Collecting Vintage Photographs and Albums - How to Identify Old Photo Types

by happynutritionist

When looking for vintage photographs to collect, it's important to know a CDV from a Cabinet Card; an Ambrotype from a Daguerreotype; and what makes a photo worth collecting.

Coming home from an auction or estate sale with a box full of vintage photos including cabinet card photos, glass magic lantern slides, tintype photos, any kind of old photo, is a source of fun and joy for me.

I love looking at the photos and keeping some of them, but I also love finding ways to supplement our income by working at home, and one way that I do that is to buy and resell old photographs of all kinds.

I look through them carefully for treasures, enjoy them, think about what life must have been like for the people in the picture, or take in the different things in the background that would now be considered antiques. I keep some, scan others, and resell many.

Old Camera and Photos
Old Camera and Photos

This page is devoted to my love for old photos. They are so fascinating that I wonder why families don't pass them down and they so often end up at estate sales or auctions. But if they didn't end up at estate sales and auctions, I wouldn't have this source of pleasure, and sometimes a little extra income. Perhaps they are appreciated even more than they would be if they stayed in the family, it is hard to say.

Intro Image: Pixabay
by Claudia Meydrech a/k/a happynutritionist
New on Wizzley 2/2015 - Updated 8/11/15

Identifying Vintage Photo Types

In my boxes of photos, I've come across the following types of old photos:

  • Ambrotype
  • Daguerreotype
  • Carte de Visite
  • Cabinet Card
  • Tintype

Below you will find a sampling of photos in each of the above categories with a description of the photo type.

What does an Ambrotype Photo look like?

Directly on Glass

When I was learning about types of vintage photos, I did my research online, just as you are probably doing now. I will provide you with a short description in my own words, and then a link to a source of further information to deepen your research should you wish to do so.

When taking an Ambrotype photograph, silver solution is applied to glass of desired size, and this was exposed to the image a photographer was taking. 

To protect the image, the solution and image may have been on the back of a piece of glass, and then protected by another piece of glass.

This process was done directly on glass, unlike the Daquerreotype, which is similar and described below.

Visit this link for further research on Ambrotype photos, and enjoy the sampling of this type of photo below.


What Does a Daguerreotype Photo Look Like?

On metal surface, mirror-like

The Daquerreotype photo image was on a copper metal surface rather than glass like the Ambrotype photo.

If you hold the image at certain angles, the image "disappears" and you would see a mirror-like surface, which is unique to this type of photo.

The photo is always in a protective case, that may or may not come with an old photo. Certainly it is worth much more if the case is available with the photo.

Visit this link for further information on Daquerreotype photos and take some time to view the samples of this photo below.


What Makes an Antique Photo Valuable?

The subject matter

While all old photos are fun to look at, it is the photos that are unique in some way that are valuable. The subject matter might represent the period in which the picture was taken in an interesting way, or may have old vehicles in it that are interesting to look at.

Wartime photos are often valuable...I am fascinated by WWII era items, and have kept or sold photos of planes with nose art or men in uniform, and occasionally scenes of areas after the destruction of war.

If the main subject of the photo is a person, unless the person in the photo is famous, or special in some way, pictures of people don't fetch a big price. Exceptions might be those dressed in military attire, celebrities, post-mortem photos, people in side shows, and similar unique or odd photos.

So as you might expect, it is the subject matter that makes a photo valuable.

Wikimedia Photo in Public Domain

Video Tutorial on Collecting Old Photos

What Does a Carte de Visite aka CDV Photograph Look Like?

Photo affixed to card stock

Carte de Visite photographs, also known as CDV photos, are among the most common of the old photos that I've obtained.

The photo is glued to card stock, and how thick the card stock is helps determine age. Thinner card stock is older, and may have been cut by hand...thicker and very rigid, more recent. Many have text on the front edges and back stating who the photographer is, which was a nice way for the photographer to advertise his or her business.

CDV's had a standard measurement, especially the later ones that were not cut by hand, which is 2 3/8" x 4 1/4". Because of their relatively small size, they were easy to carry around in the pocket.

Visit this link for more detailed information on CDV photographs.

CDV Photo of Young Man in Long Coat Standing

This is an antique CDV, or carte de visite, studio portrait photograph of a young man standing in a studio between a chair and a stand with a table cloth draped over it. Age: 18...

View on Amazon

1860's Will & Ann Cartright ID'd Civil War era CDV Photo with Beautiful Victorian Fashion: Geneal...

1860's Will and Ann Cartright Family CDV Photo, #160 Victorian 19th c. Historical CDV Photo: On reverse: Will and Ann Cartright handwritten in old period pencil. Photo appears t...

