This section has been inspired by Pam Bates, who has regularly contributed to the site.
I am sure that many of you have photographs tucked away in an album, or safely hidden in a drawer, or lying half-remembered and dusty in the attic, or donated to you by a helpful relative … and you haven’t got a clue who or what they show !!! Just like me !
But you would very much like to find out more about them. Just like me !!
Now is your chance.
If you share them with others maybe they can help identify the subjects, or at least give a useful clue. Though I know what to look for, I am not an expert in dating old photographs — I know there are those much better qualified … aren’t you ?!!
Dating old photographs.
Here are a few tips — in no particular order — which I picked up from the internet.
Miscellaneous sketch notes on the dating of clothing
If you look at the image of the standing person in the photo (or lady sitting on a chair) and you can see both head and feet with a carpet some old furniture and studio props such as a curtain, the man may have a jacket buttoned only at the top and the woman has a down to the ground wide dress and her ears cannot be seen for the hair covering it and the back of the card has a simple print for the photographers name and the cardboard feels a bit thin – it is from the first half of the 1860s. If you can see her ears it is the later 1860s. Such cards usually have square corners.
If the portrait is a half or three-quarter (no feet) the ladies hair is less severe, with perhaps a curl, and perhaps much jewellery and perhaps sitting down in a more casual way, clothes trimmed with lace or tassles. Men wore lounge suits with matching waistcoats by the middle of the decade. The ladies look like they are wearing heavy furnishing rather than dresses. The cardboard is thicker and stronger (less flexible than a playing card) and the printing on the back is typeset with fonts but usually one large word, and perhaps a border, and the rest small and coloured inks may be used and a logo may appear. The card may have rounded corners – (mid to late 1870s). These date from the 1870s. (Some still show full length and a carpet in the early 1870s)
The ladies dress may be severe and close fitting or it has a bustle (1881-1886 ish), skirts had pleated edges, boys wore sailor suits and velvet suits, Men did not wear frock coats and wore a morning-coat suit or a lounge suit, top hat, bowler or straw hat. Norfolk jackets were popular as were more casual clothes. Ladies wore tight fitting jackets, high white collars or ruffs a brooch at the neck, lots of buttons in rows, tight fitting sleeves, odd little hats, hair plain or curls usually pulled back. The back of the card is quite filled with print, with medals, famous customers, branches, and could be artistic. Studio furniture and chairs look as if from a fine country house.
Women wore tailor-made suits and plain with little ornamentation (brooch at the neck), hair in a bun with no fringes. Sleeves became wider until by 1895 the ‘leg of mutton’ shape with sort of upstanding ‘wings’ on the shoulders. Collars were high and with a ruffle or lace under the stiff outer. Sleeves became tighter by 1897 and frilled bodices came into fashion. Most cartes were head and shoulders only, the backs were very elaborate and artistic, coloured backs and gold print common. Plain backs with the photographer’s name on the lower front, some like this occur from about 1889. Many cabinet card seem to date from the 1880s and 1890s
1900 and after
Wide sleeved blouses were still worn for a few years, but for many this was the era of the blouse and simple skirt and straw boater hat, and wide hats for special occasions. Those enormously wide brimmed hats date from June 1911 onward and were often worn with a short slit in the skirt. In the 1920s hair was cut short (for some) and the hemline rose for the first time ever. in 1898 Postcards replaced cabinet cards and CDVs as the main type of cheap studio portrait and peaking during the First World War. Some cabinet and CDV photos were produced for the first decade of the century as there was still a demand, but the later cabinet card looked a little different, simple logo and studio on the bottom front and often with embossed patterns or channels and saw-cut edges or pinking and rarely any writing on the back.