Homepage | David K Petersen

Mason County Memories


"You can't depend on your eyes if your imagination is out of focus" ~ Mark Twain


History Columns are arranged by year of publication in the Ludington Daily News



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Researching family photographs can be a rewarding and frustrating experience. Anyone who has a boxful of old photographs and a drawer full of new ones can attest to the fact that not every one of them is identified.

For as hard as we try to remember most of us fall short of perfection in the area of keeping our family photo albums up to date. Will our genealogist great grandchildren throw their arms up in the air and lament the fact that even though we had those primitive ballpoint pens why couldn't we just make a note or two on the back?

Is that Aunt Jane or is this Uncle Jack? We're going to take a look at some of the more common types of photography and talk a little bit about how you might be able to identify some of those old photographs in Grandma's album.


Daguerreotypes: This type of photograph was popular from about 1839 to 1860, "Dags" as they are referred to by collectors are photographs developed on a polished copper plate and covered with a thin layer of silver. The finished product was placed in an ornate holder with a thin brass frame and piece of glass to cover and protect and then sealed to keep the plate from oxidizing. The notable differences between a "Dag" and a tintype are the Dags copper base, mirror like finish and clarity of the photograph.

Cyanotypes: (Below) These images are blue in color and while the process continues to be used today it was not widely used to create portrait images. The images created in this process were clear and durable.



Ambrotypes: (Left) Popular from the 1850's to about 1880 this form of photography was cheaper quicker and needed less exposure time then the Daguerreotypes. This thin negative was on a piece of glass, a black backing was placed underneath to reflect the light in order to create a positive image and it was mounted in a case in order to protect it and make it easy to view.


Tintypes: (Right) Sometimes referred to as Ferrotypes. These were popular from about 1856 into the early part of the 1900's with some US street vendors and carnivals still using them as late as 1920 due to the quick exposure time and ease of developing. The tintype was at one time also placed in an ornate case, many with brass frames around the picture, this causes tintypes and Daguerreotypes to often be confused.

Gem Tintype

Tintypes did not contain tin, are darker, often brownish in color and the picture quality is not as good. They were easier, cheaper and quicker to produce then the "Dags". This process also did not require a negative and was developed on thin iron metal. Tintypes were produced by the millions and exist in sizes as small as a postage stamp [Gem Tintypes left] to as large as a full 6 and 1/2 by 8 and 1/2 plate.

Carte De Viste

Carte de Vistes: (Right) [French for Visiting card] Unlike the previous forms of photography the name of the Photographers studio and location were often on the front or back of the photograph. Popular between 1859 and 1870 these early CDV's were created from Glass negatives printed on paper and mounted on thin stock that had a simple photographer's mark. CDV's after 1870 were usually on thicker stock had rounded corners and elaborate printed benchmarks on the back.

Cabinet Card

Cabinet Cards: (below) Cabinets are really just larger CDV's and are 4 and 1/2 by 6 and 1/2 inches. These larger photographs on paper mounted on cardboard stock, along with CDV's and tintypes are the photographs that make up the majority of pictures found in photograph albums prior to 1900. By the turn of the century changes in the field of photography and availability of affordable cameras started to rapidly change the landscape.

Being able to identify the type of photograph, the years it was being produced and when possible the location of the studio where it was taken are important steps in identifying the photographs in your family album. Often the backs (Right) of the photographs were ornately decorated with the photogrpaher's name and location of their business, this provides yet another clue as to when the picture was taken depending on where the studio ws located and also whether or not the photogrpaher had a partner or worked alone.

Cabinet Card

Notes Re Photographs from Author's Collection: 1] Tintype in a paper sleeve 2] Portrait Carte De Viste by Clark & Gillete Ludington 3] Cyanotype 1904 Hamlin Lake- note the dog

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