View on Amazon

Miss Dorothy Spencer CDV Baby Photo in Christening Dress

Slightly larger CDV photograph of a baby in a christening dress, identified on back as Miss Dorothy Spencer. Size between normal CDV size and cabinet card size. Condition as pic...

Only $19.0

View on Amazon

A Sampling of CDV Photos

Available to purchase

What does a Cabinet Card Photo Look Like?

Similar to CDV but larger

The Cabinet Card photo is very similar to the CDV photo, but larger in size. It measured 6 1/2" x 4 1/4" and might have rounded edges. There was often text on the back or along the bottom edge with photographer's information.

This larger size was more suited to portraits of men, women and children, so that is what you will find on most Cabinet Card photos. A Cabinet Card of something unique is all the more valuable because of this.

Visit this link for more detailed information on Cabinet Card Photos, and enjoy a sampling of these photos below...they are available for sale as are most of the antique photos on this page.


What is a Magic Lantern Slide?

Like slides in a slide projector, only bigger

Magic Lantern slides are glass slides with images on them. They were used in a Magic Lantern projector in the 1800's. Pictures were projected for entertainment purposes.

You may have seen slide projectors that use little images that look like negatives in a cardboard frame to display pictures on a movie screen...the magic lantern was similar to this, but reflected light from light sources like candles, oil lamps, whatever was available at the time, from a mirror through the image and to a screen or wall.

I have come home with boxes of glass slides that have images of street scenes, trees, and other similar things.

Below is an image of a magic lantern slide and a magic lantern projector. The images change as they are on eBay, so once they are no longer listed or purchased, another image will take it's place.

What does a Tintype Photo Look Like?

Thin iron metal sheet

Tintypes were printed on thin iron metal. Most were in a protective sleeve, and very easy to damage if one tried to clean the image, so care should be taken with these photos.

You might think you would confuse them with other metal applications like the Daquerreotype, but it was not on copper as the Daquerreotype was.

Early on they were in a case like the Ambrotype, but this was costly, and soon replaced by the protective sleeve.

The Tintype is easiest to identify if it is in the protective sleeve, and will need more careful observation if it is either in a frame or case.

Visit this link for more detailed information on Tintype Photos, and enjoy a sampling of these photos below.

And Finally, Collecting Antique Photo Albums

Vintage Photo Albums are very popular items at the auction that I attend when they offer books, paper, and ephemera. As with photos, the more unique and old the album is, the more valuable.

It's important to look at albums ahead of time, before bidding starts if you are at an estate sale auction, to make sure the album is actually full of photos. It seems obvious, but in the excitement of bidding, if you have not had time to look ahead, you may end up with an album that has a few pages with pictures (the ones you were shown when the auctioneer held up the album) and a lot of empty pages. I confess that in my early days attending auctions, I have had this happen.

Below is a changing list of vintage photo albums that are available for purchase...the same tip shared above applies when buying vintage photo albums online, read the descriptions carefully and ask the seller questions if anything is not clear.

Updated: 08/11/2015, happynutritionist
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happynutritionist on 06/13/2015

@blackspanielgallery I didn't either until I became fascinated by them and did some reading...and saw and purchased them at auctions. Thanks for visiting and welcome to Wizzley.

blackspanielgallery on 06/13/2015

I had no idea old photos were ever placed on anything other than paper.

happynutritionist on 05/25/2015

@CruiseReady I suppose when we take photos it's for our own memories and for others to enjoy anyway, and I sure do enjoy finding these treasures. Thanks for your visit.

CruiseReady on 05/23/2015

What a great resource for helping folks to identify their old photos. I wonder how many people have hundreds of old family photos that they don't know what to do with? At least being able to figure out what types some of them are would be a good place to start.

happynutritionist on 05/22/2015

@Sheilamarie I did as well, my first camera was a Kodak Brownie - remember the little flash bulbs with the plastic coating?

sheilamarie on 05/21/2015

I love old photos, too. When I was young I did a lot of black and white photography with a view camera. There was something really special about how older photos were created.

happynutritionist on 02/16/2015

@burntchestnut I do the same, but occasionally a photo strikes me and I can't give it up. Another thing that has been helpful is being able to scan and keep them on my computer. Saves a lot of space :-)

AngelaJohnson on 02/05/2015

I keep all my family's old photographs and negatives, but I've had several older friends give me photos and negatives their families don't want. I love going through them as you do, and I've also sold some on ebay. Since I'm not a true collector, I'd rather them go to someone who is - and gain a little extra income.

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