The cabinet card was made by using the same steps for creating CDVs, still exhibiting the sepia look. However, the cabinet cards image area was more than double the CDV. It was introduced in the late 1860s in England, but did not gain much attention in the U.S. until the mid-1870s. While it was a bigger image than the CDV, it did not offer much of a quality difference until the mid-1880s. That is when the effect of new photographic papers and camera improvements really became apparent.
Many cabinet card photographs from the 1880s and 1890s are exquisite pieces of artwork, exhibiting technical excellence and wonderful composition. This new size and improved clarity and colors provided the perfect media to showcase the grand styles of the gay nineties.
These are just as easy to recognize as CDVs. Though examples from the late 1890s show a wide variety of card stock, and some variation in sizes. Basically though, most cabinet cards are 6 1/2 x 4 1/4.
The cabinet card experienced many style changes and improvements during its lifetime. Dating them is quite easy. Some of the characteristics to look at include:
Initially, cabinet cards were made from natural raw bristol board, both front and back. But in the mid-1870sthe backs were coated with soft off-white or even light pastel ink. The two most advertised card colors were primrose (pale yellow) and pearl (rich off-white) though light pink, blue, and green can be found.
In the mid-1880sdark colored cards were introduced and used until the early 1890s. The most popular was a dark maroon and black. Green was a very attractive version, but examples are harder to find.
While the dark cards are not rare, they did not capture a large share of the marketplace, possibly because they were more expensive than standard colors. Compared to primrose or pearl cards noted earlier which were $1.10 per hundred, maroon cards were $1.20 and black were $1.30 per hundred.
General Rule: Dark cards popular from 1885 to 1895
Imprints are the text and artwork printed on the card. The front usually includes the studio or photographers name and location. The back sometimes includes the same information, but more elaborate.
Several style changes are easily datable. Artistic print means the typeface used is highly ornate cursive style.
The backside of the photograph became an elaborate advertisement for the photographer. The following trends have been observed:
Note: The back was frequently left blank to reduce costs.
General Rule: The fancier, the later the date.
The borders (lines or artwork on the card) and the manner in which the card edges were cut or treated are some of the best known clues to dating the cabinet card. Characteristics to look for are:
General Rule: No single rule applies across all cards
Card edges experienced numerous changes during the latter 1800s. These included beveled edges, gilt treatment, and scalloped edges. Throughout the time however, plain straight cut edges could be found also. The simplest ones were the cheapest and there was always a market for them.
General Rule: Most fancy edges are from the 1890s
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1888 cabinet card shows a single artistic line below the image, used from about 1886 to around 1895.