tell. Many people enjoy buying and collecting vintage photographs for many different reasons. Some buy them as a collectible investment; some buy vintage photographs to use for a specific purpose, such as for marketing or promotional purposes; while others simply enjoy collecting a snapshot of history to keep displayed on their mantelpiece.
Different Types of Vintage Photographs
There are a number of different photographic processes that have been used throughout history. The most common processes used with vintage photography include the daguerreotype, ambrotype, carte de visite, cabinet card, and tintype. It is important that buyers have a working vocabulary for vintage photographs in order to communicate accurately with sellers.
The daguerreotype was patented in 1822 and was the first commercial photographic process to be successful. This process involved a silvered copper plate to create the image. A daguerreotype gives a sharp contrasting image that shows clear detail, where shadows are very dark, and lighter areas are very light. It has a mirrored appearance to the image. A daguerreotype image was unable to be re-produced. An original daguerreotype image is very fragile, and any of the famous daguerreotype photos, such as the first authenticated image of Abraham Lincoln taken in 1846, are stored in glass cases that are filled with a chemical gas in order to carefully preserve them. Daguerreotype vintage photographs are a popular type of photo to collect.
The ambrotype photographic process came about in the mid 1800s. Ambrotype photos were less expensive to create; therefore, there are many vintage ambrotypes from a cross-section of social classes during the mid to late 1800s. It is common for individual and family portraits of both rich and poor to be ambrotypes if dated between 1850 and 1900. With this type of vintage photo, there are some dramatic variations in quality of the image. Some ambrotype images were very clear and contrasting, while others were not very sharp.
Carte de Visite
Carte de visite vintage photographs are commonly referred to as CDVs. These photos were produced in a uniform size of three and a half inches by just over two inches, mounted onto a card that was four inches by two and a half inches. The phenomenal success of the CDV led to the concept of photograph albums. These easy to carry cards became objects that were swapped between family and friends, and by the early 1900s, many people proudly showed off their CDV collections. With the ease and accessibility of CDV images, portraits of children became very popular. Many Civil War images were of this CDV type.
Cabinet cards soon replaced CDV photos. Cabinet cards were larger in size, six and a half inches by four and a quarter inches. Often referred to as "cab cards," these types of photographs, as well as the larger sized Imperial Cards, were very popular by the turn of the 20th century. Cabinet cards remained popular until the release of the Kodak snapshot camera.
Tintype vintage photographs emerged during the mid 1800s until the late 1800s. The attractive thing about this type of process was that it only took a few minutes to process once the image had been captured. Tintype images were often sold by traveling photographers. Commonly seen selling portrait images on the sidewalk or at fairs and carnivals, these images were very inexpensive to produce. A tintype image generally has less quality to the image, where details are not as crisp as with other processing methods.