Tips on dating cabinet card photograph

When attempting to determine the date for a cabinet card photograph, clues can be gathered by the details on the card, location and photographer. The type of card stock or whether it had right-angled or rounded corners can often help to determine the date of the photograph to as close as five years.  Photographers may have been using up old card stock, or the cabinet card may have been a re-print made many years after the photo was originally recorded so no method can be 100% accurate.

Card Stock

  • 1866–1880: square, lightweight mount
  • 1880–1890: square, heavy weight card stock
  • 1890: scalloped edges

Card Color

  • 1866–1880: thin, light weight card stock in white, off white or light cream; white and light colors were used in later years, but generally on heavier card stock for photograph.
  • 1880–1890: different colors for front and back of the photograph.
  • 1882–1888: matte-finish front, with a creamy-yellow or glossy back of the photograph.

Card Border

  • 1866–1880: red or gold rules, single and double lines
  • 1884–1885: wide gold borders
  • 1885–1892: gold beveled edges
  • 1889–1896: rounded corner rule of single line
  • 1890: Embossed borders and/or lettering


  • 1866–1879 Photographer name and address often printed small and neatly just below the image or studio name printed small on back.
  • 1880’s: Large, ornate text for photographer name and address, especially in cursive style. Studio name often takes up the entire back of the card.
  • Late 1880’s–1890’s Gold text on black card stock
  • 1890’s forward embossed studio name or other embossed designs


Find out everything you can about the photography studio.  A google search for S. Winans returned a photo taken of the 29th Missouri General Assembly taken in 1877 by S. Winans.

William S. Beck and Marie Neighorn Wedding Photograph
Back of William S. Beck and Marie Neighorn Wedding Photograph

1880 census records show a Solomon Winans, Jefferson City, Cole County, MO-Photographer.  Soloman died December 1888.  It is unclear if the S. Winans photography studio continued after his death.


While no method will be 100% accurate using these tips for identifying old cabinet card style photographs can help to narrow the age and aid in finding your ancestors.


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