Paper Prints


All of us are familiar with paper prints. Every year we produce them by the thousands, documenting our family milestones and vacations. The paper prints of our ancestors and the ones we take today are similar, but the chemicals and processes that create the images are different.  The negatives used to produce these prints ranged from paper to glass to contemporary film materials.

Paper prints fall into several categories. In the nineteenth century, two types of paper prints existed: Printing-out papers and developing-out papers.

  • Printing-out papers: light sensitive chemicals applied to paper allowed the image to appear during exposure to light.
  • Developing-out papers: required chemical processing to bring out the image.
There is a revival of nineteenth century printing out processes. Photographers experimenting with these photographic processes are causing a renewed interest in the photographic community.
Also, in the nineteenth century, All prints were contact prints, meaning they were the same size as the negative. When you are looking at an 11 x 14 inch print from the 1870s, the negative was also 11 x 14 inches. Since artificial light was not available until the late nineteenth century, sunlight was a key ingredient of
the photographic process.
By the end of the nineteenth century, card photographs came in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Probably the most common type of nineteenth century photograph in your collection is known as a card photograph. The thin paper used to produce the majority of nineteenth and early twentieth century prints necessitated mounting them to heavy card stock or cardboard to help support the print. These images, regardless of the type of photographic process, came in standard sizes. Some types of card photographs include (with sizes and date introduced to U.S.):
  • Cartes-de-visite – 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 (1859)
  • Cabinet Card – 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 (1866)
  • Victoria 3 1/4×5 (1870)
  • Promenade 4×7 (1875)
  • Boudoir 5 1/4 x 8 1/2 (not known)
  • Imperial (life-size) 6 7/8 x 9 7/8 (not known)
  • Panel 8 1/4 x 4 (not known)
  • Stereograph Either 3 x7 or 4 x 7 (Smaller 1859 Larger 1870)
Preserving Your Family Photographs details identifying and caring for your card photographs.
Until the late 1880s, there were two ways to have your portrait taken. You could visit a professional studio or use the services of the amateur photographer in your family. These portraits lack spontaneity because it was an involved process.
Amateur cameras manufactured by Kodak and other companies allowed our ancestors to photograph their daily lives.
Different types of nineteenth century and early twentieth century prints develop problems based on the chemical processes used in their creation. Each photograph is a combination of photographic chemicals and paper. Both elements can affect the longevity of the print as much as conditions under which they’ve been stored since their creation.
In my book, you learn how to address special concerns for paper prints and avoid common damage to your historical photographs.


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