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As part of the Photo Archive project Rhiannon and I attended a “Historic Photographs Training Day”, in order to gain the necessary knowledge to effectively carry out the re-housing and cataloguing of the Attingham photo collections. In addition to this, the training day brought to my attention the great variety of photographic processes that had been used up to the 20th century. This led me to consider the different types of photographs in our own collection here. 

Daguerreotype (possibly of the 4th Lord Berwick) Daguerreotype (Mirror Effect)

In the last blog we left you with an image of this photograph, on the left, and identified it as a Daguerreotype. Daguerreotypes are commonly considered to be the first type of modern photograph, owing to its ability to hold a permanent image. Invented in 1839 by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, they remained in use until the 1860s. We are fortunate enough to have several of this types of photographs in our collection, which are quite rare in England as a result of the English patent system requiring licences, which seems to have excluded itself from the French Government’s endeavour to ‘endow [it] freely the entire world’, following their nationalisation of the patent.[1] The recognisable features of a Daguerreotype are: its composition of glass, its mirror-like complexion (demonstrated by the image on the right), and the copper-like appearance of the rear of the plate. Ambrotype

The image above is a type of photograph known as an Ambrotype, or a Wet-Collodion. This form of photography almost completely replaced the Daguerreotype in the 1850s, owing to its reduction of exposure times and comparative cheapness.  Like the Daguerreotype it is also generally to be found on a glass plate, although lacks the mirror effect visible above. Its other distinguishing feature though is the depth of the image, which almost has a three-dimensional effect when examined.


Ferrotypes, or ‘Tintypes’ as they are commonly known, are clearly distinguishable from Ambrotypes and Daguerreotypes owing to the material differences. Developed onto an iron plate, this type of photograph has a candidly different look and feel to it, making it easily identifiable next to previous forms of photography. Aside from its metallic texture, the blackened complexion of many Ferrotypes is also an indicator of the identity of this type of photograph. We received a tip as to the surest way of identifying a Ferrotype during the training day though, as part of a practical exercise. The use of a weak magnet was suggested, given the iron nature of the photographs (although I doubt this is common practice with real collections it did help in certain cases where the photographs were mounted on card).

Carte de Visite of the 8th Lord BerwickCabinet Card of the 8th Lady Berwick with her sister Gioconda

Although lasting as a novelty item, the metal Ferrotype was inevitably superseded by the cheaper and reproducible card-based photographic processes from the mid-1860s. The two most common types of card photographs in the 19th century were the Carte de Visite (CDV) and the Cabinet Card, appearing c.1859 and c.1866 respectively. There was little quality difference between the two processes until the 1870s, can you tell them apart? The man identifying feature is generally the size of these photos the CDV usually being roughly 2.5” x 4”, and the Cabinet being 4.25” x 6.5” (as demonstrated below).  Additionally, there are a variety of other ways to identify these photographs, including card thickness and the style of borders and artwork. Note details of the studios on the bottom of the card, while further details are to be found on the rear.

Carte de Visite and Cabinet Card

Comparison of the size between Carte de Visites and Cabinet Cards (8th Lord on the left, and the 8th Lady and her sister Gioconda on the right)


A final parting tip if you intend to attempt any identification of your own collections, is that it is always important to look at photographs as objects as opposed to images.

[1] R. Derek Wood, ‘The Daguerreotype Patent, The British Government, and The Royal Society’, History of Photography, Vol. 4, No. 1 (January 1980), pp. 53-9; Steve Edwards, ‘‘Beard Patentee’: Daguerreotype Property and Authorship’, Oxford Art Journal, 36.3 (2013), pp. 369-394.