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Although some cabinet cards depicting landscapes can be found, most featured Victorian-era portraits of individuals or families—it was popular to mail cabinet cards to friends and family living abroad.Early cabinet cards were sepia-toned; in later years, the majority of them were printed in black-and-white.Both were most often albumen prints, the primary difference being the cabinet card was larger and usually included extensive logos and information on the reverse side of the card to advertise the photographer’s services.However, later into its popularity, other types of papers began to replace the albumen process.
The easiest way to distinguish a real photo postcard is to look at it under a magnifying glass; it will show smooth transitions from one tone to another. (Britain had already pioneered this in 1902.) The address was to be written on the right side; the left side was for writing messages.
These photographs have a neutral image tone and were most likely produced on a matte collodion, gelatin or gelatin bromide paper.
Sometimes images from this period can be identified by a greenish cast.
Much of the contents of these guidelines were excerpted with permission from the Beginners Guide to the Hobby of Postcard Collecting, The Capital of Texas Postcard Club.
Thanks also to Chuck Harbert; and to Nina Webber, whose donated postcards are used for the examples on this page.
Postcards that are actual photographic replications were first produced around 1900.