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Cabinet Photos

Cabinet cards are small, easy to share photographs that become popular in the late 19th century. They were often displayed in albums or in cabinets, as their name indicates.

Typically, cabinet photos were developed as five and a half by four inch prints mounted on six and one-fourth by four and one-fourth-inch cardstock. The space between the photograph and the edge of the card was stamped with the photographer's studio information and sometimes the name of the sitter. Later cards often had identifying markings on the back as well. Cabinet cards were typically printed on albumen paper, but later cards were made through a variety of analog processes, such as silver gelatin, collodion, or platinum prints.

Photographers exercised creativity with cabinet prints, as they offered a larger format than what was available before. They created elaborate backgrounds with props and other types of embellishments for portraits. Cabinet cards were sturdier than their predecessors and were more often displayed in the home than shared by mail. Cabinet photos maintained their popularity as collectibles until the invention of real photograph post cards in the early 20th century.


Quick Facts

  • Cabinet cards were introduced in England in 1866, but took ten years to spread to popular use in the United States. Once the process made its way overseas, cabinet cards were popular keepsakes for tourists visiting New York City, or celebrity portraits for commercial distribution
  • Photographer Benjamin Falk, first based in New York City's theater district, gained a celebrity following for cabinet cards. He later experimented extensively with artificial light
  • It is possible to date a cabinet card by many of the general characteristics on the card, including card color, border design, and lettering. Wide gold borders were only used between 1884 and 1885, and embossing was only used after the 1890s

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RB Fine Arts

RB Fine Arts