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Historic Photographic Terminology

There are certain terms used throughout this website that refer to photographic formats no longer in use. Definitions of some of them are given below:


Albumen Paper was introduced in 1855. It was popular in the United States from 1860 to 1890. Albumen is literally a coating of egg whites that contains sodium chloride and provides a luster to the surface of the photograph. After the albumen was applied to the surface of thin, smoothed-surface paper, silver nitrate was applied to react with the sodium chloride. This process formed a light-sensitive silver chloride. Photographers usually purchased the paper already treated. During the course of the popularity of albumen paper, millions of eggs were used annually in its production.

Ambrotype is a wet collodion negative on glass with a dull black surface behind the negative, which creates a positive image. The glass Ambrotype was introduced in 1854 and remained popular until about 1865. It was easier and cheaper to produce than daguerreotypes.

Backmarks appear on the back side of early photographs and usually display the Photographer's name, logo and address. It was an inexpensive way to advertise their services.

Boudoir Card is an albumen print mounted on a 5 ¼ x 8 ½ piece of cardboard.

Cabinet Card is an albumen print mounted on a 4 ½ x 6 ½ piece of cardboard.

Carte de visite is an albumen print mounted on a 4 ¼ x 2 ½ piece of cardboard about the size of a calling card.

Collodion Prints were produced on Collodion printed-out paper (1885-1920). The developing chemicals contain silver and gold which can turn the photograph black. Popular between 1885 and 1920, collodion prints were used in the making of cabinet cards.

Daguerreotype - This photographic process was invented in 1839 in France by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851). It combines the negative and positive into one image. Using a sheet of highly polished silver-plated copper, a daguerreotype is created by applying iodine to the silver sheet before inserting it into a camera to expose it for a few seconds then using a mercury vapor which brings the image to the surface.. A daguerreotype can either be a negative or a positive depending upon how the light strikes its mirror-like surface. Sold in handsome covered wooden or leather boxes and covered with glass to protect it, the daguerreotype retained its popularity throughout the mid-nineteenth century.

Imperial Card is an albumen print mounted on a 8 ¼ x 9 7/8 piece of cardboard.

Promenade Card is an albumen print mounted on a 4 x 7 piece of cardboard is a promenade card.

Stereographs first appeared in the United States around 1850. Technically it is a pair of photographic prints of the same person or place that are mounted next to each other on a 3½ x 7 card. Viewed through a stereoscope the two-dimensional scene becomes a single three-dimensional photograph. Viewing stereographs remained popular until about 1920.  

Tintype - A fereotype or tintype as it is commonly known were introduced in the late 1850s and were used well into the 20th century. The tintype is a direct positive image upon a sensitized iron base. Like the daguerreotype and the ambrotype, a negative is not produced.

Victoria Card is an albumen print mounted on a 3 ¼ x 5 piece of cardboard. 


Care and Identification of 19th-Century Photographic Prints  by James M. Reilly.