Photo of the Week: Cabinet Cards

[Portrait of a woman], 1890 ca, v1981.283.2.5; Burton family papers and photographs, ARC.217; Brooklyn Historical Society.

[Portrait of a woman], 1890 ca, v1981.283.2.5; Burton family papers and photographs, ARC.217; Brooklyn Historical Society.

The Cabinet Card, like the one depicted above, was similar to the carte de visite in that they both consisted of paper photographic prints mounted on card stock. The Cabinet Card, however, is larger in size at around 4.25 in x 6.5 in (compared to 2.125 in x 3.5 in) and could easily be viewed across a room and displayed in a home. It was originally used for landscape photography, but gained popularity in the late 1860s through the 1870s, eventually replacing the carte de visite as the most popular form of portraiture. The photo of the week depicts an unidentified woman (but likely a relative of William W. Burton) around 1890.

Notice the beautiful decorated border on this cabinet card.  Photographers often printed their studio name and address on these borders to advertise their business. Today, this information allows us to track the history of commercial photography in Brooklyn. For example, the back of this photograph reads, “Kempf’s Photo-Art Galleries. 185 Myrtle Avenue, 627 Myrtle Avenue. Brooklyn.” I discovered that Charles L. Kempf was a German-born photographer who established his Brooklyn studio around 1870 and operated it until at least 1905. The lifespan of his studio reflects the rise and fall of the cabinet card—it came into popularity in the 1870s and eventually declined in the late 1890s, partly due to the introduction of the Kodak Box Brownie that made photography portable and affordable for the masses.

The photo of the week comes from the Burton family papers and photographs collection comprised of papers of William W. Burton and family, and 189 photographs including cabinet cards, carte de visite, tintypes, and prints with portraits of the Burton family. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this online image gallery.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. library@brooklynhistory.org

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One Response to Photo of the Week: Cabinet Cards

  1. Janice C says:

    Wow, great project! Where can I read more about the history of commercial photography in Brooklyn? Have you found photographer James (or Giacomo) Visconti, circa 1890s-1920s, or do you have any photos by him? He shot a 1920 passport photo of one of my ancestors and signed as a witness to the ancestor’s passport application.

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