Cabinet Cards & Cartes-de-Visite | How to Archivally Preserve Your Family Photographs

Two of the most popular forms of 19th century photography you may have in your family archive are cabinet cards and cartes-de-visite (the latter is French for “visiting cards,” and will be shortened to CDVs throughout this article).

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The smaller photographs are called cartes-de-visite, while the larger photographs are cabinet cards.

Formal photographic portraits in these two formats were quite the craze in the years before the introduction of amateur cameras. Created by local professional photographers, individuals would often order multiple copies of these wonderful images for distribution to family and friends when visiting.

The small carte-de-visite, introduced in France, became hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic between roughly 1859 and the early 1870s. It was eventually supplanted by the larger cabinet card beginning in the 1870s, and finally disappearing with the advent of inexpensive Brownie cameras and other forms of snapshot photography around the turn of the 20th century.

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 Various styles of the carte-de-visite.

 

cabinet cards
Various styles of cabinet cards.

Now let’s take a look at how you can archivally preserve these photographic records of your family history.

Scanning Cabinet Cards and CDVs

Cartes-de-visite are rather small, measuring only 2-1/2″ x 4″, while cabinet cards usually measure 4-1/2″ x 6-1/2″. Both of these types of images can be archivally stored in a number of museum-quality acid-free materials, but we recommend scanning them first.

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Scanning your CDVs and cabinet cards will allow you to print and work with high-quality scans instead of the often one-of-a-kind original photographs, which you’ll be archivally storing in the steps below.

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Most desktop scanners will accommodate up to 4 or 5 CDVs or 2 cabinet cards per scan, which will allow you to scan multiple images at the same time.

While cabinet cards are the larger of the two formats we’re discussing, even the smaller CDVs hold a tremendous amount of photographic detail, which will allow you to enlarge and print scans of even the smallest images for your photo album and to share with relatives.

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CDVs are a small format, and when used for full length portraits and group shots the faces become even harder to discern.
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Scanning at a high resolution can reveal so much detail!

If there is information written or printed on the back of your CDVs or cabinet cards, consider scanning it too, as this information may help you to discover who is in your photographs and when and where it was taken.

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There are two pieces of valuable family information contained on the front and back of this cabinet card. Not only are these two children identified, but since cabinet cards were most often created locally it’s a fair guess that these two girls lived in or near South Oil City, Pennsylvania when this photo was taken by photographer J. W. Sires.
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The backs of cartes-de-visite from Illinois, Iowa, and Germany. While no specific family names were written on any of these cards, the towns listed can suggest clues to who’s who if one knows where particular family members once lived.

Archival Storage

The use of various inexpensive acid-free enclosures will help prevent dust, finger oils, or moisture from coming into contact with your images during handling & storage.

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The clear 3-1/2 x 5-1/2″ Polyethylene Bags let you see your CDVs for quick identification.
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Open End Envelopes (4 x 5″ for CDVs and 5 x 7″ for cabinet cards) will allow you to easily write identifying information on the envelope itself. Always write on your envelopes with pencil or archival marker when the envelope is empty.

Another way to store these one-of-a-kind images is to place them in Crystal Clear Bags with a sheet of Acid-Free Card Stock added for additional rigidity and support (4-1/4 x 6-1/8” for CDVs and 5-1/4 x 7-1/8” for cabinet cards). You can also write important identification information on the card stock with an archivally-safe pencil or marker.

cabinet cards

With your photographs securely stored in archival enclosures, they can then be placed in acid-free Metal Edge Boxes for easy access and safe long-term storage. All of your 19th-century cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, tintypes, postcards, and other photographs can be organized and stored in convenient museum-quality enclosures and acid-free boxes.

cabinet cards
1. individual cabinet cards and CDVs can be placed in archival 5 x 7″ or 4 x 5″ Open End Envelopes   2. these envelopes can be placed in an acid-free Metal Edge Box 3. alternatively, your images can be placed in Crystal Clear Bags with a sheet of Acid-Free Card Stock for backing 4. then placed in a Short Top Box for long-term archival storage

Binder Storage for an Archival Photo Album

You can also integrate your irreplaceable CDVs and cabinet cards into your photo albums by placing them in Print Pages. Note that a pre-cut sheet of Acid-Free Card Stock has been added to each Print Page pocket for added stability and support.

cabinet cards
Cabinet cards fit into 5 x 7″ Print Pages, while CDVs fit into 3-1/2 x 5″ pages.

These Print Pages can then be placed in any of our many styles of archivally-safe binders.

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Print Pages shown placed in our top-of-the-line Collector Grade Binder, available in black, red, blue, and green.

Using sheets of Acid-Free Card Stock behind your images in your Print Pages will also allow you to write identification information with archivally-safe pencils or markers.

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Protecting Antique Albums

There were a number of different 19th-century album designs that accommodated cabinet cards and CDVs. If you have one of these, consider scanning the images within and then archivally storing the actual album.

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The large red velvet-covered album contains CDVs, cabinet cards, and tintypes.
cabinet cards
This smaller blue leather album contains CDVs and tintypes.

Place the photo album into an archival Polyethylene Bag and then into an acid-free Metal Edge Box. Check out our Book Storage Kit options or order a la carte from our different sizes and designs of archival boxes.

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Cabinet Cards & Cartes-de-Visite / Step 5: Matting & Framing

 

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A hand-tinted cabinet card in an elegant 8-ply acid-free mat (on left) ahead of framing it.
(Please click on each image for more information.)

 

If you have a particular image that should be archivally matted and framed to be enjoyed every day, consider using an 8-ply mat (see photo above) rather than a “standard” 4-ply mat, as photographs on cards have a certain depth and you don’t want the image surface to come into contact with the frame’s glass or glazing (please click here for information on our mat board sample kit, which includes samples of all of our mat board colors & thicknesses).

In the photo on the left the cabinet card is being “floated” in the center of the mat in order to show the entire image. This is easy to do yourself with mounting corners. 

 


 

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In closing, we hope you’ll contact us here at Archival Methods if you have any additional question on how best to preserve and share your family or collectible cartes-de-visite and cabinet cards. Our experienced staff has all the answers you’re looking for, and these unique images deserve only the finest in archival care!

Lastly, please click here for more information on cartes-de-visite, and click here to learn more about cabinet cards.