Types of Spirit Photographs

Types of Spirit Photographs



An 1875 tintype spirit photograph by an unknown photographer.

Tintypes are prints on a thin sheet of metal. They were created using the wet collodion process as a direct positive on a piece of iron that is blackened by enameling. They were portable, cheap, and could be made in 15 mins. They were common in the 1860s and 1870s. Tintypes vary in size but the most common is 2 1/2 x 4. They can be identified by their material and a slight yellowish tone.

Albumen Print

An 1890s Albumen Print  spirit photograph by Richard Boursnell

Albumen Prints are prints made using thin paper coated with a layer of egg-white (albumen) and sensitized with a silver nitrate solution, then printed using daylight under a negative. They were popular from the 1850s to 1890s and are the most common photograph from the 19th century. They range in a variety of sizes, from 1″ x 1″ up to 20″ x 20″, and have a sepia tone. They are often found mounted on Carte De Vistes or Cabinet Cards.

Gelatin Silver Print

A 1920s gelatin silver print spirit photograph by The Falconer Brothers.

Gelatin Silver are prints made by suspending silver halides in a layer of gelatin on fibre-based paper. They were popular from the 1890s to today and are the most commonly black and white photographs. They have a large range in size but 4″ x 5″ was common and can be identified by stark blank and white tones. Most gelatin silver prints are unmounted but they can be found on cardboard mounts or cabinet cards.

Carbon Print

An 1874 Carbon Print spirit photograph by Édouard Isidore Buguet.

Carbon Prints are prints made using paper coated with gelatin containing a carbon black pigment that was exposed under a negative in daylight. They were popular from 1870 to 1900 and were commonly used to make reproductions of professional drawings and photographs. They vary in size but larger prints were not uncommon and can be identified by deep rich brown prints. They can be found mounted in books, on cabinet cards, or unmounted.


Carte-de-Visite (CDV)

An 1870s Carte-de-Visite spirit photograph by William H. Mumler.

CDVs were thick paper cards usually mounted with an Albumem Print. They were hugely popular from the 1860s to the 1880s. The standard size is 4 1/2″ x 2 1/2″. They were often collected in albums and were popular due to their durability and ease of sending in a small envelope. The backs of the cards were normally printed with the photographer’s name, address, and insignia.

Cabinet Card

An 1890s Cabinet Card spirit photograph by Richard Boursnell.

Cabinet Cards were thick paper cards usually mounted with an Albumem Print. They replaced the carte-de-visite as the standard portrait format in the 1870s and were common into the 1900s. The standard size is 4-1/2” X 6-1/2”. It received its name because it was popular to display the mounted photograph in a cabinet. Early cabinet cards had the photographer’s name and address printed on the front, later cards have it on the back.

Real Photo Postcard (RPPC)

A 1920s spirit photograph RPPC (Real Photograph Postcard) by an unknown photographer.

RPPCs were a postcard usually mounted with a gelatin-silver print. They were popular from the 1900s to the 1930s. The standard size is 3-1/2″ x 5-1/2″. It received its name as a distinction between the real photo process and printing processes used in most postcard images. Many RPPCs have marks identifying the manufacturer.

Lantern Slide

A 1920s Lantern Slide Spirit Photograph by an unknown photographer.

Lantern slides were glass plates with transparent, positive images. They were viewed using a Magic Lantern that projected the image through a lens with the help of a light source. They gained popularity for displaying spirit photographs from the 1880s to the 1930s. The standard size is 4″ x 3-1/4″. Lantern slides were frequently utilized for public lectures and also found use in home entertainment and photographic exhibitions.

35mm Slide

35mm Slide Spirit Photograph

35mm slides consisted of cardboard mounts holding clear, positive images on 35mm film. These were displayed with the help of an electric projector that utilized a light bulb and lens, producing a clearer and more vibrant image compared to its predecessor, the Magic Lantern. The standard size is 2″ x 2″. They were popular for displaying spirit photographs beginning in 1935. 35mm slides were used for lectures, replicating museum collections, and home entertainment.

Post ID: 2022.0.2740

Posted Date: December 27, 2022

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