Friday, May 9, 2014

Friday's Faces From The Past: Cabinet Card Project

Children of Thos. L. & Mary (Ida) Simmons Dineen: Stella, Mabel, Nellie, Tom & Raymond (born April 1897)

This is a cabinet card. These types of photographs first appeared in the mid-1860s and were popular from about 1875 to 1900. Most cabinet cards are a standard size of 6 1/2" x 4 1/4" although there were size variations later on. See the website for additional information regarding cabinet cards.

What started out as a small project bloomed into a bigger one as I searched farther and farther afield for information. I have always had a fascination for old photographs so a lot of my projects entail research about them. I have studied the history of photography via the finished projects that each era has ushered in as technology and fashion run hand in hand to shape experiences.

In attempts to identify old photographs, there are several techniques that one can employ. One is to research the photographer’s information if possible. Cabinet cards hold the most promise for that type of research as very often a photographer’s imprint can be found on the bottom of the photo card or even on the back.   
Several cabinet cards were among the items a close friend owns which were given to her by her uncle. These were originally among her grandmother’s possessions and passed down from earlier generations with many of the family members having been in the area since the early 1800s. The above example is from her collection. Fortunately, this photograph is labeled so one can more easily determine when it was taken. Thus we know that this photographer was in business at least at that period of time. But what about other photographs which also list him as the photographer such as this one below?

Unknown infant. Courtesy of the Ellicottville Historical Society
with kind permission from Mary E. Dunbar, town historian

And what about the difference in address between that one and this one following?

Unknown woman, 1890s. Courtesy of Ellicottville Historical Society
with kind permission from Mary E. Dunbar, town historian

Because there is online access to old newspapers from the Ellicottville and some surrounding areas at, I was able to do some searching to discover more information about this photographer and his business.  I will present the information on him in a later post.

Success with this initial research led me to explore information about other photographers in the area using the same newspapers. Then I went on to look for more examples at the Ellicottville Historical Society. Some of these photographers were more itinerant and I would find evidence of them having moved their business to other parts of the county as well as other states. The nearby town of Franklinville was a thriving business area back in the day and so there were several examples of photographers in that area. The City of Salamanca was also a larger area for photography work. I tracked a couple of photographers from Randolph, New York (in Cattaraugus County) to Ellicottville, New York to Salamanca as well as up and down the river to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. That is an interesting story that I will save for another post as well.

I know this information will be helpful to other researchers, so I want to continue with the project and document as much as I can about the different photographers in the area. I probably will not be able to limit myself to just the cabinet card era although that is where the bulk of the research will be. I was encouraged by fellow blogger at the blog Hunting and Gathering to make this information available as I go which I may do in various installments of blog posts in the future or put together a document similar to what is done for Georgia photographers at Hunting and Gathering. If there is any information you can provide that would be helpful to this project as well as any examples to share, that would be greatly appreciated!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for the mention of my blog Hunting & Gathering! I certainly look forward to seeing & reading more of what you you post here on Wisteria.