Having published a book titled "Dating Family Photos 1850 - 1920", Lenore Frost gave us some helpful information about old photographs. Early photos were the Daguerreotype, the Ambrotype, the Carte de Visite, Cabinet photos, and postcards.
The Daguerreotype (from 1839) used a metal plate, producing a reversed and positive image.
The Ambrotype (1850's - mid 1860's) was a negative image on a glass plate, also reversed. The image when viewed against a black background appeared as a positive.
The Carte de Visite (1858 - 1890's) were mounted on paperboard 2½ by 4 inches. In the 1860's the photos had squared corners. In the 1870's the photos had coloured borders, whilst in the 1880's the photos had rounded corners.
Cabinet photos (4¼ by 6½ inches) introduced in the 1870's were better for family groups. From 1875 panel size photos were produced and eventually life size photos taken. Some big portraits are actually enlargements of Carte de Visite shots.
Postcards were used for portraiture after 1905.
In the 1860's portraits were plain, often with no photographer's name. You might see carpet, high skirting boards, simple furniture like a table and the subject might be holding a book.
The 1870's used better furniture and possibly drapes. In the 1880's the backgrounds became more idyllic with balustrades, trees, paths and rustic furniture. By the 1890's aspidistras, palms and cane furniture were popular whilst in the 1900's the furniture was square looking and the backgrounds were blurred.
Women's hair was worn close to the head with a bun at the back in the 1860's, and before 1865, ears were hidden by hair. Bonnets were generous, crinoline skirts were fashionable, being widest in 1865, gradually starting to flatten in the front with gathering at the back by the end of the century. Men's jackets had one button at the neck, and baggy sleeves. Trousers were baggy and shoes were square toed. Men wore their hair close to their head but long over the ears.
In the 1870's men wore shorter hair around their ears. Jackets were tailored with more buttons, and trousers might be checked. The ladies used combs and ringlets in their hair. Dresses had panels, ruffles, and bustles which were worn high.
Bell bottomed trousers sometimes with a split at the side appeared in the 1880's. Men's jackets were tight and worn buttoned up, probably with 3 buttons. Sleeves were narrow. Men wore moustaches, short hair, possibly side burns and used Macassar oil. Women's clothing had a tight narrow look with shirring on skirts. Lacy jabots and chunky jewellery were popular. In 1881 dresses were just high enough to see the shoes.
By the 1890's men's jackets were looser with padded shoulders. Waistcoats had a deep "V". Ties were wide and boots were rounded. Women wore their hair fuzzed at the front. Skirts, and bodices with high collars were worn. Bustles were becoming smaller whilst sleeves were becoming bigger. The leg of mutton sleeve was at its widest in 1895, the sleeve top becoming higher in the late 1890's.
In the early 1900's women's hair was much looser, with pads to build out the bun at the back. Bodices were intricate with high collars. Skirts were gored or plain. For men, jackets were longer, with rounded collars. Trousers had a crease. Men were clean shaven with short hair.
By 1914 bodices had more comfortable necks with collars. Skirts were straight.
Older people were often unfashionable, wearing the same styles for 20 years whilst children's clothing often mimicked that of adults. The 1850's saw crinoline skirts and tartans. Boys often wore ringlets in their hair and frocks, but were sometimes distinguished from girls by having a belt. In the 1870's girls wore corsets like their mothers. In the 1890's loose smocks and sailor suits were very popular.
Suggestions for finding when photographers worked include: Post Office directories; newspaper indexes and historical societies. Also books such as "The Mechanical Eye in Australia" by Davies and Stanbury; "Australians Behind the Camera: Directory of Early Australian Photographers, 1841 to 1945" by Sandy Barrie; "Gippsland in Focus" and "Tasmanian Photographers 1840 - 1940: A Directory" by Chris Long.
Contributed by Jan Hanslow ( PPPG Member No. 1057 )
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