Antique Cabinet Cards


2015-06-26 11:15:27


An antique cabinet card was a type of photograph that was popular from around 1870 to the turn of the twentieth century.

History & Description

A cabinet card was a thin photograph, which was typically mounted onto card. They were first introduced in 1866 and were extremely popular in the 1870s and 1880s when it was fashionable to send a family or individual portrait to friends and family living abroad.

The popularity of cabinet cards began to wane from the 1890s due to the introduction of affordable cameras like the Kodak Box Brownie. Rather than hiring a professional, it became increasingly possible for the general public to take their own photographs and cabinet cards were soon replaced by photo book albums and paper prints.

Cabinet cards bearing famous figures of the period evolved into trading cards during the late 19th century.

Guide for collectors

The most valuable and desirable cabinet cards to collectors are those that depict famous or renowned individuals from the late-nineteenth century. In the past, examples sold at auction have included photographs of Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.

Arguably the rarest cabinet cards are those that use the landscape format. As a general rule, these represent the earliest examples of cabinet cards before portraiture became the universally accepted format.

On the back of some cabinet cards is the name and location of the photographer. In addition, it is not unusual for cabinet cards to feature decorative back marks advertising the photographer. Some, however, have no markings at all.

Notable auction sales

On December 10th 2005 at Sotheby’s in New York, an autographed set of eight cabinet cards of the 1871/72 Boston Red Stockings realised a price of $120,000.

On December 3rd 2004 at Cowan’s Auctions. in Cincinnati, Ohio, an extremely rare cabinet card of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok realised a price of $30,500.

On April 5th 2011 at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in Chicago, Illinois, a cabinet card of Jesse James, taken in 1868, realised a price of $42,000.

On December 4th 2008 at Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio, a rare and unpublished cabinet card of James Butler "Wild Bill” Hickok, circa 1872, realised a price of $10,500.

On May 11th 2006 at Cowan’s Auctions Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio, a cabinet card of Calamity Jane, circa 1888, and in exceptional condition realised a price of $17,000.

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