Hints on dating photographs.

Is it..?

(1) A daguerreotype.

First commercially produced photograph, 1841 onwards. They were one-off images struck directly onto a silvered copper plate, and were expensive. They were protected by a case.

Left: Portrait of a Daguerreotypist Displaying Daguerreotypes and Cases
Getty Center [Public domain], via https://en.wikipedia.org

(2) A glass ambrotype. These were mostly made between the 1850s and 1860s,  and were a one-off image created by blacking one side of the original glass negative and bleaching the image to produce an apparently positive image. They were obsolete by c1890

Right: Ambrotype portrait of Charlotte Saunders Cushman, an American actress.
1859, Public domain, via https://en.wikipedia.org

(3) A tintype. Tintypes used tin instead of glass, and were one-off images, produced cheaply. They date mostly from the 1860s and 70s, but survived much later (even until the 1950s). Tintypes were more popular in America than in the UK
Above: Tintype of two girls in front of a painted background of the Cliff house and Seal Rocks in San Francisco, circa 1900
Public domain, via https://en.wikipedia.org

(4) A carte de visite. 1860s onwards

These were small photographs (10 x 6 cm, 4 x 2½ inches) mounted on card. Owing to their small size, eight images fitted onto one negative plate, making the photographs cheap to produce.

This was the first time the majority of people could have a portrait taken inexpensively. The photographs were the same size as a visiting card, which people exchanged and displayed in their homes for other visitors to peruse and see who was acquainted with whom.

Cartomania - the craze for collecting, exchanging and displaying carte de visite photographs.

Left: Photograph by W S Giles, Ashburton, c. 1860s.
Anne Bligh collection

(5) A cabinet print. 6¾ x 4¾ inches, these were more popular than carte de visites by the 1890s.
1896 cabinet print. Notice the ‘leg-o’-mutton’ sleeves on the women’s dresses.
Carl Pietzner [Public domain], via https://en.wikipedia.org

(6) A postcard photo.

Photographs as postcards were especially popular between the 1910s and the 1940s.From 1902 the back was divided, so that the address could be put on one side and a message on the other.

9 year old girl in 1912.
Anne Bligh collection

(7) An amateur photograph.

In 1884 George Eastman, of New York, developed dry gel on paper, or film, to replace the photographic plate. In July 1888 Eastman's Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest".

Now anyone could take a photograph and photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie.

Left:  Amateur snapshot, 1930s?
Anne Bligh collection

So the format of the photograph may help - here are some other clues:

Look on the back. The designs that professional photographers used changed over time, from a simple format to increasingly elaborate designs, often in colour.
By the late 1880s cards were usually stout with rounded corners, and they often had chamfered silver or gilt edges.

Another big clue - the photographer. Check directories and censuses. If the photographer turns up in old newspaper reports this may tell you the date he/she was working in particular towns.

Clothes - the fashions of younger women give the best clues to date, and after that young men. Look at the hairstyles of women, and whether men have beards and/or moustaches.Look at the details of clothes: sleeves, collars, hemlines, length of jackets etc.

See below for examples of fashion at different periods

Photographs were taken for special occasions: Are rings prominent, which might signify an engagement or wedding?

Mourning clothes

If anyone seated, tended to be the senior person

‘Generations’ photographs, eg grandparent, parent and child.

Is there anything else in the photograph? Eg are there toys? Vehicles?

If outside, is it summer or winter?

Some websites:

https://vintagedancer.com/ American, but highly recommended



[Public domain], via https://en.wikipedia.org
                                                                                          The 1890s

Right: A bride from 1893. The dress has a high neck and a plain narrow skirt. The sleeves are layered, wide at the top and narrow towards the wrist.
Vanessa Griffith collection
                                                                                          The 1900s
Left: Mother and baby, 1902. The neckline of the mother's dress is highly decorated; the raised hair may have been achieved with the use of pads.

Below: Family group 1908. The mother and older daughters all have 'big' hair, with the daughters both having theirs parted in the middle. Is the young woman on the right wearing a bow? This might suggest her hair is tied back, but is not up, as adult women were expected to wear their hair.
The daughters' dresses both have high necklines; the one on the right has wide sleeves and a loose top that is then gathered at the waist.
The boy on the extreme left is wearing a sailor suit, popular since Victorian times.
The younger boy is wearing shorts, and a long top decorated with lace at the neck and cuffs.

Vanessa Griffith collection

                                                                                          The 1920s

Right: Three siblings, circa 1927. The girls both have short, bob haircuts with fringes. They also have (lace?) collars to their dresses. The boy's collar seems to be attached to his jacket.
The child on the left appears to be wearing sturdy boots; the boy has on sandals with a bar strap.
Anne Bligh collection
                                                                                          The 1950s
Above left and right, and right: Family photoraphs taken at Brixham, c 1950. The father wears wide trousers with a definite centre crease, a jacket and V neck pullover underneath. Even though this is a holiday he is wearing a collar and tie.
the mother wears a calf length flared dress with a narrow belt. She is wearing double bar shoes (above) and is carrying a handbag.
The little girl is wearing a dress with slightly puffed short sleeves and a collar. In one photo she has a bag(?) on a strap around her neck. The little boy is wearing knee length shorts and has a shirt with a collar underneath his jumper.
Shirley Buckley collection
Above: A young woman in 1957. She is wearing a calf length, deep pink, shiny flared skirt with a black belt; a white blouse which buttons up to the neck; a waist length pale blue cardigan.
Left: The same young woman with her mother. She is wearing a cream calf length coat with yellow hat and gloves. Her mother is much more soberly dressed in a black calf length coat and black hat.
Anne Bligh collection