Dating Your Old Photographs

Several years ago I inherited a huge box of vintage photographs of my family and ancestors. Of course, nothing had dates on it, and I didn’t even know who most of the people were. And my family wasn’t much more help. My mother would look at a photograph and try to guess who it was. What we figured out over a period of time, is how much some ancestors looked like others. It became difficult to tell one from another.

I began researching old photographs to get a feel for the time period that some of theses photos might have been taken during. I learned fascinating facts about the way photographs worked and I was able to date many of the photos specifically.

Antique Photos

daguerreotypes photographs antiqueDaguerreotypes

First, I loved this word! They were popular from 1839 to around 1860. The photographs were on thin, silver coated metal sheet. The sheet had a highly polished, mirror like surface. They were then sealed in glass and placed in small, hinged cases. If you have photographs like this, you should never disassemble them. Have them scanned instead.

tintype photographs antiqueTintypes

These pictures were really cool. They became popular from around the 1850’s to the early 1900’s. They were most common during the Civil War. They were very dark and printed on thin iron or tin plates. These would be best scanned, and then printed to add to your scrapbook layouts.

Card Mounted Photos
salt prints photographs antiquealbumen photographs prints antique
These became popular in the latter part of the 19th century. I had tons of these. They were printed on paper and then classified according to emulsion material. There were salt prints (left) and albumen prints (right). These card mounted photos can be placed directly into your albums, just be sure to use acid-free cardstock to stop the acid from spreading any further. The only other advice I have is to consult a professional photographer for further questions. Often they might have ideas or suggestions we hadn’t thought of yet.

Modern Photos

black and white photographBlack and White Photos

These became popular around 1889 when George Eastman invented the “box camera” and when a roll of film was used up, you sent the entire camera to the Kodak factory where it would be processed and printed and mailed back with new film loaded in the camera. These photos were popular for a very long time.

Color Photos

In the early 1940’s the first color photographs were being printed. These went through several stages before ending up where we are now. Still the best way to get your pictures is 35mm. They are long-lasting and easy to reproduce. Still my favorite!

Instant Photos

polaroid prints instant photographsIn 1963 Polaroid introduced their instant photograph. You just snapped the photo and waited a minute or two and the image developed right before your eyes. Unfortunately the quality of these photos is not good and does fade drastically over time. With proper care and storage you can get it to last a bit longer than normal.

Digital Photos

In 1981 the first non-film camera, the Sony Mavica was introduced. The ever present digital era is upon us, and now we have digital prints. They look no different from regular color pictures, except that at times, you can see the graininess from the digital quality. As the camera’s improve, so does the quality of the print.

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