by Joelle Steele

You may never encounter some of these types of photos because they were not used much. But others were quite popular and therefore very common. The date ranges below are approximate:

Calotypes ("salt prints"). Invented 1834. In use 1834-1838. Image was embedded in the paper fibers making it look fuzzy. It could be glazed to give it a sheen. Color was mainly sepia (reddish-brown). More common in England than the United States. Multiple copies could be made of a single image, but not many were made because they had such poor resolution and they faded quickly. Few have survived. Very rare.

Cyanotypes. Invented 1842. In use 1842-pres. Name comes from the color "cyan," as these permanent images had blue coloration. Never became popular for photographs. Rare. Forerunners of modern blueprinting.

Albumen Prints. Invented 1848-50. In use 1850-1920s. Popular 1855-1895. Commonly used in cartes de visite and cabinet cards. The thin paper curled so they were mounted on card stock. Finish is usually glossy but can also be matte. Originally a purplish-red or light sepia color, they are usually found faded to a yellowish brown or stained yellow or brown in their non-image areas.

Stereoscopes. Invented 1850. In use 1850-1900. Usually albumen prints on card stock. Relatively common because hundreds of thousands were made and sold in catalogues.

Cartes de Visite. Invented 1854. In use 1858-1920s. Popular 1858-1890s. Albumen prints mounted on card stock. Earliest cards were on Bristol board (a single layer card stock), still in use into the 1890s. After about 1870, they were also made on thicker cardboard ("pressed board," a layered card stock). Became more ornate in the 1890s with gilt edges and stamping on front. They were approximately 2.5" x 3.5"/4.0" (6.5 cm x 10.5 cm). Usually imprinted with photographer's name. Most were portraits with the sitter's signature at the bottom.

Cabinet Cards. Invented 1866-70. In use 1866-1920. Popular 1875-1900. Albumen prints mounted on card stock. They became more ornate in the 1890s. They were approximately 4.5" x 6.5" (11cm x 16.5 cm).

Snapshots (roll film). Invented 1883. In use 1889-pres. Popular 1889-2000. These are small photos taken by non-professionals using simple cameras. The Brownie was the first camera mass-produced for the public as of 1900. Most inexpensive cameras produced photos that were lacking in crisp detail due to inferior lenses. The photos are often blurry or over/under-exposed due to slower shutter speeds, camera movement, flash failures, and poor lighting conditions. Photo processing was "iffy" at times, so streaks and dust are often noticeable, especially if a snapshot is enlarged onscreen or examined under high magnification.

Polaroids. Invented 1946. In use 1948-pres. Popular 1960-1990. The prints were partially developed in the camera and then removed, one at a time. Images were mainly mediocre, lacked details, and displayed streaks, over/under-exposed areas, and blurry images. They came in rectangular and square prints similar to other snapshot sizes of the second half of the 20th century.

This article last updated: 08/11/2013.