Coxsackie Antique Center

Where Yesterday Meets Tomorrow

A Short History of Photography

We have put together an exhibit of various types of photographic images to illustrate the evolution of photography at the center.

The first successful photographic process was developed by J.N. Niepce and L.J.M. Daguerre of France in 1830. A copper plate was coated with light sensitive chemicals. After exposure, the plate was developed by bathing it in mercury vapor (a process that OSHA would have banned instantly!) The plate was then sandwiched between sheets of glass. These early photographs, called Daguerreotypes, are easily recognizable by their mirror-like quality. To be seen clearly, they must be viewed from an angle. The process was used widely in the United States until the 1850s. Value today is dependent on the subject matter. Most "dags" are "head shots" of unidentified people, worth only a few dollars. (In fact, most of the value is in the case they are usually enshrined in. Such cases are made of leather, gutta percha, or a substance made from shellac and wood fiber called a union case.) Images of buildings, streets, carriages, animals, "occupationals" (which show a person with the tools of his or her occupation - a butcher in an apron with a meat cleaver, for instance) are worth much more than "head shots."

In the 1850s, the Ambrotype supplanted the daguerreotype. That process involved printing the image directly onto glass. It was used in the 1850s and 1860s but was soon replaced by the tintype - an image printed directly onto a sheet of tin - which was less vulnerable to damage. Tintypes were widely used in the 1860s and 1870s until replaced by paper prints.

Paper based photographs became commercially practical in the 1860s. (In fact, photographs with a revenue stamp are civil war era prints. The revenue tax was used to support the war.) Among the paper photographs we commonly find today are "Cartes de Visite", also called a "CDV" or "carts." These are so named because an individual would often have large numbers of them printed and use them as a calling card when they paid social visits. CDVs are approximately 2.25" x 4" in size. They were extremely popular from the 1860s until the 1880s and continued to be produced into the early 20th c.

Larger size images are called cabinet photographs. These became popular in the 1870s and soon replaced the CDV size photo for family portraits. They were common until the turn of the century when they were replaced by larger photographs and different mounting techniques.

In 1888, roll film was patented by George Eastman. This caused an immediate explosion of amateur photography and a corresponding decline in CDVs and cabinet photographs. Every family had a "Kodak" and a "Kodak Album." These photographs and albums can have considerable interest if the photographer took pictures of the instrumentalities of everyday life - trains, carriages, policemen, workmen, buildings, etc - rather than concentrating on scenic images and companions, and if the localities are labeled or identifiable.

To repeat, value is totally dependent on subject matter. Scenic views and anonymous "head shots" have very minimal value, regardless of the type of photographic process. Images showing the life of the times are very desirable and can have very substantial value.


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